By Martín Guíllermo Ramírez - 7th October 2012
Due to lack of reliable information on the processes of getting a job on the other side of the border, citizens in frontier areas do not often consider searching for a job in a neighbouring country
Martín Guíllermo Ramírez
The EU and its citizens should embrace the economic flexibility that cross-border employment can represent, writes Martín Guíllermo Ramírez
More than one third of the EU’s population, so more than 200 million citizens including those in neighbouring regions at the external borders of the EU, live in cross-border areas, where crossing the border on their way to a leisure activity, a cultural event or to work, is part of their daily life. The possibility to work or employ personnel across borders opens new opportunities for employees and employers that benefit in manifold ways from the knowhow and experiences of their neighbours on the other side of the border. In particular cases, the labour shortage in specific branches can be, at least temporarily, overcome through workers from the neighbouring country, especially if they cannot find adequate jobs in their own land. Moreover, considering demographic change and its expected negative impact on national labour markets, cross-border cooperation can help to develop new regional strategies taking into account the development trends of whole cross-border areas, not ending just at the border.
Even if cross-border labour markets offer many additional opportunities, the number of cross-border commuters (Pendler, transfrontalières) could still be higher. Due to a lack of reliable information on the processes of getting a job on the other side of the border, citizens in frontier areas do not often consider searching for a job in a neighbouring country. They fear that they would not have the same rights as at home, or that there would a much higher bureaucratic burden. Moreover, there are still many practical obstacles to cross-border labour mobility that have not yet been solved, and which require commitment and efforts by responsible public bodies. These obstacles are mainly related to differences between national social security and taxation systems, not always being compatible. The European commission has also fostered with its many initiatives the coordination of social security systems in the EU. In some cases, a clear legal framework was created in order to facilitate the mobility of workers within the EU. But in many others it is still not clear how to implement the European legal framework in practice. The responsible national bodies and administrations are usually not located at the border, and are consequently not sufficiently aware of the problems that frontier workers have to face. Consequently, national regulations do not always take adequately into account the circumstances of frontier workers.
Euroregions and other structures of cross-border cooperation can help to improve the information flows between citizens in border areas and national bodies and administrations dealing with social security and taxation issues. In fact, in many border areas, particular cross-border networks and partnerships have been initiated to bring together all relevant stakeholders from both sides of the border in order to propose adequate solutions to mobility obstacles, such as the cross-border EURES T-networks or specific networks in euroregions dealing with cross-border labour market mobility. An important task of these cross-border networks and partnerships is also to provide all relevant information to employees and employers in border areas as regards working conditions, social security and taxation rules as well as job offers in the neighbouring country. This information can hardly be provided in a standardised form via the internet, as the problems faced by frontier workers are very individual and constantly changing. Personalised advisory services are, accordingly, of particular importance for current and future frontier workers. They improve the accessibility of citizens to sometimes complex information, and in this way have a positive impact on cross-border labour mobility along European borders. They encourage labour mobility, without idealising the reality, and promote the idea of the cross-border labour market. Accordingly, these cross-border networks and their advisory services must be maintained. Information is a key element, when it comes to the promotion of labour mobility in Europe. Without the provision of reliable information to frontier workers and without the exchange of information between all relevant stakeholders it’s difficult to achieve satisfactory results as regards the creation of a real cross-border labour market.
In fact, a cross-border labour market is both a challenge and an opportunity. It is a challenge, as there are still many prejudices and practical obstacles that usually can not be solved at regional level, and have no priority at national level. But it is also an opportunity for employees, employers and public administrations in border areas to get to know new methods, approaches and ideas, to exchange know-how, and to find new ways in promoting entrepreneurship and growth.
In any case, it is a basic brick of EU integration and, as such, it should be further facilitated.
Martín Guíllermo Ramírez is secretary general of the association of European border regions (AEBR)