Border: France-Germany

A “melting pot-border” that is the focus of many exchanges

A frontier that has acted as a melting pot and that has remained unchanged since 1945  after a long period of instability, the French-German border is demarcated by no major physical obstacle – the Rhine being more a line of communication than a barrier – with the exception of the sandstone mountain range of the Northern Vosges. It acts as an interface between the Germanic and Latin cultures, as is illustrated by the large community of languages of the populations that live alongside one another in this region. Most Alsatians and a large proportion of the inhabitants of the Moselle department speak or understand German, as well as German dialects – Frankish in the Moselle and Northern Alsace and Alemannic in Southern Alsace (also spoken in Baden in Germany and the Basel Cantons in Switzerland). The regions on either side of the border have similar economic profiles (former mining and industrial areas) with similar challenges in terms of regeneration and a culture based on French-German bilingualism, with Frankish being widely spoken on the French side.

cross-border franco-german diplomacy Strengthening cooperation

In 2003, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, the creation of the Franco-German Council of Ministers became the reference organisation for a close institutional and political cooperation between France and Germany. During the joint declaration, French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder reinforced their willingness to foster cross-border cooperation and cross-border inter-municipal entities. They called for the establishment of Eurodistricts, entities without legal personality; the Eurodistrict is a political declaration of heads of state in favour of cross-border cooperation.

In 2009, the first Franco-German Dialogue on cross-border cooperation took place in Paris. The Dialogue has been renewed in the years that have followed. The Dialogue brings together ministerial, decentralised state services and regional authority representatives; it examines any major issues that arise among all the different administrative levels.

It deals in particular with linguistic cooperation, police cooperation, social security, taxation, and transport. Furthermore, it follows the activities of the Upper Rhine Region, Greater Region, and the five French-and German Eurodistricts.

- Berlin Declaration of 2013

On 23 January 2013, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elysée Treaty, a symbol of the inseparable links that bind the two countries, France and Germany reminded of the need for cross-border cooperation and the integration of regions.

The anniversary gave rise to the publication of the Berlin Declaration.

On this occasion, the Franco-German couple focussed on the youth as the primary concern. The Declaration attributed great importance to cross-border cooperation and the integration of regions. In particular, it called for greater cooperation in the sectors of the economy, the labour market, health, training, education, security, transport, and energy.

- Metz Declaration of 2015

On 6 and 7 July 2015 took place a French-German ministerial conference, attended by French secretary of state for European affairs Harlem Désir and his German counterpart Michael Roth, both general-secretaries for French-German cooperation.

Two years after the Saarbrücken conference in July 2013, the event brought together elected representatives, institutional entities including the MOT, and representatives of civil society. In agreement with the regions and Länder concerned, the two ministers signed the Declaration of Metz, a joint declaration defining a common agenda for stepping up cooperation, in particular in the areas of integration of the employment and professional training markets.

According to Harlem Désir, the objective is to “make sure that the next generation is bilingual. […] Here and there we see that some people want to re-erect borders. We must aim for the opposite. Borders are not walls, they are bridges.”

Note: A paragraph highlights the importance of the initiatives taken with regard to territorial statistical observation for the cross-border regions.

- Hambach Declaration in 2017

On the 5 and 6 of April 2017, took place the third franco-german cross-border conference in Hambach (Moselle), attended by Harlem Désir (French Secretary of state for European Affairs) and Michael Roth (German minister for European Affairs). They both signed the “Hambach Declaration”, a common declaration claiming the ambition of going forward in the « integration in the franco-german cross-border region in a spirit of mutual benefit for citizens and economical and social development”. Fields of cooperation that have to be reinforced are identified in the Declaration, such as youth, labour market integration, languages, higher education, transports, sustainable development, social integration, health, police and justice cooperation.

- Renewal of the Elysée Treaty in 2018

In response to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel’s desire to sign a new Elysée Treaty in 2018, and on the occasion of its 55th anniversary, the German Bundestag and the French National Assembly, meeting in a joint session on 22 January, adopted a resolution inviting the two governments to renew this treaty in order to “deepen the Franco-German partnership” and “launch a new dynamic”. Parliamentarians’ recommendations call for the two states to “develop cross-border cooperation” and “strengthen the competences of Eurodistricts”. Indeed, on the 26 subjects that they hope to see developed in the new text, cross-border cooperation is particularly emphasised, notably on schools, local transport, language learning, supporting joint projects, etc. The new treaty should therefore “facilitate the live of inhabitants of border regions, by allowing cross-border Eurodistricts with strengthened competences to find innovative solutions in the areas of education, social welfare, employment, and security”. The resolution also supports the plan for citizen consultations proposed by Emmanuel Macron, in order to allow everyone to participate in the relaunching of the European project. 

In the wake of the renew of the Elysée Treaty in 2018, the deputy of Lower-Rhine and regional councilor of Grand Est Sylvain Waserman (MoDem) has been instructed of a temporary mission on deepening of franco-german cross-border cooperation (alongside the French minister of European Affairs) by the French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in April 2018. The aim of the report is to formulate concrete proposals to reinforce franco-german cross-border cooperation (institutional, administrative, economic and social fields, and the means to afford it)

Two major cross-border regions

Two cross-border regions structure the territories on either side of the border: the trinational French-German-Swiss region of the Upper Rhine and the French-Belgian-German-Luxembourg area of the Greater Region.

