cross-borderDo you live in a border region? Maybe you live in one country but work in another? Perhaps you regularly drive to another country in order to go shopping or fill up on petrol? Or you cross the border to study at your university or college?

There are 60 internal borders within the EU, and about a third of Europeans live along them. Today’s debate will be looking at some of the challenges facing “cross-border workers”, i.e. people who live in one EU Member State but commute across the border to work in another. We’ve put together some statistics on cross-border workers in an infographic below (you can see it full screen here).

Taxation, social security and healthcare in the EU are almost entirely the competencies of Member States. When it comes to taxation, for example, most of the rules for cross-border workers are set by bilateral treaties between individual countries, which can lead to a lot of red tape for the workers involved. We had a comment sent in by European arguing that he (or she) faces a bureaucratic nightmare as a cross-border worker:

citizen_icon_180x180We all talk about a ‘Europe without internal borders’, but the EU doesn’t seem to exist for people who live in one member state but work in another. Cross-border workers face a bureaucratic nightmare when it comes to social security and taxation.

We put this comment to Walter Deffaa, Director-General of Regional and Urban Policy at the European Commission, to see if he would agree:

We also had a comment from Paul, arguing that the number of people regularly crossing borders in the EU are a “minority compared to those millions of people” who quite happily work in their own country. Paul questioned the need for the EU to be involved at all.

How would Walter Deffaa respond?

We also spoke to Martin Guillermo Ramirez, the Secretary General of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), and asked him to respond to Paul’s criticism:

ramirezOne third of the European population are living in border areas, so when they look for a job it includes the neighbouring border area. So, in this case, we are talking about nearly 200 million people who could be affected.

In terms of daily commuters, we don’t have an exact figure. Last year, we did a study for the Committee of the Regions and spoke to several experts, and there is no agreement on the number. In many cases, we are talking about freelancers and independent workers who are registered in their country of residence but work across the border.

We can definitely say that more than one million European citizens, as a rough figure, cross the border every day for work, as well as roughly 200’000 students who cross the border to study. But this is definitely underestimating the true numbers.

Finally, we spoke to Jan Olbrycht, a centre-right Polish MEP. Did he agree with European that there was too much red tape for cross-border workers?

Last but not least, we had a comment sent in via our Suggest a Debate form by Christina, who argued that the situation for cross-border workers was unlikely to change anytime soon. Christina believes that national governments are unlikely to want to give up powers over taxation and social security, particularly as euroscepticism is increasing in many EU Member States:

Should the EU have more powers over taxation, healthcare and social security in order to cut red tape for cross-border workers? Or is the number of people commuting across borders too small? Would more people take advantage of jobs and other opportunities on the other side of the border if there was less red tape, or are there other barriers (including language)? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!

50 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Your MEP election in May showed that the peoples of Europe rejected your EU project so the question of the undemocratic EU Elite taking more powers away from nation states should not even be being asked.

    Makes a mockery of your header statement to ‘ Make YOUR voice heard’ as the result of the election as been completely ignored.

    Given the mess the EU has made of most the economies in Europe why would anyone want them to have more control ?

    The question you should be asking is ‘Will France leave the EU before or after Great Britain ?’

  2. avatar
    Agnes Monfret

    Wouldn’t more EU power to cut red tape in border regions require a harmonisation competence at EU level, which the current Treaty on the Functioning of the EU does not recognize ?

    • avatar
      James McManama

      Yes, you’re absolutely right.

      However, that doesn’t mean the EU couldn’t play a greater informal role through the Open Method of Coordination. And, eventually, perhaps some (or all) eurozone states could make use of the enhanced cooperation procedure to pool sovereignty. And, finally, treaty change may be necessary.

      Some states would almost certainly want to opt out (definitely the UK), but that doesn’t mean Eurozone states can’t begin this process.

  3. avatar
    James McManama

    As for cross-border workers in the EU, I do think that better harmonisation of tax systems, social security systems, healthcare systems, etc. would be good. At the very least, it must be done in the Eurozone, not just because it helps cross-border workers (and encourages more people to become cross-border workers) but because it will ensure a more sustainable Single Currency.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @James McManama
      The UK would NOT want to pool sovereignty with some EU basket case nations – its bad enough having to pay charity to civilize/industrialise same without any mention of gratitude.

