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European Week of Regions and Cities

Citizens at the forefront of the development of cross-border living areas

While citizens' engagement has always been important for building coherent public policies, it has now become essential. Especially in cross-border territories, where freedom of movement has been severely restricted since March 2020, citizens want to be involved. This is about rebuilding trust, rethinking cross-border living spaces and opening up new possibilities for citizens and workers.

But how can engagement work efficiently in this new context? Our workshop will firstly outline the impact of the crisis on citizens in cross-border areas in Europe. Engagement projects will then be presented and innovative methods highlighted. Because engagement has also to be target-oriented, we will reflect in a third step on citizens' engagement while planning cross-border services. Finally, the role of the Committee of the Regions and of the European cross-border citizens' alliance in this area will be explored. Including discussions with the audience, this workshop will discuss and gather practical tools to be implemented in cross-border regions by citizens or organisations that support them.

Thu 14, October 2021
11:30 - 13:00 CET
Anne Thevenet, Deputy Director, Euro-Institut / Transfrontier Euro-Institut Network (TEIN).
Martin Unfried, Senior Researcher, Maastricht University - ITEM.
Margot Bonnafous, Senior Training and Project Manager, Euro-Institut.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President, Parliament of the German speaking Community.
Fabienne Leloup, Professor, Université Catholique de Louvain / Institut Frontières et Discontinuités.
Jean Peyrony, Director General, Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT).
Peter Ulrich, Researcher, Viadrina University / Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION & Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg.
Video Testimonials
Martin Guillermo Ramirez, Secretary General, Association of European Border Regions (AEBR).
Eithne Knappitsch, FH-Professor, Program Director, Intercultural Management, Carinthia Univerisity of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschule Kärnten).
Joanna Kurowska-Pysz, Director of Research Institute on Territorial and Inter-Organizational Cooperation, Akademia WSB / WSB University.
Citizens engagement
Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), Euro-Institut, Insitute for Cross-Border cooperation / Transfrontier Euro-Institut Network (TEIN), Europa-Universität Viadrina, Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility (ITEM), Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT), Université Catholique de Louvain
English (EN)
Replay – English

Session summary

As we wanted to give citizens a real opportunity to express themselves in our workshop, we began with a video which presented an extract from the student project “(Re)borderig Europe? Views and voices of citizens and non-citizens”, where students from different countries could express themselves about which border they want in the future.

Citizens' engagement has always been important for building up coherent public policies but now - according to the speakers and participants of our workshop - it has become an absolute necessity, especially in CB territories! This is about rebuilding trust, rethinking CB living spaces and opening new possibilities for citizens and workers. This is what Jean Peyrony demonstrated in his speech, which presented the impact of the COVID-19 measures along EU internal borders on CB communities. Indeed, citizens in border regions were hurt as economic actors, users of CB public services, families, “strangers” etc. The result is that they want to react! Several proposals were highlighted, including the idea of creating a “CB citizen status”.

We were then able to focus on the Polish-Czech border through a video demonstrating citizens’ engagement initiative following the border closure in 2020.

This gave us the opportunity to reflect on the methodology for engaging citizens in CB regions on the basis of two concrete examples. Fabienne Leloup presented the idea of the European Citizens Place they want to create at the Franco-Belgian border. The idea behind it is that citizens’ engagement should not be a one-shot measure but should be possible on a long-term basis. The second idea is that different kinds of measures should be implemented (conferences, citizens' dialogues, events, TV shows etc.).

Margot Bonnafous took the example of the participatory process for the Strategy 2030 of the Trinational Eurodistrict Basel. This was also a short-term action but a very focused one, using different formats like questionnaires, focus groups and dialogues. She also underlined the specific features and challenges of CB citizens' participation:
- Different languages are still an obstacle
- Different political, administrative and participatory cultures
- Different expectations from one country to another
- Difficulty of attracting persons with different backgrounds.

The participants were given an insight into various citizens’ engagement initiatives organised by Interreg Volunteer Youth representatives at different borders on environment and climate change.

In the last presentation, Peter Ulrich demonstrated the necessity of the link between citizens / citizens’ engagement / establishment of CB public services, especially after COVID, based on the example of the Polish-German border.

Finally, in an interview with Martin Unfried, Karl-Heinz Lambertz pointed out the extreme necessity of engaging citizens, for example in the context of citizens’ assemblies reflecting on a very specific topic on a medium-term basis. He also highlighted to possibilities offered by the Cross-Border Citizens Alliance.


Take away message

Citizens' engagement is essential, especially in cross-border regions!

It can take on many faces but the important thing is to pay attention to:
- The topic and format
- The rules and the impact that citizens can really have
- Who can participate / How communication is organised around an engagement activity
- Funding
- Intercultural (and bilingual) moderation
- The feedback given to participants on a short, medium and long-term basis
- Lobbying, which can be organised for the implementation of some citizens’ proposals.


Peter Ulrich, Viadrina University "The politics to stem the corona crisis encompasses a strategy of drawing new and thickening existing borders. The case of the German-Polish borderlands showed that not only economic and political connections were interrupted but also CB societal networks. For building a resilient Europe, post-pandemic CB public services need to be sensitive concerning CB social interrelations.”

Jean Peyrony, Director General of the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière "CB interdependencies revealed by the crisis require new policies: functional approach considering persons in their CB living areas. The 'ever closer union of the peoples of Europe' happens in CB regions!"

Fabienne Leloup, Professor - Université Catholique de Louvain / IFD "The “European Citizen Space” is an important project including the selection of videos about the EU, some webinars or reports and a meeting place putting together 10 Flemish, 10 Walloon, 10 French living in the Eurometropolis Lille-Tournai-Kortrijk plus 10 European Union experts and professionals in order to exchange and to co-build a EU citizenship."

Margot Bonnafous, Senior Training and Project Manager at the Euro-Institut "Participation should be understood as a process that implies a cultural change in the relationship of citizens, administration and elected representatives."

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Member of the CoR and President of the AEBR "The instrument “Citizens assemblies” has been recently applied to strengthen participation by several Member States’ governments. It is of course an interesting question whether it could also have an added value in border regions."