These questions formed the starting point for an international citizen research project. The UG Science Shop Language, Culture and Communication collaborated with German partners from the Science Shop Vechta/Cloppenburg and the Jade University of Applied Sciences on a project with financial support of the Ems-Dollart Region (EDR). The focus was on the exchange of experience of citizens during the pandemic and to bring back the cross-border dialogue that characterised the region before. In Spring 2021 Dutch and German citizens from the Nothern border region met each other online in 5 thematic sessions. The topics of these meetings were education, society, healthcare, work and the local economy. In these meetings citizens shared their experiences on confusing regulations and communication, but also on what did work well in their region. They mentioned what they perceived as challenging, but also what got better over time. Also creative and realistic ideas for future improvement were discussed. Their input and ideas were the starting point of a concluding meeting with policy makers from the border region.
The results of the project have been compiled in a book that is downloadable for everyone (free of change). The main wish of all participants was for more cross-border coordination between authorities and a transparent and intelligible overview of the different rules. Several people also expressed concern that the pandemic had made the border tangible again. Through regulations that disadvantaged citizens of the neighbouring country, for instance, at some point workers from the Netherlands had to get tested every three days to work in Germany, which was both logistically and financially a challenge. Futhermore, in isolated cases the border became tangible again through hostile behaviour towards the citizens of the neighbouring country. Those affected expressed the hope that this was a temporary phenomenon of the pandemic and would not have any long-term effects on the normally very friendly coexistence at the border.
A positive side effect of the project was that it made dialogue across the border possible again. Citizens asked each other how they got through the pandemic and how they experienced the changing measures. Some participants mentioned that their motivation to join the meetings was that they had missed the contact with their neighbours. Lastly, solutions for the future were shared. A participant suggested to create an app where you can plan your (cross-border) travel and get informed about the different measures and risks that you have to take into account. Another participant suggested hybrid forms (online and offline) of cultural and social connections to strengthen existing links and prevent them from getting lost in times of crises.
Want to find out more about how citizens in Germany and the Netherlands dealt with the pandemic? Common challenges, cross-border dialogue and solutions for the future can be found in the book Gevolgen van de coronapandemie op de Eems-Dollard regio / Auswirkungen der Coronapandemie auf die Ems-Dollart-Region (In Dutch or German)
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