    • avatar
      James McManama

      @Tarquin – Well, to an extent I agree with you. The UK would not want to take part, and so probably it would be best to start with just a few core Eurozone countries. The UK has a permanent opt-out from the Euro, so will probably never take part in this sort of enhanced cooperation. So, everything I’m arguing does not include the UK.

      As for the rest, I would disagree. The UK gets enormous benefits from access to the Single Market, as well as continuing political and economic stability in Europe (you may laugh at me calling the EU “politically and economically stable”, but contrast with neighbouring countries in the Balkans, North Africa, Ukraine, Belarus, Levant, etc.).

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @James McManama
      Enormous benefits? Hmmm, for some beggar EU nations yes but NOT the UK.

      The EU is too expensive, too intrusive and too undemocratic – it is NOT fit for purpose. It must either radically overhaul OR disband.

  4. avatar
    Antonio Pinto Caldeira

    If you make every country in UE share same taxation, same social benefits and same responsability then Ok, otherwise no.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Antonio Pinto Caldeira
      What a great idea. The EU should also make every country share sunlight, wind, rain and snow too!

  5. avatar
    Giusy Berardi

    I totally agree. UE must increase his competences to help Eu citizens. We have so much problems in the labour market; an European labour market can increase the opportunity to reach a job. But it’s not easy today. So EU can do more and not leave his citizens with no support… Labour market, social rights, healthy rights and more…..

  6. avatar

    My country Switzerland is not a EU member, we have our own laws and regulations,tax & healthare system etc., if you want to come and live and work here I expect you to inform yoursef about our laws beforehand and then abide by them, with things like google and even by simply writing a email to the Swiss Embassy asking for Info you should have no problem coming up with answers to your questions.

  7. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    for doing what? please first of all take out thiefs and burglards from the parliament and then we can debate wicha are the proper powers of europe… but not with this warlords and people working for corporations…

  8. avatar

    I think the worst is not for cross-borders, because it exists a legislation (poor obviously, but it exists), whereas for people who work in a country, live in another, or who have/had two residences, jobs in different countries, who are not considered “cross-borders”, but live/have lived in different European countries, there is nothing at all! For unemployment benefit, pension, social security, it’s a big mess, very complicated to understand taxes stuff, ecc… that’s why we have a very low rate of work mobility in Europe. At the end to be immobile is always more convenient than to move in Europe! Is the EC and our European deputies aware of that?? not sure at all!

  9. avatar
    catherine benning

    What we need to do as Europeans across all states is to produce our own products. Example. I have been trying to find a keyboard for my desktop PC that has not only French punctuation marks but the German umlaut, and all those other things needed to write in another language not English. Can I find one? Not to purchase here in the UK I can’t. And the reason for that is, we are sold all this computer stuff through idiots who either don’t know about them, or, are provided through an American supplier who have no interest in anything European. Akin to the uneducated American spelling we have on our computer spell check facility. The yanks only know how to spell cartoon speak. example, loony toons. They simply do not have the ability to leave their ‘Zee’ out and put and S where one should be. And so on.

    Tell me why our European people, rather than the Chinese or anyone else come to that, are not employed making computer parts suitable for Europe. Our own software, our own keyboards, our own language needs. Why is it impossible to do this? I’m sick to death of being forced to accept inferior products because the dummies who make them know so little about our way of life. Most of these producers are barely literate, yet here we are spending billions buying these things not made by us or devised by us and then wonder why our people have no work. Why? Why? Why?

    It doesn’t make sense. If Europeans were working to make products for our own requirements those same people would have money to spend at the end of the month. That in itself would bring growth to our markets, which would fund more growth. What we have is a downward spiral of cheaper and cheaper goods because few have enough money to purchase anything not made in the third world. Which produces mostly badly made items needing to be junked in a couple of months. Cheap poorly made clothes that don’t fit properly. See if you can find a good quality outfit in the department stores any more. And the result? The store is going out of business because nobody wants what they are selling. Take M&S. Once upon a time they sold only items made in the UK and they thrived. Good quality, well designed, now you can walk around their entire store and rarely find anything made outside of China. Ill fitting, poor designs, ghastly material. Then these chumps who run our lives and Parliaments ask us, on this forum, what should be done about it, as they scratch their heads like the old comics in silent films. Surely the demise of the goods market tells you what is being sold doesn’t fit the European bill anymore. You cannot find anything worth forking out for.

