The Franco-German Citizens’ dialogue on strengthening cross-border cooperation in the context of COVID-19 is an initiative of Missions Publiques and aims to bring together citizens from each side of the border in working sessions. Their mission: to help make cooperation arrangements more resilient to crises. The project is supported by the Franco-German Citizens’ Fund. We met four participants of the Dialogue, who spoke about their first experience of citizen participation.
“Too many people have told me that Germany scares them, this attitude must change! The age of national borders is behind us!
20 y.o., maintenance manager for computer systems
Lucas, 20 years old, works as a maintenance manager for computer systems 15 minutes from the German border in Folschviller, in the east of the French Moselle department. He has already had to work with employees from the other side of the Rhine, without knowing German and without his German colleagues speaking a word of French or English.
When he saw the advertisement for the Franco-German Dialogue on cross-border cooperation on social media, he compares his father’s registration to the NASA website to join the Mars Discovery Team:
“We don’t expect much in return, but we have nothing to lose, so we might as well try! ».
As a cross-borderer, he identifies four levers for improving cooperation between the two border countries:
- Breaking the language barrier. Too often people are reluctant or simply afraid to speaking a different language. They are not always open to attempts, however unsuccessful, to communicate in a language they do not master.
At school, “young people must be taught that learning German is a good thing”, and that true cooperation requires understanding the other. “I’ve heard too many times ‘I’m afraid of Germany’, this has to change! ».
- Put an end to the taxation of foreign credit cards in Germany: “the time for borders is over! It is possible to withdraw money free of charge anywhere in Europe, so why not in Germany? »
- Develop the police patrols on the French side which are not as regular as on the German side. “The Germans have a reputation for thoroughness that the French do not always have. »
- Further develop the public transport network (bus, train, tram, etc.) between France and Germany to improve cooperation between the two countries.
“Friends of mine have often had to cross the border for treatment in German hospitals, as specialised services are less developed in France for certain diseases, such as Lyme disease, which is neglected by the French medical profession.
65 y.o., retired from the health sector
Geneviève, 65 years old, has been retired for 2 years. Originally from Nancy, she worked in the health sector in Paris for many years before returning to her home in the East of France.
“The border is getting closer and closer” she says. By taking part in a Citizens’ dialogue with people from the other side of the Rhine, she thought it could only be helpful in order to see together how to better exploit this neighborhood.
For her, there are two priorities:
- As a clinical technician, she was overwhelmed by the cross-border interaction during Covid-19. This collaboration should be institutionalized beyond the COVID-19 crisis, she says, pointing to inequalities in care on both sides of the Rhine. “Friends of mine have often had to cross the border for treatment in German hospitals, as specialised services are less developed in France for certain diseases, such as Lyme disease, which is neglected by the French medical profession.”
- “In normal times”, Geneviève is very fond of cultural events. The idea of going “to the other side” and attending a German show makes her smile, but there is no transport between the outskirts of Nancy and the German cities. “If there was the right transport, I wouldn’t hesitate! “She therefore suggests a better partnership strategy around cross-border culture and transport planning.
But Geneviève does not intend to stop at the Citizen Dialogue to develop cross-border cooperation! As soon as things get back to normal, she plans to join her town’s twinning committee to have concrete discussions and thus promote medical and cultural relations.
“Citizens don’t know about cross-border cooperation, even though it has existed for decades.”
34 y.o., accountant in a property management company
Olga, 34, studied business and administration. Today, she works as an accountant in a property management company in Germany. She presents herself as “always ready to learn something new, open-minded, polite, friendly, positive and determined.” When we ask her if she is German, she proudly answers “no, I am a citizen of the European Union! ».
For Olga, the Citizens’ dialogue has been a strong information tool that unfortunately leaves behind inhabitants of the region who could not participate. “Citizens don’t know about cross-border cooperation, even though it has existed for decades.”
In her view, this deliberative initiative is not only a useful but also a necessary means of understanding the implications that such cooperation can have at the local level.
When asked how to get her neighbors more interested in the political and social engagement around her region, she refers to the answer of another participant in the session: “Actually, there is enough information, you just have to be interested. But I think that we could get even more interest and active participation by advertising these deliberative processes more actively so that they are known and recognized by everyone.
“Cross-border dialogues open up completely new perspectives, including how our own country is perceived by others.
26 y.o., student in political science
Johannes is 26 years old and has a keen interest in political science: he is currently studying for a master’s degree in “European Democracy and Governance” at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
During his undergraduate years, Johannes studied different formats of citizen participation without ever being able to move from theory to practice. The Citizen Dialogue came at the right time for him, to get a first tangible experience of what he has been studying for years.
But Johannes has experienced cross-border cooperation in more than just a professional way: “I also experience it personally through my relationship with a French woman: every day I see how complicated it can suddenly become to visit each other again or to be able to stay in the other country for a longer period. In the future, I hope that bilateral and international decisions and actions will be coordinated even more intensively.” His fear? The rise of nationalism: “Covid-19 showed me that people very quickly fall back into nationalistic thinking. I am afraid that this will be the case more and more in the future, especially in times of crisis. “Covid-19 was the first time he had “actively relived the internal borders of Europe”.
What he particularly liked about the Citizen Dialogue was the methodology used and the familiarity established between participants: “At the end of the first session, we had the opportunity to freely set our own priorities for the next session and to express our wishes as to which experts we would like to hear from. I find this very inspiring. A mutual familiarity quickly developed with people you didn’t know before and only met online. Similarly, in conversations in my personal environment, I see again and again how much this format is appreciated. I therefore hope that a German-French citizens’ council will also take place at regular intervals in the future. »
In this respect, he considers the Citizens’ Dialogue as a “good overall sign of a European awareness beyond national borders”.