AEBR Members’ border experiences with Covid-19
Not every information can be uploaded in the CoR’s platform, but we are analysing many reports from different borders, members and partners, who have informed AEBR about the initiatives they have promoted to ease the conditions many citizens in border regions are facing. They review the situation in their border areas and have forwarded articles from local newspapers shedding light on life in border regions in a European Union with closed borders.
About 20 contributions have been received so far, and many posts can be found in social media. From them, it emerges clearly the big disadvantage citizens in border regions have to endure. Equally distinct is the crucial role that euroregions and other cross-border structures like EGTCs or eurodistricts play at this moment, helping people and business to understand their rights in the complexities of the cross-border contexts.
We have received statements, requests, demands, and stories from a number of EU cross-border areas. Many of the stories in these days of confinement and de-confinement come from the French-German border area, where we have followed an almost daily record of events registered by EGTC Eurodistric Pamina, which has been very active in social media reflecting the complex situation in this dynamic border area, from the triple border in the Upper Rhine (CH-DE-FR) to the triple border around Schengen (DE-FR-LU). From the strong closing of borders at the start of the pandemic and following opening for essential services, to the crucial coordination with Germany to take care of a high number of critical cases in France, passing over the ugly attitude of some German communities before French nationals or Germans living “on the other side”. All of this has been very well documented in the regular and social media, especially through the active participation of local and regional institutions and cross-border structures such as Pamina. They are also preparing some initiatives to be implemented “the day after” in order to have better coordination and preparedness.
There are other documented cases of “cross-border hate or rage” across borders even in long and well-established CBC areas, such as the Benelux borders, and even against own nationals living in the other side of the border. But this “rage” has also been seen in other countries within their own borders, against their own health workers. Fortunately, all of these have been exceptional and self-limited cases, rapidly counteracted by waves of solidarity and gratefulness by most citizens.
More frequently we find cases of confusion and vagueness between national restrictions across borders, but also between support measures, for instance, for cross-border workers and enterprises:
- At the Belgian-Dutch border, it resulted difficult to document the need to cross the border for visiting a relative, while certificates for cross-border workers were very easily solved. They have also identified some gaps between national measures to support cross-border workers and self-employed people: one country follows the registered residence principle and the other country follows the social-security principle. The same goes for de-confinement, with various examples of possible gaps, such as opening schools with remaining border closing (there are cross-border pupils and students)
- German-Belgian and German-Dutch borders: since the start, there has been a strong exchange of information and coordination between the German Länder and the neighbouring national and sub-national Governments in the Benelux, but there are gaps, as everywhere:
- ITEM has shared a news article from Dutch NOS, reporting that thousands of Dutch entrepreneurs living just across the border in Germany or Belgium cannot receive support for their losses during the Corona crisis. The Netherlands does not feel accountable because these entrepreneurs do not live there. Belgium and Germany are not paying any subsidy either, because these entrepreneurs have never paid taxes there. They fall between shore and ship.
- At the Spanish-Portuguese border, we have received information about the harmful effects for cross-border businesses of the reduction of available border crossings, but the situation has particularly affected most transited areas, such as the NW extreme of the border: the wet section between Galicia (ES) and Norte (PT) in the territory of River Minho EGTC. According to a current study of the University of Vigo, this small section of border (76 km of a total 1,300 km ES-PT border), received 44% of the whole traffic during the confinement period. The need to open more border crossings is here a must, as it is the case in many other cross-border areas. In the moment of updating this information, Portugal has announced the extension of the closing of this border until 15 June.
- at the German-Polish border, many citizens protested as with the closure of the border, people could not go to work, attend school, visit their family members. The Euroregions have collected this information and raised awareness on the consequences of such measures.
On the other hand, other very active cross-border regions have also provided information about coordination between institutions and also by sectors: emergencies, healthcare, enterprises, trade unions, etc., as it is the case of:
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- the German-Dutch border —a Task Force has been organized with Dutch, North-Rhine Westphalian and Belgian governments involved, showing that “asymmetric” levels of government (and of competence) can coordinate efforts across national boundaries. It receives inputs from the euroregions operating in the area about Covid-related obstacles;
- at the German-Polish border, the German Presidents of the Euroregions along the German-Polish border signed a series of statements on the current situation in the border regions. The German Presidents of Pomerania, Pro Europa Viadrina, Spree-Neiße-Bober and Neisse released a first statement on 24 April 2020 to draw attention on the consequences of the closure of the border on the citizens of the border regions and on the local economy. The German Presidents of the Euroregions pleaded for the opening of the border for frontier workers to continue support cross-border cooperation in border areas. On 15 May 2020 the German Presidents of the euroregions Pomerania, Pro Europa Viadrina, Spree-Neiße-Bober and Neisse addressed a second common statement to demand further exceptions of the mandatory quarantine for frontier workers, as well as the opening of the German-Polish border as soon as possible to maintain the cooperative ties with the neighbouring country alive.At the same time, the euroregions have also initiated a photo campaign to inform citizens on aspects related to the Covid-19 pandemic on social media under the motto “#StrongerTogether” using the hashtags #GemeinsamStärker #RazemSilniejsi;
- the Spanish-French border —in particular in both extremes, where the density of population, traffic and cross-border interaction is higher— has experienced a lot of activity during the confinement. We also have the cross-border hospital in Cerdanya, at the Pyrenees. Mr Jean-Louis Valls, Director of the Consortium of the Working Community of the Pyrenees shared a story about health services across this border.