Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the Hambach conference on cross-border cooperation between Germany and France

06.04.2017 - Speech

– Translation of advance text –

President of the Bundesrat Malu Dreyer,

Thank you for inviting me to Hambacher Castle for the third conference on cross-border cooperation between Germany and France. As you mentioned just now, Hambach is a most significant place in German and European history.

Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament, Members of the German Bundestag and the Land parliaments under Vice-President Gebhardt,
Minister of State Harlem Désir,
Minister-President Kretschmann,
President of the Regional Council Richert,
Minister of Finance and European Affairs Toscani,
Mayor Ries from Strasbourg and Mayor Gros from Metz,

Mesdames et Messieurs,

I know a thing or two about borders, ladies and gentlemen. I was born in Heringen (Werra), a small town in northern Hesse right by the former inner German border on the western side. More than a quarter of a century has passed since the fall of the Wall, and I am still delighted to be able to pass what is now a green border that once divided two whole worlds.

And because I am familiar with borders, I am quite sensitive to any attempt to put them back up again. Until recently, I couldn’t imagine that we would want to build new fences and walls in Europe once again and that parties openly advocating isolation and new borders with nationalist and populist slogans would turn out to be so popular.

This is one of the reasons why I am particularly delighted to meet so many people here at Hambach Castle who know how to overcome borders and how to go about the process of integrating border regions. Allow me to offer you cross-border experts a warm welcome! You are making an invaluable contribution to the ongoing process of European integration. Your cooperation here sets an example for cooperation elsewhere in Europe.

The vast majority of people on our continent have experienced borders. Almost 200 million people in Europe live in border regions. These borders can be very old or still very new. They were shifted over the course of centuries, with their populations coming under the wing of a succession of different governments. Such memories are still vivid especially in Alsace and in parts of Lorraine. And Hambach and the Palatinate region were also French in the past.
The upshot of this situation was that the path towards democracy and unity in Germany underwent a decisive phase especially here.

Different traditions, legal systems, languages and cultures converge in border regions. Europe’s diversity is showcased particularly vividly here. You are well acquainted with this precious legacy and are doing your utmost to preserve it. You know and experience day in, day out that borders should no longer divide us today, but should bring us together. This is particularly the case in the Schengen area, which offers citizens a particularly high degree of mobility and freedom.

Asked in a survey about barriers that restrict cross-border cooperation, 40 per cent of the inhabitants of border regions considered economic and social, as well as legal and administrative differences to be a problem.
How can we overcome such hurdles? This should be more than feasible. Indeed, much has been done already. And yet breathing life into these relations and seeking solutions for everyday coexistence along the border continues to be a huge undertaking. Ideas for this have already been drawn up, and I am sure that these will also be a topic of discussion today. Let’s continue to make progress in this area so that our border regions can continue to play a leading role in Europe for forward-looking solutions also in the future.

The Federal Government and the European Commission are supporting integration and connectivity on both sides of the EU’s internal borders. Some 6.6 billion euros have been set aside from the EU budget for Interreg projects in border regions for the 2014-2020 period.

With a relatively small budget, the projects that are being supported achieve a host of tangible results for citizens – be it the development of traffic links, cooperative projects in the education sector (such as the “Success Without Borders” project, which promotes cross-border training programmes or entire training courses in the respective neighbouring country), in health care (one example to mention here is TRISAN, a project that seeks to optimise the cooperation between health care administrations and health care providers in the Upper Rhine region), in environmental protection (such as the Interreg projects “Energiewaben – regional energy supply for the greater region” and “Power to Heat for the greater region” that collaborate with universities and companies from Germany and France) and the creation of jobs. A good example of this is the “PAMINA-Fachkräfteallianz” project.

This initiative seeks to improve the integration of job-seekers, especially those aged 45 and above, into the cross-border employment market and to help companies recruit employees.

Despite all the difficulties, the Franco-German border region shows how diverse and advantageous cooperation can be on issues that have a direct impact on citizens in border regions. The dismantlement of systematic border controls and freedoms of the single market have given rise to manifold opportunities, particularly in border regions, that yield benefits for the population on both sides of the border. The Franco-German border region is continuing to develop thanks to projects and initiatives while links between the two countries are being enhanced.

There are tangible advantages for citizens on both sides of the Franco-German border. I would like briefly to mention two examples of developments that have occurred since our conference in Metz two years ago. And both examples are quite literally cross-border in nature. Germany and France have now concluded a cross-border taxi agreement that allows passengers on both sides to cross the border and to be brought back again.

