Free movement is one of the founding principles of the European Union. Every day, nearly 2 million cross-border workers (including 400,000 French nationals) cross the internal borders of the European Union. Cross-border conurbations exist and form a new type of urban areas and a new formula for socio-economic development. These situations must be taken into account by giving border areas the appropriate means to manage their areas in a way that takes into account their economic, cultural and structural specificities.
From 2019, with the Treaty of Aachen on Franco-German Cooperation and Integration, France and Germany have worked together to create special arrangements which are gradually being implemented.
The Cross-border Cooperation Committee, created by the Treaty of Aachen, was inaugurated in January 2020 by Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, and her German counterpart, Michael Roth, in the presence of Jacques Champagne de Labriolle, ambassador for intergovernmental commissions, cooperation and cross-border affairs. During the first meeting, the Committee adopted its rules of procedure and regulations setting out a lightweight secretariat in Kehl and regular meetings in Strasbourg and other locations.
Since then, the committee has met in April 2020 and held a third meeting via videoconference on 10 June 2020.
This new political body was created to steer cross-border cooperation on the ground. To achieve this, it brings together local representatives from the Grand-Est, Alsace, Moselle, Saree, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Therefore, the Committee can hear the voices of local people and understand the realities on the ground meaning it can analyse the impact of the new legislation.
Its role is to set out the priority border development projects, ensure that any difficulties encountered are monitored and propose solutions.
For example, in 2020, the Committee identified and worked on the following cross-border issues:
- Coverage and reimbursement of healthcare
- School trips
- Recognition of the Crit’air and Umweltplakette vehicle
- Tax issues relating to labour law.
Since the end of 2020, the Committee has had a permanent secretariat. As a result, the Committee can now respond in a more effective and coordinated manner to the many challenges, on a daily basis, to be closer to the needs of people living near the border and the problems they have.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown just how relevant this committee is as it facilitates communication and coordination between French and German regions facing the pandemic.
The European Community of Alsace
Since 1 January 2021, the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin Departments have become the European Community of Alsace. The Community will comply with the competencies of the Grand Est regional council and the Eurometropole of Strasbourg and create a cross-border cooperation model for Alsace.
This new entity, presided by Frédéric Bierry, will take over the jurisdiction of the two departments in Alsace and be responsible for part of the tourism management of the area. It will also aim to promote bilingualism within the education system, with German and dialects of the Alsace region.
Plans for the area around Fessenheim
The Treaty of Aachen also provides for a joint project for redeveloping the area around the Fessenheim nuclear power plant. This project is based around the creation of a Franco-German business and innovation park and projects in the field of cross-border mobility, the energy transition and innovation.
Beyond “border cooperation” in its traditional sense, every European Union country faces difficulties in dealing with the specific features of cross-border areas, and the new challenge of consistently taking borders into account in national analyses and decision-making.
Border cooperation, a European priority
Border cooperation is a priority for Europe because it is an important condition for continuing European integration. Since 2007, the INTERREG programmes have been trying to encourage discussions and explore the as yet untapped economic growth potential in border regions.
Furthermore, in May 2018, the European Commission submitted an innovative proposal for the creation of a mechanism to remove legal and administrative obstacles in cross-border contexts known as the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation).
Updated: February 2021