The first encompasses four territories situated around the Rhine basin: former Alsace Region, North-West Switzerland, Baden and the far south of Rheinland-Pfalz. Three-quarters of the area is occupied by Baden and the territory of former Alsace Region. It covers a surface area of 21,500 km2 and has a population of over 6 million inhabitants.  Surrounded by mountainous areas – the Black Forest to the east, the Vosges to the west and part of the Jura in the far south – these territories are mainly wooded (44% of the surface area). Agriculture is one of the economic mainstays of this region, with 41% of its surface area devoted to agriculture. Notwithstanding the Swiss border, the Upper Rhine covers the whole of the eastern part of the French-German border and forms a coherent geographical whole.

The cross-border territory of the Greater Region encompasses, as well as the French-German border, part of the French-Belgian and French-Luxembourg borders. It thus covers four countries and nearly 65,401 km2. Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz are among the territories that border the Grand Est Region, although they are not the principal sources of cross-border flows and retain their respective identities. It is the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg that is the focus for most of the cross-border mobility and constitutes the Greater Region’s true centre of economic and territorial development.

Three cross-border conurbations

Three cross-border conurbations are the focal points for flows across the French-German border. Situated in the Upper Rhine region along the river, Strasbourg-Kehl and the Basel Trinational Eurodistrict are dynamic cross-border urban areas.

Within the Basel Trinational Eurodistrict, which is a veritable economic hub, the Swiss part of Basel is the destination for most of the migration from the bordering countries.

The “Strasbourg-Ortenau Eurodistrict” EGTC comprises the territories of Strasbourg and the Ortenaukreis, located on the west and east banks of the Rhine respectively. Together these areas have a population of 921,000 inhabitants.

The SaarMoselle Eurodistrict, the Greater Region’s second centre after Luxembourg by virtue of its size (615,000 inhabitants) and its geographical situation along the Moselle river north-west of the border, is characterised by a certain homogeneity of its landscapes and settlements. It was set up as an EGTC in 2010.

Other cooperation Areas

A territory where there is very active cooperation, the REGIO PAMINA Eurodistrict, which brings together Southern Pfalz, the Mittlerer Oberrhein and Northern Alsace, was created in 1988. It was structured as a Local Grouping of Cross-Border Cooperation (LGCC) in 2003, and thereafter as a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC). A more recent cooperation structure, the Freiburg Region-Central and Southern Alsace Eurodistrict, was created in 2006. It notably enjoys a highly developed transport network.

The French-German border is also characterised by its small number of natural reserves. Only the Vosges-Pfälzerwald cross-border biosphere reserve (1998), which brings together the Northern Vosges Regional Natural Park (Moselle, Lower Rhine, set up in 1975) and the Naturpark Pfälzerwald (Rheinland-Pfalz, set up in 1958), constitutes an unusual natural park and is the subject of highly-developed cooperation.

Variable concentration of cross-border flows

Cross-border relations between France and Germany are very dense and have a long history. Substantial local flows of people – workers, students, patients and customers – move in both directions between the two countries.
Despite a slight decline in the flow of workers to Germany, the country remains the third most common destination of cross-border commuter residents of France, after Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Each day, Germany receives 46,000 workers domiciled in France (source : Commissariat général à l'égalité des territoires, 2017). By contrast, flows of workers from Germany to Grand Est Region are very small (around 1,700 people) on account of the employment situation being significantly less favourable in France than in Germany, and with lower wages. 

In the Upper Rhine region, more than 96,000 workers commute to the neighbouring countries, of which 63% commute from Alsace and 36% from Baden.
Cross-border relations with Alsace are indeed very close and highly developed. It is estimated that 80% of Alsace’s territory is concerned by cross-border activities, either with Germany or with Switzerland.

Trade flows across the border are intensive. In the case of Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital’s catchment area takes in a large swathe of German territory. Alsace attracts large numbers of German tourists, a phenomenon that is accentuated by the lower prices charged by restaurants and hotels in France. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of cross-border workers rose by 8% in the Upper Rhine region.

There are also long-standing but less dense links between France and the Länder of Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz. Cross-border flows of Lorrain workers in Sarre have strongly decreased. 17 100 lorrains were employed in Sarre in 2017, representing 800 fewer people since 2015, and 400 since 2016. Among those 17 100, 4 900 are german that live on the French side of the border, continuing to work on the other side. 

Rheinland-Pfalz has recorded a similar trend, with 4,300 cross-border workers coming from France in 2017, 100 less than the proportion of 2016 (numbers of the Regional direction of employment. Source : Le Républicain Lorrain, 2018). The main locations for employment in these territories are the conurbations of Saarbrücken and Saarlouis. These are not local cross-border flows however. The majority of border residents travelling from France do not come from the territory of the (former) bordering Lorraine Region, but from the one of former Alsace. Indeed, the majority of cross-border workers from Lorraine (70% of flows) commute to Luxembourg. It is interesting to note, however, that the number of Germans living in the Lorraine Region and travelling to work in the bordering Länder increased by 20% between 2000 and 2008.

 Whereas in 1990 Germany was the second destination of cross-border workers coming from France, those flows are decreasing today, and are characterized by an ageing population. Actually these flows have decreased of 15 000 persons since 2010, and the proportion of people under 30 went from 32% in 1990, to 8% in 2013, whereas people over 50 went from 8% to more than a third of the workers. This testifies of a phenomenon of non-renewal of French cross-border workers to Germany, probably caused by a mismatch between demand of german firms and the qualifications of French workers (source : Commissariat général à l'égalité des territoires, 2017).