Taking a taxi is not the only way to cross the Franco-German border, however. A further project in the area of public transport is the tram connection between Strasbourg and Kehl, which has been reopened after being discontinued following the war. The Strasbourg tram is scheduled to cross the Rhine and run as far as the railway station in Kehl from this month, with an extension to Kehl’s town hall also in the pipeline.

Planning and construction of the bridge over the Rhine were co-financed with EU funds from the Interreg programme. Stakeholders from Germany and France are sharing the remaining costs for the construction of the bridge.

What is more, we adopted the treaty law on joint river policing in the Federal Cabinet just yesterday. As soon as Land Baden-Württemberg and France have signed the agreement, the river police forces on the Rhine, which have worked together successfully since 2011 to ensure greater security for Rhine river traffic, will be able to operate on a firm legal basis. While this is admittedly a comparatively small piece of the puzzle, it shows why cross-border cooperation can serve as a model for European integration as a whole. The common protection of borders is a recurrent topic of European discussions at the present. Looking at the issue on a small scale and applying lessons learned to the big picture can pay dividends here too.

However, if we genuinely intend to be successful in the EU in the long term, we must refute the nationalists and populists – not in grandiose political speeches or lofty manifestos, but by improving living conditions in a tangible way and, above all, investing in employment and education. There are, for instance, multiple forms of cooperation in the higher education sector between Germany, France and also Switzerland and Luxembourg at regional level. This is helping to interconnect training and research beyond national borders. Young people are being offered new training opportunities and research institutes are able to reap the benefits of cooperative partnerships. One example is the trilateral academic alliance European Campus – EUCOR, founded in May 2016, consisting of the universities of Basel, Freiburg, Haute-Alsace and Strasbourg, as well as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The European Campus brings together around 115,000 students in three countries. We will hear more about the greater region’s university in the third panel later on.

Or consider the Franco-German University, which, with its 16,000 graduates in 2015, is a unique model within the European context of bilateral cooperation in the higher education and research sectors.

The first Franco-German employment agency opened in Kehl, Land Baden-Württemberg, in February 2013. Employees of the German and French employment authority work alongside each other in Kehl. I was able to gain an impression of their excellent work on a visit last year. The employment agency’s main task is to provide information about job offers and facilitate placements for job-seekers on both sides of the border. This cooperation has since been extended to five further locations. Some 1430 job-seekers were helped to find employment in the border region in 2016.

Moreover, the employment ministers of Germany and France, Andrea Nahles and Myriam El Khomri, presented an action plan for Franco-German vocational mobility in February 2016.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One thing is particularly important to me, and that is staying in touch with young people. Young people especially must be given the opportunity to benefit from this Europe without internal borders. And I mean all young people, not only students, but also those in vocational training programmes and young career entrants. In 2016, 345 Germans and Frenchmen and women earned a certificate in a Franco-German vocational training programme. There are many such projects that aim to develop cross-border vocational training. In 2016, I had the opportunity to meet with young French participants who were being trained at Badische Stahlwerke. They are all wonderful Europeans.

Just think, they have no knowledge of German, and most of them have dropped out of school. Yet each of them decided to cross the Rhine River every day to seize a new opportunity in Kehl.

That is why I am especially pleased that, in March 2017, the Franco-German Secretariat celebrated the enrolment of the 100,000th participant in the Franco-German vocational training exchanges. Allow me to offer the Franco-German Secretariat and all participating companies my most sincere thanks for their long-standing and successful efforts. We must win the hearts and minds of young Europeans if we want to build a Europe of tomorrow that is based on solidarity.

This is about much more than a course of study or vocational training. It’s about personal development.

All those who in their youth travel abroad and interact with people from other countries are, as a rule, much less likely to buy into nationalist slogans than those who are never given the opportunity to meet and talk to foreigners. The older ones among you often had formative experiences while abroad on a school exchange, especially through exchanges between France and in Germany, or with an Interrail pass, or as a youth camp leader. That is exactly the kind of experience we need to encourage others to make today, so that our young people will become tomorrow’s committed Europeans. This is part of the mission of the Franco-German Youth Office, which conducts a wide range of programmes and activities in the border region.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Much has been accomplished since our last meeting in Metz. But we did not come here today to celebrate our achievements and pat each other on the back. Much work remains to be done, and we will keep up our efforts. Especially these days, when our European Union, and our ideas about Europe, have come under stronger pressure than ever, Europeans must provide tangible proof of the benefits that can be enjoyed through tearing down and crossing borders. What better example is there of this, ladies and gentlemen, than cross-border cooperation between Germany and France? If not here, then where? Let that be the spirit in which we roll up our sleeves and carry on!

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