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In 2010, the European Commission launched a call for proposals to financially support transnational actions aimed at improving citizens' knowledge on their rights and obligations in the field of social security when moving within Europe. Thomas Steffensen, Acting Head of Secretariat of the Oresunddirekt association, gives some insights into the project they ran in 2011 for cross-border workers in the transnational Danish and Swedish Øresund region.
Since the Øresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden was inaugurated in 2000, the number of commuters has steadily risen.
Today, about 20,000 people commute daily between the two countries. These people enter a new labour market where they must learn the language and adapt to the working culture; but they also face new rules and administrative structures.
Oresunddirekt has provided public information targeted at commuters for the past 10 years, covering for instance, family benefits, old-age pensions, tax systems, etc.
We chose to produce a series of cartoons which describe the rules concerning old-age pensions, maternity leave and family benefits. This information was already available on our website but the cartoons allowed us to describe complex legislation in a far more pedagogical way. They were reassuring for the citizens: "There is someone who understands the rules and actually strives to convey them to me." I think this is an important signal to send.
Moreover, Oresunddirekt organised a conference for case-handlers from the authorities of both countries. It gave them the opportunity to network and learn more about the impact on their daily work of the new regulations on the coordination of social security systems, which apply since 1 May 2010. It may sound strange that we spend time "educating" the authorities rather than doing something concrete for citizens. But at the end of the day, people turn to them when claiming their family benefits etc.
I think we managed to convey how important it is for cross-border workers to be part of the European Union: there are rules which protect them when they work abroad. Hopefully this will contribute to building an integrated labour market within the EU.
Metaphorically speaking, we have to establish a "comfort zone", where people feel confident about moving across borders. In this respect, the project has been of great value. I hope that other border regions in the EU will now take on the challenge. It is not "rocket science" but it is extremely important. One should never forget that even the largest picture consists of a multitude of small details: we should never lose sight of the citizens' perspective.