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Movements and labour markets in (cross)border regions:issues and impacts

Philippe Gerber et Vincent Dautel

State of the research

Over the past few decades, the meaning and function of borders have changed significantly, in terms of both their spatial structure and the way they interrelate (Paasi, 1996). In Europe’s Schengen area, for example, political integration processes are making borders increasingly porous, putting their ‘traditional’ function as territorial boundaries into a different perspective (Coupleux et al., 2005). This, in turn, means that cross-border labour flows in the area are growing. These processes are further strengthened by the globalisation and specialisation of the world’s economies, as well as by the resulting growth in trade. Much research has developed around this emerging phenomenon, whether in the field of urban economics (e.g. Moritz 2011, Pierrard 2008), transportation geography and spatial mobility (Soutif 1999, Buxeda 2005, Plat and Raux 2008, Rietveld 2012), or within the more qualitative area of research commonly known as border studies (Van Houtum 2000, Durand 2013). Without trying to describe their results in full, quantitative micro-studies focusing either on stakeholders or employees, and looking at both sides of the border (Bloomfield et al,. 2015, Nowotny 2014, Gerber 2012, Carpentier 2012, Carpentier et al,. 2013, Schiebel et al,. 2015), are as yet few and far between.

Even though the changes described in the research seem to be strengthening and their quality improving through increasing labour flows involving highly qualified young workers (the ‘brain drain’; cf. Tassinopoulos 1999), migratory flows nevertheless remain relatively slight, despite the proactive opening of country borders (Van der Velde 2014). In addition to these empirical studies, some authors have begun to try and theorise this cross-border labour market (De Gisjel et al,. 1999), supported by contributions from endogenous growth theory, the new urban economics (the role of local human capital) and polarisation theories.

Attempts have also been made to model the phenomenon on an individual scale, concentrating on the differences between cross-border and non cross-border workers in terms of skills (Huber 2014). Such work echoes earlier research into within- and between-country migration, showing the impact of differences between migrants’ original regions and their destinations on positive versus negative self-selection (Borjas 1987, 1992). Similarly, mobility seems to depend on differences in employment opportunities in the labour markets and indeed on differences in terms of welfare benefits (Borjas 2001). A comparison with the results of such studies could be a fruitful line of research for any individual-centred approach.

Meanwhile economic geographers maintain that geographical contiguity is a potential source of positive externalities arising from complementarities, hybridisation or sharing of resources. Moreover, it can even promote a kind of spatial integration that values what is different (Sohn 2014). On a more individual scale, other work suggests that differences, when seen as conflicts, do not encourage mobility. Such differences concern skills received from education, work available (including the rules and regulations governing a profession), cultural issues (including language), and, more generally, a certain amount of ignorance or uncertainty regarding the place concerned (i.e. the foreign country), even if the place in question is relatively close to the person’s own place of residence. This is in keeping with the concept of (un)familiarity developed by Spierings and Van der Velde (2008). Some recent work (in particular two special issues: European Planning Studies 2013-1 and Journal of Borderlands Studies 2014-3), inspired by this concept, has focused on various case studies, which look at residents’ daily lives, tourism and shopping in a number of border regions.

Objectives of the call for articles

The most interesting perspective from which to view these transformational processes at work is the local and regional labour markets, which are located at various and different types of distances (social, geographic, institutional and cognitive) from the border. As this is within these places that people involved interact. For this issue, EPS is looking for contributions focusing on multidisciplinary quantitative aspects that affect the influences, challenges and impacts of mobility on labour markets located near borders, according to different analysis units and /or periods of time.

The required articles will therefore discuss the following issues, preferably from a cross-disciplinary perspective (economics, geography, demography, sociology, psychology), with respect to European, American, Asian or African cross-border regions:

  • What differs between cross-border and non cross-border or even migrant workers, in the various geographical areas of the local or regional labour markets?

  • What drives public bodies to take action, or even act to regulate (e.g. by building road or public transport infrastructures) labour flows on either side of borders?

  • What are the socio-spatial ideas and practices of city-dwellers living near borders? How do they perceive the border and their own field of action? Does the latter extend into several countries, irrespective of working conditions for resident or cross-border workers? Do the possibilities offered by mobility impact on their way of life?

  • What about company directors and managers? Do they use borders and their surrounding areas to better position themselves in a globally competitive market? If so, what are their location strategies?

  • How can we measure such disparate phenomena regarding political or entrepreneurial action on either side of the border, as well as individual migration and mobility flows (daily, residential, or professional)?

These research tracks will comprise a solid foundation of empirical data, analysed either at a micro-scale, with respect to cross-border workers, residents, civil society leaders, employers or politicians, or at a meso-scale (European cross-border regions, for example, or their metropolises). To date, there has been little comparison or harmonisation of micro-data from either side of borders, although data from some ad hoc qualitative and quantitative studies have led to some interesting contributions. Alternatively, research of a more methodological nature, intended to better pinpoint these as yet still marginal phenomena, may also be submitted.

