professor christiane vaeßen, honorary consul of the netherlands: better rail transport ensures regional integration

The electrification of the line has been completed. In December 2018, the first service between Aachen and Maastricht will be operational. We spoke with Prof Christiane Vaeßen, director of the Aachen-Zweckverband (Aachen regional development association) and honorary consul of the Netherlands, about the importance of mobility in the three-country region.

The Aachen region is currently experiencing challenging times. The Strukturkommission in Berlin is having to take a decision about a structural change to the four lignite areas in Germany, the most important of which, the Rheinische Revier, is located here in the Aachen region. An important underlying condition for the success of the structural change is the infrastructure, and rail transport in particular.


“The circumstances in the Aachen region for the structural change are clearly better than those in other lignite areas”, according to an optimistic Christiane Vaeßen. “There is a great deal of regional cooperation and, moreover, the area has a huge innovation potential as a result of the universities, colleges of higher education and research institutes located in the region.” Together with a large number of players, notable projects have been developed that focus on energy supply, future-oriented employment opportunities and a favourable living environment.

“Better rail transport ensures regional integration”

The location (on two borders and in the heart of Europe) ensures that the region has a pioneering function. “Cross-border mobility solutions are the key to close cooperation in border areas. Whether it’s the transport of goods or a direct public transport connection to neighbouring countries, proper access is vital for ensuring better regional integration”, says Vaeßen.

Foto: Wouter Roosenboom

Good neighbours and strong economic partners

Christiane Vaeßen emphasises the pioneering role of the trading partners in the Netherlands and Belgium for Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW). With an import value of 37.6 billion euros, the Netherlands was one of the most important countries in 2017 for the supply of goods and services to NRW. NRW exported goods to the Netherlands worth 20 billion euros. In the first half of 2018, goods and services worth 10.5 billion euros were exported from NRW to the Netherlands; an increase of 3.4% compared with the first half of 2017. Exports to Belgium rose in the same period by 1.7% to 6.6 billion euros.

Make cross-border commuter traffic easier!

Many people live and work across the border. “Despite the many administrative and cultural differences, the cross-border labour market has been an everyday phenomenon for decades”, says Vaeßen. “Approximately 36,000 people commute between NRW and the Netherlands on a daily basis, the majority of whom travel from Germany to the Netherlands.” The most important obstacles are the language and legal problems, such as the recognition of diplomas for certain professions. However, regional transport is often a problem area. “By means of its Border Info Points (advice centres), the Aachen region tries to ensure that there are as few practical obstacles as possible for the cross-border labour market”, the director explains. In close cooperation with the Service grenzüberschreitende Arbeitsvermittlung, in which the German and Dutch employment offices offer their mediation services to both labour markets, an even better integration of the cross-border labour market can be achieved.

Christiane Vaeßen, director of the Aachen-Zweckverband (Aachen regional development association) and honorary consul of the Netherlands: “We need a uniform ticketing system within the Euroregion" Foto: Wouter Roosenboom

“We need a uniform ticketing system within the Euroregion”

Students also benefit from the expansion of public transport, which means that university cities such as Aachen and Maastricht have fewer traffic congestion problems. Vaeßen would like to see a uniform ticketing system within the Euroregion, so that everyone has the opportunity to travel without hassle and at an affordable rate.

Infrastructure as a condition for a favourable business climate

The connection between the west of NRW and Cologne and Düsseldorf is vital as far as Vaeßen is concerned. In the context of the new German Bundesverkehrswegeplan (Federal Traffic Plan), the region has submitted an extensive list of plans focusing on cross-border passenger and freight traffic by road and rail. “For instance, a company set up in the Heinsberg district only because there was a direct link to the harbour in Born”, Vaeßen explains. “This shows how important it is for both countries to look beyond their own borders.” Things will improve rapidly in other directions too. Not only are there plans for a connection to the A1 motorway near Blankenheim, so that there will be a direct link between the North Sea ports and Genoa, but additional train connections have also been planned to the Netherlands.

Typical border resident

Needless to say, the honorary consul travels frequently in the Netherlands, usually by car, but also in a private capacity in the weekend with, for instance, the direct bus from Aachen to Maastricht. “Like many people here in the region, I often spend my free time across the border, not only to eat out well (which is no problem in South Limburg), but also for cultural outings or just to shop.”