The migrations of cross-border workers migrations represent the most tangible and dramatic geographical element of current cross-border issues. A worker is considered a 'cross-border worker' if he or she lives in one country, works in another, and returns home at least once a week.
However, the nature of the commute varies. For example, European institutional statistics do not necessarily take into account geographical proximity. In 2015, Eurostat counted 2 million cross-border workers in the EU, of whom over 20% were living in France1. According to a November 2017 report by the French General Commission for Territorial Equality (CGET), the proportion of economically active EU citizens working abroad is quite small (0.9% of the active population). However, this proportion increases greatly in border regions, as is the case in the Province of Luxembourg in Belgium, where 27.3% of the active population report working abroad, or in the French former region of Lorraine, where border workers constitute 12.2% of the active population.
With regard to French borders, according to the same report, the number of French cross-border workers (crossing a border daily to go to work) rises to 438,000 persons.
Switzerland remains the top destination with 170,300 commuters, followed by Luxembourg (70,300) where the number of French workers has quadrupled since 1990, Germany (46,000), Belgium (37,800) and Monaco (26,200). In contrast, cross-border worker flows towards Spain and Italy are much weaker are not taken into account in the study, due to less attractive jobs and salaries and mountainous relief making access difficult. Thus, according to the Empleo study carried out by the Nouvelle Aquitaine–Euskadi–Navarre Euroregion (POCTEFA Interreg programme, December 2017), the France–Spain border counts 3,863 cross-border workers residing in France and commuting to Spain for work, of whom 86% are of Spanish nationality, living in France and working in Spain. With regard to Italy, there are only 316 border workers residing in Alpes-Maritimes and working in Italy (2010 figures updated by the MOT). In the case of the maritime border with the United Kingdom, flows are relatively weak, with fewer than 300 workers living in the French former region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais going to work in the UK.
The flows from neighbouring countries coming to France are much weaker, with INSEE, French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Research, estimating that inward flows corresponded to 30,000 persons in 2011.
It is interesting to note the sharp increase in the number of cross-border workers over the last 30 years, particularly from the late 1990s up to the present day. The number of cross-border workers entering French territory remained remarkably stable between 1999 and 2011 (after having decreased over a long period, particularly from Belgium and Spain) while the outward flow of workers during this period increased from 248,400 to 355,000 between 1999 and 2017 (INSEE), representing an increase of 42% in 12 years, and rising to over 360,000 today. This growing imbalance may be due to several factors: low attractiveness of the French border areas compared to neighbouring countries, and also the presence of major employment centres near the border, commuters are indeed concentrated in a limited number of employment areas (Basel, Geneva, Monaco ...).
1. Source: EUROSTAT, Labour Force Survey, 2015