• European Week of Regions and Cities 2021: Citizens at the forefront of the development of cross-border areas

    On 14th October several TEIN-member organised a workshop as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) that dealt with the subject citizens engagement in border-regions. In the process the speakers presented diverse projects considering different border-regions in Europe. The speakers were Jean Peyrony (MOT), Fabienne Leloup (UCLouvin), Margot Bonnafous (Euro-Institut), Peter Ulrich (IRS), as well as Martin Unfried (ITEM) & Karl-Heinz Lambertz (AEBR) amongst others. The moderator of the session was Anne Thevenet (Euro-Institut/TEIN).

    As we wanted to really give citizens the opportunity to express themselves in our workshop, we began with a video which presented an extract from the students project “(Re)bordering 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 it has become -according to the speakers and participants of our workshop- an absolute necessity.

    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 new possibilities for citizens and workers. This is what Jean Peyrony, Director General of the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière, 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 where hurt as economic actors, users of CB public services, families, “strangers” etc. The result is that they want to react! Several proposals were underlined like the idea to create a “CB citizen status”.

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

    This gave us the opportunity to reflect on the methodology for engaging citizens in CB regions while looking at two concrete examples. Fabienne Leloup, Professor at the Université Catholique de Louvain / Institut Frontières et Discontinuités, presented the idea of the European Citizens Place they want to create at the Franco-Belgium Border. The Idea behind is that Citizens’ engagement should not be a one shot measure but should be possible on a long-term basis in order to deepen the work with the citizens. The second idea is that different kinds of measures should be implemented (conferences, citizens dialogs, events, TV shows etc.).

    Margot Bonnafous, Senior Training and Project Manager at the Euro-Institut took the example of the participatory process the Trinational Eurodistrict Basel put in place in order to develop its strategy 2030. This was also a short-term action but very focused using different format like questionnaires, focus groups and dialogs. She thereby also underlined the specifities and challenges of cross-border citizen participation

    • Different languages are still an obstacle
    • Different political, administrative and participatory cultures
    • The participants may have different expectations from one country to another
    • The difficulty to attract persons with different backgrounds is even higher in the cross-border context than usual.

    The participants could then get an insight of the different citizens’ engagement initiatives that were organised by Interreg Volunteer Youth representatives at different borders. All had a link with environment and climate change: A very important topic for the young generation!

    The last presentation has been given by Peter Ulrich, Researcher, Viadrina University – Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION & Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg. He demonstrated the necessity of the link between citizens / citizens’ engagement / establishment of cross border public services especially after covid and took the exemple of the Polish-German border.

    Finally, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Member of the CoR and President of the AEBR has been interviewed by Martin Unfried, Researcher, Institute for Transnational and Euregional Cross border Cooperation and Mobility / ITEM and he pointed out the extreme necessity of engaging citizens why not in the framework of citizens’ assemblies reflecting on a very specific topic on a mid-term basis. He also highlighted to possibilities offered by the Cross-border Citizens Alliance.

    Anne Thevenet, Deputy Director of the Euro-Institut and coordinator of TEIN, conclude that citizens engagement can have many faces but important is to pay attention to be clear on:

    • The topic and the format
    • The rules and the impacts that citizens can really have
    • Who can participate/How communication is organized around an engagment activity
    • The funding
    • The intercultural (and bilingual) moderation
    • The feedback given to participants on short-, mid- and long-term basis
    • The lobby, which can be organized for the implementation of some citizens’ proposals.

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