17th Franco-German Dialogue 2015
On 17–19 June 2015, the 17th Franco-German Dialogue took place at the European Academy of Otzenhausen (EAO) on the topic of the “Cross-border Education and Labour Market”. Cross-border vocational training and professional mobility are important factors in the German-French border region of Oberrhein, as well as in the greater region of SaarLorLux. Although both regions have concluded a series of measures in the last few years to promote mobility and exchange, there are still many hurdles to overcome. Consequently, the dialogue dedicated itself to the question of how opportunities and problems in these wider regions could be both used and overcome.
The goal of the conference was to bring together relevant actors and experts on the subject of the cross-border education and labour market in the border regions. In two parallel working group sessions, the experts were called to exchange experiences and challenges in order to visualize that which has already been achieved and also to identify future fields of action. In so doing, the great expertise of the participants in the mobility and labour market field could collectively be used to find possible solutions to processes yet to be optimized. The results of the expert exchange were presented on 19 June at a public event and were then discussed in a panel session with additional specialists in politics and economics.
In the first working group, participants discussed the theme, “Cross-border Mobility in Vocational Training, University Studies, and Continuing Education”. Despite a great offering of measures that address the skill shortage and youth unemployment in the border region, in practice there are still many problems and hurdles for cross-border mobility in education. Since barely any systematic exchange between the relevant actors had taken place until now, it was agreed that the working group should serve as a cornerstone for such an exchange in the future.
The second working group, which was moderated by Dr Frank Baasner, Director of the dfi (Deutsch-Französisches Institut), and Richard Steinberg, of the Institut für Europäische Politik, dealt with the issue, “Cross-border Mobility in the Labour Market”. In this field as well, there remain major problems and challenges despite many programmes and politically promoted labour administration facilitation. Although EU law guarantees mutual recognition of professional qualifications, many firms and employers face significant difficulties developing a solid understanding of the credentials. Even employees often shy away from the bureaucratic hurdles involved, such as, for example, the translation of job titles, insurance policies and the recognition of diplomas. And while work migration to Luxembourg remains high, the number of commuters between Germany and France is decreasing.
Both working groups came to the conclusion that many challenges are the result of the collision between both border regions’ respective education and legal systems. Although the EU could create a legal framework to remedy the situation, the true practice of border crossing takes on a very complex shape which does not always follow market logic. As a reaction to these problems, a multitude of initiatives have arisen in the past few years, both in the private and in the public sphere, that are attempting, either structurally or selectively, to simplify and promote cross-border mobility. In order to mitigate the risk of working at cross purposes, the experience and information exchange between actors should be promoted in the future. This cooperation is additionally important because a complete integration and harmonization of the system is not possible.
In order to develop a cross-border option in the future, one that would not only work for both employees and employers, but that would also correspond with labour demand, it is important to build upon successful experiences from the past. Furthermore, the consideration of local realities, the continuing analysis of the labour market and the anticipation of future demand are all also important. The long term goal should be to transfer the present project rationale of many initiatives into sustainable structures so as to counteract the loss of knowledge and experience.
The results of the working groups were presented to and discussed with representatives from the political, scientific and economic fields at the closing event. The exchange with policymakers such as Stephan Toscani, Minister for Finances and Europe (Saarbrucken), and Martine Calderoli-Lotz, Vice-President of the Regional Council of Alsace (Strasbourg), as well as business representatives such as Thomas Hoffman, HR manager of Michelin Reifenwerke in Homburg/Saar, promoted the sustained exchange of all actors on the challenges of mobility in the border regions, which was called for by the working groups.
Further information and reports can be found on the website of ASKO Europa Stiftung.
By: Richard Steinberg and Hunter Hampton