Where borders are blurred

From Frankfurt/Oder it is only a short walk to the Polish town of Słubice. This is perhaps the best place there is for sensing what Europe means. Out and about with international guests.

Markus Hornung - International guests

On the “beach” on the banks of the River Oder there are loungers and a screen, on which in the evening the quarter final of the European Championship is being shown. Portugal against Wales. Europe is currently playing out national rivalries on the football pitch. In real life there is for the most part considerably more partnership, and borders can no longer be clearly made out. The international guests on the themed trip “Germany in Europe – European Germany”, who as part of the Visitors’ Programme of the Federal Republic of Germany are spending a week in Berlin, Frankfurt/Main and Frankfurt/Oder, notice this. Deep in conversation they have just walked across the bridge spanning the River Oder – and all of a sudden are now on Polish territory. If it weren’t for the signs in Polish and the large banner of the town of Słubice, you would hardly know you had just crossed a national border.

Krzysztof Wojciechowski has crossed the bridge many times. The 59-year old is Executive Director of Collegium Polonicum, a cross-border academic institution maintained by the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder and Adam Mickiewicz University in the Polish city of Poznań. In the early 1990s Wojciechowski worked in the office that established the Viadrina, on the other side of the river, where he later ran the International Office. Back then hardly anyone would have predicted that today there would be a German-Polish university project, a mini educational world on both sides of the river. “25 years ago I wouldn’t have believed it possible,” Wojciechowski says, having shown his guests to the Collegium Polonicum viewing platform. “It’s a small miracle.”

What happens now, post-Brexit?

And indeed, from up here, with its view across to Frankfurt/Oder and to the bridge, where there is a continuous stream of pedestrians, cars, and busses in both directions, Europe seems very close. Omar Cabrera looks pensively across the river to the German side. The European model is interesting for the journalist from El Salvador as well. “As a small country we are of course frequently being advised to establish partnerships.” With regard to certain aspects there is already close cooperation in Central America as well. And if he travels to Honduras or Guatemala, Cabrera now only has to show his ID card, no longer his passport. But the region is still a long way off such intensive communitisation as in Europe.

But nor is it as if everything is currently coming up roses in the EU. In particular those on the trip whose countries are candidate countries, or for which, as young Member States, transitional arrangements still apply, are unsettled by the Brexit referendum to take Great Britain out of the EU. “We ask ourselves what is to become of European integration,” the Croatian journalist Višnja Starešina says. Vera Didanovic, a foreign policy expert for a Serbian weekly newspaper, nods emphatically. And Krzysztof Wojciechowski, who was just enthusing about the small European miracle, also admits that he is worried about Europe’s future. He mentions recent marches by Polish nationalists, and the refugee crisis, which is presenting enormous challenges to the countries of Europe.

An insight into refugee accommodation

The day before, those on the trip had an opportunity to see for themselves how Germany is dealing with this challenge. In Berlin they met a representative of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, visited refugee accommodation, spoke to the facility manager, the district mayor, a representative of the local job centre and a volunteer helper. “I was amazed by how many different authorities are entrusted with the refugee question,” says Fahrad Alhomoudi. The lawyer heads a think tank in Saudi Arabia. He is annoyed by the fact that it is often said that the Gulf States are not taking any refugees. There are probably more Syrians living in Saudi Arabia than in Germany, Alhomoudi says, but there is no organised care. “In Saudi Arabia the Syrian community looks after the refugees, in Germany the government.” For both countries with their different languages, societies, and labour markets, the solution is in each case the right one, Alhomoudi thinks. The situation cannot be compared.

He finds the EU as a haven of cooperation exciting nonetheless, but it cannot be a blueprint for cooperation between the Gulf States. Efforts had been made for a long time to introduce a joint currency, for example, but the idea was ultimately rejected. In other areas the states in the region work closely together through the Gulf Cooperation Council. “That primarily affects foreign and defence policy and the economy.” There is also a lot happening with regard to cooperation between universities, says Alhomoudi, who advises the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education. “There are clear, simple rules governing the recognition of credits within the Gulf States.” With their cross-border learning, for him Europe and Frankfurt/Oder were not far away at all, he added.

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