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Economy & Culture
Once again, the alarm bells are ringing in the Dutch border regions, like ours. This time, however, the alarm bells aren’t rang by the the border regions themselves, but by different national organisations in the political capital of The Hague. In March, a hundred-pages counting report was published by three national councils. Its conclusion: The Hague invests unevenly in the Randstad region (the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Utrecht area) and does too little to tackle the opportunities and challenges in peripheral border regions. So, what are the opportunities and challenges in our border region? And, what responsibility does Volt have?
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We will not beat around the bush: when it comes to paying sufficient political attention to the border regions, the Dutch government has received fierce criticism from the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (RLI), the Council for Public Administration (ROB) and the Council for Public Health & Society (RVS). While residents in the border regions pay the same amount of tax money as people in the Western Netherlands, the border region receives much less government investment.
Particular attention is paid in the report to the lack of investment in cross-border public transport. As a result, border regions such as Maastricht’s Southern Limburg cannot benefit from the great economic opportunities that are located in Belgium and Germany. The result is clear: the current status quo in national capitals make it very difficult for young and old Limburgers to go to work or school in an easy way, especially if those facilities are on the other side of the border.
Of course, we have known for longer than today that our city and region have a great need for talented people. Those people should be served a reliable, flexible and secured life when they start working in the Meuse-Rhine Euregion. Whether it concerns existing cross-border workers or new talent that we want to attract: our economy is highly dependent on good economic cross-border policies. Unfortunately, the report is also very critical of The Hague's approach in that area. When it comes to promoting a strong Euregional economy, there often appears to be an invisible wall on the border. "Administratively, the area stops at the border", the three councils say. This means, in other words, that the economic potential of our border regions are "cut in two halfs" and are forced to "only to look westwards".
But the challenges go much further than that. Whether it concerns Euregional approaches in the energy transition, combating cross-border crime, the failure of joint international investments from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, or offering healthcare facilities for border residents: everywhere it appears that capital cities are too fixated on their own national interests, and too little on the interests of cross-border residents.
Volt, as a European party, was founded to address precisely these problems. From the municipal councils of Aachen and Maastricht, from our members in Belgium, but also at national and European level, we continue to engage with the various political layers on which our continent is built. From Bulgaria toThe Netherlands, we agree that cross-border workers form the backbone of Europe's border regions.
But how do you ensure that, as a small, two-seat council group in Maastricht, you make border residents heard? As a chairman of Volt Maastricht, last year I became politically involved in a court case of self-employed entrepreneurs on the border, who had not received any Covid-19 benefit. Here, it became clear to us how many political entities are involved in large and small border issues. These entities barely correspond with each other: European law lies with Europe, but political decisions are often made by national governments. At the same time, these national decisions affect the border region and, in case of bad policy, the victims are visible at the local level. European, national and local levels: the balance of power in these intertwined cases is often skewed and there is hardly any dialogue going on.
We remain committed to a more borderless region by keeping these power shifts in mind. We continue to submit proposals and questions, such as those for better train and bus connections across the border and stronger social policy for cross-border workers, we call on local councils to lobby for the interests of the border region in The Hague and we include our fellow Volters across the continent: in the Dutch Parliament, in Dutch and German municipalities, but also in the European Parliament.
Nevertheless, we also see that we should engage in more dialogue with cross-border society. Indeed, more than just including the work and awareness of MPs and MEPs, we should engage with cross-border workers, cross-border schoolchildren and cross-border students, as well as with experts, trade unions and cross-border organisations.
Above all, we want to listen more to your individual concerns in the border region. After all, maybe you yourself are an (ambitious) cross-border worker, or your nieces go to a Belgian school, or you have been trying for months to set up your own company in Germany. We, in our City Council bubble, often find out too late that new challenges have become visible in the border region. We have been too late, because a lawsuit had already started. We have been too late, because the voice of cross-border workers is often ignored in the media. We have been too late, because Belgian, German and Dutch border residents often do not find their way in the complex political jungle of the Euregion Meuse-Rhine.
In other words, we need your help. What are the biggest obstacles in your daily life in the border area? How do we ensure that today's border challenges are tomorrow's opportunities? We have the resources, the insights and the growing political movement to help you. But the experiences in your individual life are often missing in our own lives. It is therefore crucial, as a European party in Maastricht, that we can get in touch with all those different border residents of our region.
So keep sending us emails (via my email address for example, firstname.lastname@example.org), or come straight to the point. Literally, in our case: because if you have become curious about how we work as a bottom up political movement, or if you think that we have no eye for your experiences in this city or region, you are most welcome to join our monthly public group meeting in Café Forum: every first Monday of the month, at 19:30! And you don't have to live in Maastricht to be a part of this. Members from all corners of the Euregion were present in our previous meeting. In this way, we, as a European movement, are working hard on the possibilities to continue to have cross-border conversations in our beautiful border city.