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06.06.14|C. Vitcheva interviewed on the novelties and priorities in ESIF 2014-2020

Charlina VitchevaIn WIRE 2014, Charlina Vitcheva, Director, Smart and Sustainable Growth and Southern Europe, DG Regional and Urban Policy will talk about  investing in the smart priorities. In this pre-conference interview, she outlines the novelties of the ESIF 2014-2020 and points out to its main priorities.

Which are the main priorities of the ESIF 2014-2020? What are the novelties compared to the previous programming period?

Overall, the reformed cohesion policy will make available up to EUR 351,8 billion[1] to invest in Europe’s regions, cities and the real economy. It will be the EU’s principle investment tool for delivering the Europe 2020 goals: creating growth and jobs, tackling climate change and energy dependence, and reducing poverty and social exclusion. This will be helped through targeting the European Regional Development Fund at key priorities such as innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). There will be stronger result-orientation and a new performance reserve in all European Structural and Investment Funds that incentivises good projects. Finally, efficiency in cohesion policy, rural development and the fisheries fund will also be linked to economic governance to encourage compliance of Member States with the EU’s recommendations under the European Semester.

What are the key factors that have to be taken into account for a successful link between Smart Specialisation Strategies and ESIF?

Most countries and regions have already made very good progress with developing their smart specialisation strategies. This will be of course reflected in their Structural Funds Operational Programmes and will most certainly lead to public investments that are more focused and concentrated on areas with the best development potential based on their own assets and potentials. If the discussions we have had so far with Member States, regions and their stakeholders are any indicator, they will continue to face a number of challenges in implementing their strategies. So there is clearly a great need to continue the dialogue, to discuss with each other and to learn from each other.

This is all the more important as we see smart specialisation and the related entrepreneurial discovery processes as a dynamic and continuing, not as something that is done and over with once the strategies and programmes have been adopted.

Smart specialisation represents an approach that is both methodologically more rigorous in terms of asking for an evidence-based policy mix but also more partnership-based in terms of its insistence on an entrepreneurial discovery process. It essentially promotes two types of cooperation: one within the regions and the other between regions with similar or complementary investment agendas.

The entrepreneurial discovery that lies at the heart of the smart specialisation process puts the focus on bottom-up participation. Here the cooperation with universities, entrepreneurs and other relevant stakeholders is vital to prioritise and narrow down the options and identify joint roadmaps and entrepreneurial potential.

At the same time one of the key qualifying criteria for serious smart specialisation strategies is certainly that they are outward looking in terms of their orientation towards global value chains and ‘opening up’ towards other regions displaying complementary assets. To maximise regional potential and growth and to contribute successfully to Europe’s growth, it is essential that regional policies become more outward looking.

Currently the transnational and interregional potential of smart specialisation is not yet fully exploited. This is why in addition to the RIS3 platform, which is working very successfully, we have contributed to launching the Vanguard Initiative. We are also encouraging the Member States to use the European Territorial Cooperation programmes more strategically to support innovation and smart specialisation, for instance through cluster cooperation. A good example of past initiatives going into that direction is for instance, the Baltic Sea Region Manufacturing Belt initiative. I am confident that in the future we will see more of this kind of cooperation supported by our funds.

How would you practically “translate” the synergies between different EU funding instruments for regional growth?

 All levels and stages of the programming and implementation need to be involved in the synergies. National and regional policy-makers who are in charge of the development of smart specialisation strategies should use the entrepreneurial discovery process as an opportunity for identifying synergies, involving in the process different interest groups, identifying their needs and stimulating their mutual involvement and collaboration. Cooperation (within the same region, between regions and also cross-border) is a major driver of innovation and policy-makers should facilitate this process in any possible manner.

 At the ESIF programme level, any measure to reduce administrative burden for to Horizon 2020 would facilitate complementary projects and thus synergies. These measures include alignment of the timing of the funding decisions, similar cost models, reporting requirements, etc.

 Moreover, national and regional authorities involved in Horizon 2020 and other relevant EU programmes should inform managing authorities about successful projects in their territories and disseminate information on project results to local innovation stakeholders.

Finally, the European Commission is supporting the synergies efforts of the national and regional authorities with synergies friendly implementation of the EU directly-managed instruments, training the auditors about combination of instruments, collecting relevant data and providing information and guidance, providing specific support for smart specialisation strategy development, stimulating dialogue and cooperation between the stakeholders, etc.

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