    Globalisation is the red herring of unrestricted abuse. Which it appears everyone knows is going on yet will do nothing to put an end to it. Why is that? It is the old pay for nothing game. Their astute backers know full well they can sell anything on the idea that it is ‘good for mankind.’ When the truth is, it’s only good for those at the top. Which, as we have experienced, does not ‘trickle down.’

    Why are we voting for idiots who have no brain? What is wrong with our thinking process? Too much inward gazing and no experience in the real world is the problem. A lack of functioning common sense. The worst of all being, they block any freedom of thought, resulting in regurgitation of the mess we already have.

    Start with thinking about what we in Europe really need, like and want. Then get our European population making it, supplying it and producing it. Pay them a good living wage so they can afford to buy what we produce and watch growth.

    Couple that with closing boarders from outside Europe to enable those already here to thrive and see a resurgence in our economy almost overnight. How can you seriously believe bringing in millions of people from all over the planet isn’t going to be a horrible drain on the health services, education, social security, housing sectors, when nothing is done to expand those services ‘prior’ to the import of these human beings. So, close the doors and get our European people to work looking after themselves. Just as it always did when it worked properly. The elite you are relying on do not use their brain in the way that is needed to run countries. They are thwarted by fear to speak what they know to be truth. (Political correctness) Or, they simply have no experience in the reality of how human minds react. That useless concept called jargon is their life teacher and must be binned at once.

    So, the red tape at boarders should be free of stultifying our collective efforts. Globalisation is the cause of our chaos, not the separate states within it. What has to be worked on is a unified standard of living and benefits right across Europe, not, as it is presently, Corporations and Financial services feeding off our natural ability to provide locally. Those outside Europe have no idea what it is we are looking for, they simply want to use the working poor as pawns, whilst strangely, suffocating their ability to feast heartily on their own enterprise.

    Open alternative money harbouring concerns such as mutuals to provide what banks do on a local basis. Cut out the middle man. Set up accounts in local non affiliated concerns that keep our money churning in our own streets and cities. Don’t buy products made outside of Europe. Use only European sources for all things. That way you will be helping yourself to what is being stolen from you by the bonus culture of the faux money industry. This will create millionaires in your own backyards. And lastly, don’t vote for anyone who is funded by Global money. Start by grouping together to form new political parties that will give you what you want in life changes through our tax system. Force the likes of the IMF, ECB and their cohorts out of business. And mostly, standardise corporation tax across all states. For example, no less tax in Ireland or wherever. Tax corporations out of business if they remove their work force out of Europe, because, when they do this, they remove the taxation we need from each one of those employees. Heavily shut down corporate and banking lobbies manipulating our respective governments. Get rid of politicians who feed off this practice.

  10. avatar

    The EU should definitely have more powers over taxation, healthcare and social security. Regarding the healthcare, based on my own experience, living in different EU states can be very difficult when it is provided through a wide range of different systems run at the national level. Health care in some states is mainly provided on the basis of residence and when you commute to other state you loose the right for that country’s social security system. However, it is not guaranteed that in the new state of residence you qualify for the national social security system as it can be provided on different basis. In some cases for example students do not qualify for it at all if they are not working during the studies. Therefore, taxation, healthcare and social security should be harmonized.

    • avatar

      Healthcare harmonized? At what level? The highest level? Who’s gonna pay for that? You expect the Germans would willingly hand over a few billion more to make healthcare in eastern and southern Europe better?

      Or maybe at the lowest level, how many people do we need to die to make this whole ‘EU harmonized healthcare’ possible?

    • avatar
      Pedro Pereira

      Actually Marcel, the countries in the south have a very good healthcare, you can look for the numbers or list with best healthcare on the internet and find thm easily. Unfortunately, UK is in a lower position than most southern countries so you are the one that would benefit. Crazy ah?