Provisional timetable

Abstract proposal (750 words) comprising information on

  • context and focus of research

  • method and data

  • anticipated results

to be submitted by: 30th June 2016

Abstract acceptance to be confirmed to author by: 30th September 2016

Final article to be submitted by: 28th February 2017

Author to receive notification by: 30th June 2017

Publication on March 2018



Bloomfield M.J., Brüggemann U., Christensen H.B., Leuz C., 2015, The Effect of Regulatory Harmonization on Cross-border Labor Migration: Evidence from the Accounting Profession. Working Paper No. 114, Chicago Working Paper No. 15-03, The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

Borjas G., J., 1987, Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants, The American Economic Review 77(4), p.531-553.

Borjas G., J., 1992, Self-Selection and internal Migration in the United States, Journal of Urban Economics 32, p.159-185.

Borjas G., J., 2001, Does Immigration Grease the Wheels of the Labor Market?, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 1, p.69-119.

Buxeda C., 2005, Formes spatiales de l’ouverture de la frontière franco-allemande. Analyse de la diffusion spatiale du travail frontalier (1968-1999), Espace Populations Sociétés, 2005/2, p.211-222.

Carpentier S., 2012, Cross-Border Local Mobility between Luxembourg and the Walloon Region: an Overview. European, Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research 12(2), p.198-210.

Carpentier S., Epstein D., Gerber P., 2013, Implications de la mobilité quotidienne dans les stratégies résidentielles transfrontalières, Espace Populations Sociétés, 2012-3, p.95-115.

Coupleux S., Renard J-P., Duhamel S., 2005, Éditorial Frontières, mobilités et effets spatiaux, Espace Populations Sociétés 2005/2.

Durand F., 2013, Émergence d’une gouvernance métropolitaine transfrontalière au sein de l’Eurométropole Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai. Analyse des relations entre les organisations dans le domaine du transport public transfrontalier. Annales de géographie 691, p.290-311.

Gerber P., 2012, Advancement in conceptualizing cross-border daily mobility: the Benelux context in the European Union, European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research 12(2), p.178-197.

Gerber P., Carpentier S., 2013, Impacts de la mobilité résidentielle transfrontalière sur les espaces de la vie quotidienne d’individus actifs du Luxembourg. Économie et Statistique 457, p.77-96.

Gijsel P. (de), Janssen M., Wenzel H.-J., Woltering M., 1999 (eds.), Understanding European Cross-border labour markets. Issues in econmic cross-border relations. Marburg : Metropolis-Verlag.

Huber P., 2014, Are Commuters in the EU Better Educated than Non-commuters but Worse than Migrants?, Urban Studies 51(3), p.509-525.

Moritz M., 2011, The impact of czech commuters on the german labour market, Prague Economic Papers, 2011-1, p.40-58.

MKW Wirtschaftsforchung GmbH, Empirica Kft., 2009, Scientific Report on the Mobility of Cross-Border Workers within the EU-27/EEA/EFTA Countries. Final Report. Report commissioned by European Commission, DG Employment and Social Affairs, 86 p.

Nowotny K., 2014, Cross-border commuting and migration intentions: the roles of risk aversion and time preference, Contemporary Economics 8(2), p.137-156.

Paasi A., 1996, Territories, boundaries, and consciousness: The changing geographies of the Finnish-Russian boundary, J. Wiley & Sons, New York.

Pierrard O., 2008, Commuters, residents and job competition, Regional Science and Urban Economics 38, p.565–577.

Plat D., Raux C., 1998, Frontier impedance effects and the growth of international exchanges: An empirical analysis for France, Papers in Regional Science: The Journal of the RSAI 77(2), p.155-172.

Rietveld P., 2012, Barrier Effects of Borders: Implications for Border Crossing Infrastructures, European, Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research 12(2), p.150-166.

Schiebel J., Omrani H., Gerber P., 2015, Border effects on the travel mode choice of resident and cross-border workers in Luxembourg, European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, 15(4), p.570-596.

Sohn C., 2014, The Border as a Resource in the Global Urban Space: A Contribution to the Cross-border Metropolis Hypothesis, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (38)5, p.1697-1711.

Soutif V., 1999, Le travail frontalier, phénomène en voie de structuration, l’exemple de l’espace Rhin supérieur nord (Allemagne/France), Mosella XXIV(1-2), p.145-151.

Spierings B., Van der Velde M., 2008, Shopping, borders and unfamiliarity: Consumer mobility in Europe, Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 99(4), p.497–505.

Tassinopoulos A., 1999, Migration of Labour in the European Union. In Gijsel P. (de), Janssen M., Wenzel H.-J., Woltering M., 1999 (eds.), Understanding European Cross-border labour markets. Issues in econmic cross-border relations. Marburg : Metropolis-Verlag, p.23-44.

Van der Velde M., 2014, Cross-border (im)mobility in times of crises. In Dominguez L. and Pires I. (eds.) : Cross-border cooperation structures in Europe. Brussels : PIE Peter Lang, p.111-132.

Van Houtum H., 2000, An Overview of European Geographical Research on Borders and Border Regions. Journal of Borderlands Studies 15(1), p.57-83.

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