Cross-border Impact Assessment 2020
Dossier 4: The (im)possibility of cross-border training budgets to tackle long-term unemployment?
Pieter van Goinga
Dr. Nina Büttgen
This dossier assesses the impact of European and Dutch legislation and policy with regard to the use of training for cross-border job placement in the Dutch-German border region. It focuses on the role of SGAs (service desks for cross-border job placement, Servicepunt Grensoverschrijdende Arbeidsbemiddeling), which are located in the Dutch- German border region (in South Limburg). This dossier therefore differs somewhat from other cross-border impact assessments. It evaluates legislative impact in the context of the ‘SGA-policy’ and ‘its’ demand for implementing ‘activation measures in kind’ (training) in a cross-border setting. Accordingly, it analyses the presence of factors that may hinder cross-border access to training for jobseekers in a Euregion. The analysis is structured on the basis of the three common themes.
Promoting service desks for cross-border job placement
The creation of a Euregional labour market is a central objective in the long-term strategy of the Euregio Meuse-Rhine. Local, regional, and supra-regional authorities and partners have a strong interest in seeing their geographical location at the border not as a constraint but as an opportunity to match supply and demand on the labour market. Since 2016, the cooperation within the SGA-setting has been supporting better match-making on both sides of the border. In the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, two Cross-border Job Placement Services are currently operational – “SGA Kerkrade-Herzogenrath” has been since 2016 and “SGA Maastricht” since 2018. The SGA- approach has provided a framework of cooperation between all relevant partners from the Euregion and the subregions – namely the municipalities, employer service desks, the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), the Flemish Service for Employment and Vocational Training (VDAB), the German Agentur für Arbeit and Jobcenter, as well as the knowledge partners of EURES and the Cross-Border Information Points (Grensinfopunten / GIP).
The basic assumption behind this SGA-policy is that a transparent, Euregional labour market leads to an internationally attractive business climate and socio-economic benefits. Practice shows an important first step is that a good cross-border information and advice structure helps reduce the barriers that borders present. Next to the Cross-Border Information Points (GrensInfoPunten / GIPs), the SGAs thus represent a logical next step as they help allocate and match labour supply and demand in a regional, cross-border setting. It is therefore not surprising that there are plans for further strengthening and deepening the structural cooperation between the Public Employment Services (PES) in the (cross-)border regions along the Dutch and North-Rhine Westphalian border in that way. Moreover, this policy is in line with the common European objective of a high level of quality employment.
Obstacles to cross-border training measures
To strengthen SGA cooperation structures, it is particularly important that cross-border job placement can make use of the regular instruments of active labour market policy. Successful placement would then also include the allocation of adequate training measures. However, due to differing national legislations cross-border access to training and education is proving rather problematic in the day-to-day work of the SGA-service desks. It appears to be particularly difficult to make national training funds available to finance training in a cross-border context. Figure 4 provides a simplified overview of the various levels where (national) legislation plays a role in the process of job placement as a public service.
In fact, resolving the impending legal and administrative conflicts could help rendering these Euregional labour market services (even) more effective and the cooperation structures more durable. However, as the project leaders of the Maastricht and Kerkrade SGAs have observed, in particular:
‘an important instrument that combines national training funds into Euregional and regional training funds is lacking. As a result, cross-border labour market projects (PPPs) aimed at Euregional and regional sectoral development do not stand a chance of succeeding, even though they do have an important strength in terms of sustainability.’
It would be necessary to better align the different working methods of the various national employment services involved to facilitate access to employment opportunities (allocation function) in the neighbouring country further. Regarding the currently deteriorating labour market situation following the Coronavirus crisis and lockdown, a boost to this allocation function could be particularly desirable.
Within the chosen regional delimitation – the cross-border region between the Netherlands and Germany in South Limburg, the study is (further) limited to jobseekers receiving unemployment benefits and the role of the PES’es in coordinating cross-border training. The research methodology included literature research and interviews.
The component of socio-economic development plays an important role in this dossier. After all, stimulating inter- regional mobility of (future) cross-border workers/training placements could contribute effectively to the common European goals of a high employment rate and combatting poverty and unemployment – especially in cross-border areas (e.g. Euroregions). Cross-border coordination and inter-regional allocation of vocational training measures therefore provide the benchmarks for the assessment of Dutch and German regional labour market figures and cross-border data (to the extent they are available in this specificity). This initial analysis could naturally only provide a snapshot/first impression of labour market potential to be gained by enabling an efficient “allocation function”, i.e. placing jobseekers into available training measures across the border. It provides a fruitful basis for further research.
In view of the European Integration-objective, the free movement of workers (including the right to cross borders for finding work) is a central principle in this dossier. It is one of the fundamental freedoms constitutive of the EU system/Internal Market and must therefore not be restricted, save for exceptional public policy reasons. It is also constitutive of the idea of matching labour supply and demand in a Euregional labour market. By extension, then, the ideal situation for such a cross-border labour market – and for the effective use of the right to move freely to look for work (jobseeker’s perspective) – would be that access to activation measures (such as job training) across the border would also have to be unimpeded. On the one hand, such access ought not be frustrated by obstacles created unintentionally by (impact of) national activation provisions. On the other, gaining access to training across the border must not lead to the loss of social security rights, in particular of former frontier workers (impact of Regulation (EU) 883/2004). The dossier assesses to what extent these criteria can be regarded as fulfilled (or not) in the Dutch-German context, including references to pertinent EU case law (ITC case, C-208/05). A range of legal factors and administrative practices seem to stand in the way currently of achieving this ideal of “cross- border labour market activation”.
With respect to Euregional cohesion – last but not least – the dossier analyses the nature and extent of cross- border coordination of activation measures in kind. A well-functioning coordination of jobseeker/training allocation requires close cooperation between the competent PES, local and regional authorities on each side of the border. The discussion also touches upon issues of certification and the bodies authorized with such certification and the qualification of trainers. Based on a number of informal interviews with experts in the field (EURES, SGA), the examination could finally also bring to light delicate aspects regarding the (politically) more sensitive topic of financing cross-border access to activation measures/training.