  11. avatar
    Martin Unterholzner

    Generally I support the idea of harmonizing bureaucracy and legal norms. As I live in Switzerland (beeing an EU-citizen) I benefit from seeing two radically opposed political views. What I have learned from them is that the quality of a political proposal with respect to genuine long-term benefits is less relevant than the emotions and fears. Society is emotional, not rational. Hence, in the current political climate of anxieties concerning immigration, aspirations for more international harmonization are (unfortunately) not realistic. First we need to boost the economy to build trust. Based on this we can start working on a European identity, which is the emotional basis for more political integration.

  12. avatar

    Fellow border warriors! :D I am glad to have come accross this forum.

    Nightmare confirmed. However, social security and taxation are just a few of the categories I came across as problems moving, living and working in different countries.

    I am Dutch, living now for the sixth month in Antwerp and working (still) in Rotterdam, commuting every day between the two, Belgium and Holland.

    There are just too many issues to mention that form an obstacles when basing your life on two countries or more, and there is just one factor that I can mention that I have found a benefit and can recognise the Union with, which is just the common currency.

    On every other aspect I have found a Europe as if 1980, banking included. With my Dutch bank card I cannot even pay in every shop or location I come in Belgium, and this is Belgium (!) I might add, the ‘Be’ in Benelux and home of the capital of the Union…

    It’s these kind of ‘restrictions’ that require me to have everything in double, Dutch and Belgian. This includes Dutch and Belgian insurances, Dutch and Belgian banking, Dutch and Belgian telecom, various kinds of Dutch an Belgian memberships (e.g. for car trouble assistance), and it doesn’t matter who or where you ask, nobody seems to truly know what you should or should not do in all of these situations. I am now either overinsured or still underinsured for example, and it doesn’t matter who, when or where you ask, you each time get a different version.

    So, to the question is this potentially a negative influence on the decision making of people exploring cross border opportunities? Of course. The burocracy of just changing your address from one country to another, takes ages with many steps, and the transition period between is just full of doubts and questions as mentioned above.

    So far my experience undertaking this move to just a neighbouring country felt like moving to the other side of the world, where they also just happened to have the Euro. A much heard expression in The Netherlands about the European Union is: “the free travel of goods, services and people”. Well it may apply to a free exchange of goods, but my finding in 2014 is that it does not apply to people and associated services.

    • avatar

      As indeed it shouldn’t. Our country is flooded with Poles, Latvians, Greeks basically undercutting locals by working for cheaper. This whole free travel of people should be the first thing to go.

      Why should someone who works here for a few months qualify for a lifetime of benefits based on our benefits levels? Which idiots decided this was a good idea?

      The elites political jobs are protected from such ‘foreign’ competition by the very nature of their jobs. However my job enjoys no such protection and as soon as they can find some Pole willing to do it for 30% less they’ll get rid of me. Happened before, and likely will happen again.

      Free travel of people benefits those with higher education, the rich and the elites, but it has NEVER benefitted the middle class and the poor, especially not in western European countries.

      Time to step out of your elitist bubble and face reality. The EU isn’t there for you if you’re not rich.

  13. avatar
    Olivier Laurent

    Always more and more power on someone else life. Why do you wish so much to control other people life?

  14. avatar
    Paul X

    Rather than wasting time and money making it easier to cross internal borders maybe the EU should concentrate on making it harder to cross Europe’s external borders

    I’m sure the residents of Calais would agree with that

  15. avatar

    I’m all for harmonizing every tax rate at the lowest level.

    Governments would prefer to harmonize them at the highest level.

    Considering the huge differences (especially between Western Europe and Eastern Europe) in tax rates harmonization simply cannot be done. In Eastern Europe people cannot afford to pay Western European rates, and in Western Europe no government will voluntarily stop looting my paycheck by reducing the tax rate to an Eastern European rate.

    Harmonization will mean ordinary people will pay vastly more, whilst the EU elites will simply declare themselves to be tax-exempt.

