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More Unity in Diversity. European border regions in a Citizens’ Dialogue

Europe is when citizens from six border regions in France, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland meet, learn from each other and develop ideas together. On December 10 – 11, 70 citizens met digitally in multilingual groups for the first time and tabled proposals for strengthening border regions and the future of Europe. They discussed their proposals with politicians from the regions and the European Commission.

Contact Person:

Foto Anna Renkamp
Anna Renkamp
Senior Project Manager
Foto Dominik Hierlemann
Dr. Dominik Hierlemann
Senior Advisor
Foto Christian Huesmann
Dr. Christian Huesmann
Project Manager

Content

Border regions are crucial European interfaces, where not only the advantages and benefits of Europe, but also the gaps and discrepancies in European collaboration can be seen, as if under a magnifying glass. For the first time, citizens from six border regions held two days of discussions in four languages. There were participants from Baden-Württemberg and Saxony, the regions Grand Est (FR), Dolnoslaskie (PL), and the regions Karlovarský and Ústecký (CZ).  

The main focus was on three topics: protecting the climate and the environment, cooperation projects in the border regions, and democracy. What can different European regions learn from each other? What solutions for protecting the climate exist across the whole of Europe? How can border regions and European democracy be strengthened?

Border regions between gugelhupf, chocolate, bone china and Moravian stars

Friday was a day for personal encounters, face-to-face chats and fact-finding. Improving intercultural relations played an important part, too: citizens were given an introduction to every region, its traditions and specialities in the form of short virtual excursions. There were shared offers of wine-tasting, Christmas traditions and tourist destinations.

What better way to bring us Europeans closer together than personal encounters?

Florian Hassler, Secretary of State and Representative of the State of Baden-Württemberg for the EU

After the ice had been broken, citizens discussed the preliminary dialogues that had been held in bi- and trinational groups in November. The citizens’ proposals impressed not only their European neighbours, but also the political representatives: Richard Kühnel, a Director in the European Union’s Directorate-General for Communication and responsible for Representation & Communication in Member States; Florian Hassler, member of the European Committee of the Regions and Secretary of State for the EU in Baden-Württemberg; Katja Meier, Minister of State for Justice, Democracy, Europe and Equality in the Free State of Saxony; and Jean-Baptiste Cuzin, Head of the Department for Cross-Border, European and International Cooperation of the Region Grand Est.

Education, networking, common action and standardisation for more climate-friendliness

On Saturday, the citizens held intensive discussions in six multilingual mini-groups. In the “Grand Finale”, citizens presented their concrete proposals for improvement to the politicians. Although awareness of the necessity of measures to protect the climate varies between the European regions, climate protection requires concerted action. The citizens propose a Europe-wide programme for increasing awareness and promoting climate-friendly behaviour, which must appeal as much to children of school and kindergarten age as it does to adults from the world of work and education. There should be rewards for climate-friendly behaviour, while actions that harm the environment must be penalised. Border regions should form stronger, tighter networks and learn from good examples set by others.

There are five different types of bin bag in Spain, while paper and plastic go in only one bag in France. The question is: does this work in practice?

Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, Head of the Communication Department at the Representation of the European Commission in France

Citizens want uniform standards for climate protection, such as a standardised waste recycling system. Communal activities across Europe, such as a “Car-Free Day” and a “Pick Up Some Litter Day” for children and adults, strengthen European cohesion. Secretary of State Florian Hassler welcomed the innovative citizens’ proposal for a cross-border deposit system for bottles and cans, which he promised to advocate not only in his ministry, but also in the corresponding committees at European level.

Harmonisation of cross-border emergency services and disaster relief operations

A topic close to the hearts of all participants—especially in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—was the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy in the event of cross-border cooperation of the emergency services. Among the proposed measures were subsidies for language courses for paramedics, firefighters, doctors and police officers, as well as the harmonisation of accident reporting systems in cross-border regions.

More digital networking between civic society and politicians in the regions

One proposal called for the setting up of an online platform to ensure the digital networking of civic society in the various regions and an increased exchange with local authorities and policymakers. Languages were also a hot topic for all participants. Knowledge of the language on the other side of the respective border should be the norm in border regions, which should be guaranteed by making languages a fixed item in the school curriculum.  

Do good and speak about it—practice-relevant proposals for policymakers

The politicians were unanimous in their praise of the innovative 6-Regions Dialogue, which connects people on both sides of borders and builds tangible bridges. Richard Kühnel, a Director in the European Union’s Directorate-General for Communication, stressed the growing importance of transnational citizens’ dialogues for the European Commission. All the politicians who attended promised to pursue the citizens’ highly concrete proposals closely, and to support them in the context of Conference on the Future of Europe. 

More about the project

The Six-Region Dialogue was organised by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in collaboration with the State Ministry of Baden-Württemberg, Saxony’s State Ministry for Justice, Democracy, Europe and Equality, the Region Grand Est, the Region Dolnoslaskie, the Euroregion Elbe/Labe, EUROPE DIRECT Vogtland and the European Committee of the Regions.

The Six-Region Dialogue is part of the cooperation between the European Committee of the Regions and the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s project Democracy and Participation in Europe. Overall, 23 cooperation projects from 50 European cities and regions are working on ensuring that European citizens have a voice in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Conference on the Future of Europe initiates debates and a series of discussions supported by citizens, in the course of which people from all over Europe can exchange ideas and shape the joint future of all Europeans. The Conference is the first of its kind: a Europe-wide experiment in democracy.