Employment of seniors: the government opens the door to more “coercive” measures

STRASBOURG: “Making everyday life easier”: the Strasbourg-Ortenau Eurodistrict aims to be a “laboratory” of a cross-border “mini Europe” where 940,000 French and Germans live and calls for “extended powers” to go “further” in the cooperation, 60 years after the Elysée Treaty.

On this January morning, the cold is bitter in Lahr, a city in southwestern Germany at the foot of the Black Forest. In front of the station, bus 280 is about to leave for the French town of Erstein (Bas-Rhin).

On board, only one passenger: Julien Schemmel, a 23-year-old industrial designer who takes this cross-border line from time to time “to go to work”.

The young German, who only used it “once” to go to France, considers it “useful”, especially for cross-border workers, such as those of Zalando, the German e-commerce giant which installed the one of its platforms in Lahr. More than 1,300 people work there, including many French cross-border workers.


This line, set up in 2017 and nicknamed “Erstein-Zalando” or “Eurodistrict bus”, is very popular with these employees. Public since 2020, it offers six daily round trips, from Monday to Saturday.

“One of our greatest successes”, explains Frank Scherer, the German president of the Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau, the structure which carried out this project with various actors on both sides of the Rhine.

Created in 2005, constituted since 2010 as a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), the Strasbourg-Ortenau Eurodistrict was launched by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2003, during the 40th anniversary of the Treaty of Elysée, the bedrock of Franco-German reconciliation, explains Birte Wassenberg, professor of contemporary history at Sciences-Po Strasbourg.

Strasbourg-Ortenau, whose council is made up of 15 German and as many French elected officials, is one of the four Eurodistricts of the Upper Rhine, a region rich in cross-border partnerships and institutions (Rhenish Council, Upper Rhine Conference, etc.), continues -she.

It “encompasses the 61 municipalities of the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg and the canton of Erstein” as well as “the 51 municipalities” of the German district of Ortenau, i.e. “940,000 inhabitants”, details its vice-president and mayor of Strasbourg, the ecologist Jeanne Barseghian.

A living space where the border river, the Rhine, crosses “on a daily basis, for work, for services, for shopping” or “to find (…) families and friends”, she explains. . A “mini Europe where the feeling of belonging has created a common institutional framework”.

In this space, one of the objectives of the Eurodistrict is to “facilitate cross-border daily life”, in particular by removing bureaucratic barriers, according to Mr. Scherer.

With an annual budget of 850,000 euros, the Eurodistrict cannot however finance costly projects on its own and its concrete achievements remain modest: it is at the origin of a reusable eco-friendly cup or the “Vélo Gourmand” operation, a cycle route between Alsace and Ortenau punctuated by gastronomic stops.


But it is still developing an action of “lobbying with regional, national and European authorities” or financing cross-border meeting projects. In addition to mobility, the climate is an important theme for the Eurodistrict, which will organize this year a forum on adaptation to climate change called to serve as a basis for “a cross-border (…) action plan”, insists Frank Scherer.

Even if, sometimes, it gets stuck: despite its efforts, the Eurodistrict has so far been unable to establish a binational environmental car sticker, for lack of an adequate legal framework. Problematic, at a time when low emission zones (ZFE) are multiplying.

An illustration of the limits encountered by cross-border entities which have “no real skills” to carry out their projects, observes Birte Wassenberg: of course, they can think about “policies” or “common” projects, but their implementation effective rests with the States.

A shortcoming which the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, signed in 2019 by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, proposed to remedy by providing them with “appropriate skills”. “Unfortunately, many of the hopes that the Eurodistricts placed” in this treaty (…) have not materialized”, notes Mr. Scherer, who regrets that “the competences and the extended powers of the Eurodistricts” are “still not put implemented” or “too timidly”.

“We will not go further without a transfer of skills and suitable financing frameworks”, he warns.

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Employment of seniors: the government opens the door to more “coercive” measures