  16. avatar

    Harmonizing labor laws is nothing but code speak for ‘driving down wages’, which the middle class and the poor have been experiencing since the birth of the wealth-destroying Euro and since we got flooded by eastern Europeans seeking to undercut us by working for cheaper.

    The elites, the rich, the corporations and bankers however have tremendously benefitted, more bonuses because of cost cuts by moving jobs to low wage countries etc.

    Every free trade treaty signed enables more jobs to be moved to low wage countries, don’t let the corporate propaganda about TTIP fool you into thinking otherwise.

    And what kind of harmonization anyway? Income tax at Latvian levels? Benefits at Bulgarian levels? Healthcare at Greek levels? Wages at Polish levels?

    Because don’t be fooled into thinking everything can be harmonized at the ‘highest/most beneficial’ level, the money for that simply doesn’t exist.

    Wage harmonization would require many in western Europe to take a huge paycut. Benefits harmonization would mean massive reductions in western Europe etcetera… it simply cannot be done.

    • avatar
      Clive Hinchcliffe

      To say it can not be done is deftest and maintains divisions between member states. It can not be done in a few years but could be done over say 10 years in stages.

  17. avatar

    I just had a tremendous idea.

    All income tax rates in all EU countries should be harmonized… at European Commission level. The elitist undemocratic Commission is income-tax-exempt, we should all be exempt. No more income tax! That’s something I could support.

  18. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Free movement is one of the few real benefits we as citizens get with our EU citizenship and one of our fundamental rights as EU citizens. If we take this away then the EU would be nothing more a union for the business elites to trade freely. If the EU becomes such thing, then I have no real interest in it; what will be in it for me then? Freedom of movement must be respected and safeguarded, as well as implemented across the EU( and yes that means that Bulgaria and Romania must join the Schengen Agreement, and soon Croatia too)!!

  19. avatar
    Rüdiger Lohf

    If you are a traveller you appreciate the free movement, of course. And I like to meet people in these different but close european societies. The differences within Europe are the best strength of this part of the world. Smart people live this every day. Less mart people are just angry about everything that seems to be different. Europe is the best home in the whole world! Just feel it!

  20. avatar
    Pedro Redondeiro

    Yes and they should have the other way around also. Especially the last in order to secure the european borders.

  21. avatar
    Kurt Koenig

    How free and open the borders are depends on the people crossing them. Open borders must not mean open for criminals.
    But yes. Travelling in Europe is nice, the single currency helps a lot.
    Some people need to adjust their thinking a bit. If I see how people try to build new borders … instead of appreciating what Europe has become, after so many bloody wars.
    When in the European Union, all member states must profit from that… And they do, even if it is not always immediately visible…

  22. avatar
    Mathias Darmell

    Well the EU have done what it can. National leaders like Cameron and others are doing what they can to prevent it.

  23. avatar
    Clive Hinchcliffe

    It is not just cross boarder workers who have these issues but also people who have lived and worked in a number of member states and so have many pieces to there tax, social and insurance profile.

  24. avatar
    Gatis Gailitis

    Yes it should remain without borders . I don’t want to get visa every time I go on holiday or see my friends. However, I think we should get a policy that gives a country rights to deny access for foreign criminals.

  25. avatar
    Ieva Kalnina

    Maybe the question has been posed in a tone a bit too harsh, but in general it would be good if EU helped in cases like making sure transport operators willing to offer cross-border public transport servces, were given access to information about possible customers on the other side of the borders. EU could also help in cases where rescue services cannot properly collaborate because they do not have a permission to work in the territory of another country (there are cases when neighbouring country’s mountain or fire rescue brigades are closer to the incident, but cannot do anything to help until relevant national body has issued a permission…). EU could also help to make sure there is consistent data about cross-border labour commuters. And help to resort rules which pervent taking children from German border community for swimming lessons to the pool in neighbouring French community (when there is no pool on German side, but the rules for children crossing the borders, as well as health and security requirements are so different that kids get no chance…). EU could also monitor if sufficient and rapid collaboration mechanisms exist between services responsible for civil defense in cases of possible cross-border emergencies, floods, forest fires and alike. Suspect these may be just few examples. Most of these are known to the people living in border areas, in close proximity to borders and neighbours.

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