France-Germany: cross-border cooperation during Covid-19

What is the reality of Franco-German cooperation in the midst of the pandemic? What are the experiences of crisis on both sides of the border? In order to take stock of the situation and initiate solutions for a more resilient territory, the Grand Est Region in France and the Land of Baden-Württemberg in Germany are organizing several sessions of deliberation*. We met Muriel Temme, in charge of cross-border cooperation at the Grand Est Region and Timo Peters, advisor for citizen participation and civil society at the Ministry of Baden-Württemberg.

Missions Publiques: Why organize a dialogue on Franco-German cross-border cooperation?

Timo Peters: We want to discuss with the participants the lessons that the German region and the Franco-German friendship can draw from the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of cooperation and cohesion. “How do you currently live your daily life in the border region? And how do you think the region should develop?” are the questions they have to answer in 4 virtual sessions. This is an opportunity for citizens to get to know their neighbors, to express their fears and hopes that will be heard in the political process. I think it can also reinforce the fact that people from both sides meet, even virtually, and learn a lot about each other’s culture and personalities. At the border, cooperation between Germans and French is crucial, in many cases even vital.

Muriel Temme: The more actors are involved in a collaborative process, the more co-constructed the work is, the richer the results. Citizens are listened to and feel legitimate. It is also an opportunity to get informed and to get involved in politics, which is essential for a good democratic functioning. For political, administrative and private actors, these dialogues serve to verify whether policies are effective and whether they achieve their objectives thanks to the expertise of citizens. This allows them to know how to make them evolve. Organizing this type of dialogue at the cross-border level helps bring together citizens on both sides of the border who would not meet in everyday life. It is important to strengthen citizen participation on a cross-border scale, because it is a shared living space and therefore citizens must have a say in its development and help make policies on both sides of the Rhine more coherent. Dialogues also contribute to raising awareness of how cross-border cooperation works, which still unknown, even among border residents.

"For political, administrative and private actors, these dialogues serve to verify whether policies are effective and whether they achieve their objectives thanks to the expertise of citizens.

Photo : D.R./Strasbourg Écologiste et Citoyenne

Muriel Temme

In charge of cross-border cooperation at the Grand Est Region

Missions Publiques: How do you imagine cross-border cooperation and citizen participation in the years to come?

Muriel Temme: I think it is essential that the Grand Est Region involves citizens more and more systematically in its policies. The tools developed such as “My Region Tomorrow” are likely to evolve and the work of the Regional Youth Council can be taken into account even better in the elaboration of strategies. Four topics seem to me to be fundamental for the future: climate change (mobility, energy, biodiversity, adaptation, etc.), tolerance and living together, improving citizen participation, and the labor market and training.

Timo Peters: Baden-Württemberg has been focusing on public dialogue for ten years. Since then, we have also been involving citizens in cross-border issues. As Muriel just mentioned, I think that all issues can be discussed with citizens. I believe that our cross-border dialogues will become a central element of transnational cooperation.

Muriel Temme: I have the impression that the subject of citizen participation is currently booming. Many approaches and projects are being developed. In the future, it will be important not only to propose one-off citizen participation events, but to move towards a co-construction of policies, i.e. to involve citizens as far upstream as possible in political projects. Consultation is not enough; citizens must be able to co-draw policies and become key actors of change. There is still a long way to go to ensure that citizens’ voices are truly taken into account, but I am hopeful.

Timo Peters: I am optimistic, I would say that the project to institutionalize deliberative processes within the major decision-making bodies, whether in France or Germany, is already up and running. With the Citizens’ Climate Convention in France and the Dialogue on Germany’s Future in the World, public policy has shown its appetite for more deliberative processes, and this is only the beginning. I hope that in 30 years we will have institutionalized citizen participation.

* In total, there are four sessions between the two regions. The first was held in December 2020. Missions Publiques and Particip’Action are facilitators. The results will be published at the end of the process.