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27.05.2014| Nicolas Singer explains why European Territorial co-operation is important and how INTERREG programmes will support it

WebsiteAhead of the WIRE2014 Conference, we interviewed Nicolas Singer, coordinator of the Project Officers’ team within the INTERREG IVC Joint Technical Secretariat. INTERREG IVC helps regions of Europe share knowledge and transfer experience to improve the effectiveness of regional policies and instruments.

Nicolas Singer takes part in the WIRE2014 conference on behalf of INTERREG IVC. He will present how European Territorial Cooperation programmes and interregional cooperation can contribute to innovation. In this pre-conference interview, Nicolas Singer explains why Territorial co-operation is important and how EU cohesion policy supports knowledge and experience transfer between Regions.

Why Territorial cooperation is important? Which instruments enable cooperation and how can we develop sustainable partnerships among  regions? 

Territorial cooperation in general, and interregional cooperation in particular, is important for many reasons, but here  I list three of them:

1. Stop reinventing the wheel! In issues of regional development, cities and regions are not working in a vacuum. Similar challenges – creating jobs, boosting innovation, reducing energy use – are faced all across Europe. By exchanging what cities and regions have put in place, what works and what doesn’t, everyone can save time, money and gain new ideas.

2.  It’s European by nature! The vast majority of European regional development funds are allocated to countries to use according to their country priorities. But it is only in territorial cooperation that countries, or regions, can take a wider perspective, be more aware of European trends and test new or specific initiatives before rolling them out in regional or national programmes.

3. Problems don’t stop at the border! Cooperation can bring solutions to issues that go beyond borders, such as rivers or flooding, transport corridors or health concerns. Sometimes we just can’t do it alone.

As far as the EU cohesion policy is concerned, cooperation is mainly supported by the so-called INTERREG programmes. Different forms of cooperation (cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation) are possible depending on your need and geographical location. But if the Member States wish to do so, it is also possible to support cooperation through their national or regional programmes.

Beyond the EU cohesion policy, cooperation can also be financed by other thematic EU programmes, like Horizon 2020 in the field of research. In principle, EU policies are there to initiate the cooperation but not to maintain the same partnerships over the long-term. There is no point in maintaining a partnership when the issue addressed has been solved thanks to the cooperation. Several EU networks of regions exist in different fields on a more permanent basis, like CPMR, ERRIN, EURADA, EuroCities, AER, CEMR, FEDARENE and they allow soft cooperation among their members.

How INTERREG in the upcoming programming period (2014-2020) differs from previous interregional cooperation programmes?

As far as interregional cooperation is concerned, there is a fundamental shift in focus of the INTERREG EUROPE (2014-2020) programme. I will sum up the differences in four main points:

Firstly, who INTERREG EUROPE is for: this programme aims to have an impact on ‘Cohesion Policy’, and in particular on the Investment for Jobs and Growth programmes. This means that – more than ever before – the programme is targeting partners involved directly in these programmes: managing authorities.

Secondly, what topics are open for cooperation: while we have seen benefits from interregional cooperation in many and varied fields of action in the past, the programme has made the choice to focus activities on four fields: 1/ Research, technological development and innovation; 2/ Competitiveness of SMEs; 3/ Low carbon economy and Environment and 3/ resource efficiency. With a budget of €359 million to cover cooperation among 30 countries, it was clear that these comparatively few resources need focusing in order to produce effective results.

Thirdly, what kind of activities we will finance: interregional cooperation projects will remain at the heart of what we do, with partnerships of policy-relevant organisations coming from different countries to work for 3-5 years to exchange their experience on a particular policy issue. Each region involved in the partnership will produce an action plan, specifying what will be done in the region to ensure the lessons learned from the cooperation are put into practice. A new element compared to INTERREG IVC is that the partnership will follow-up on the implementation of the action plan, and report back to the programme on its progress.

Finally, the last big change, also linked to the programme’s activities, is that we are setting up policy learning platforms. This is a space for continuous learning where any organisation dealing with regional development policies in Europe can find solutions to improve the way they manage and implement their public policies in the four topics mentioned above.

What are the typical problems in transferring knowledge and best practices from one region to another?

I’d like to point out first that interregional cooperation isn’t just a question of transferring good practices from one region to another. This type of cooperation is to assist policy learning, which is a much broader concept. The idea is to encourage changes in the regions through exchange and transfer of experiences. These changes can come from a bilateral transfer of practice but more often they result from a more complex process of translating lessons learnt from various sources into actions.

But when it comes to transferring practices, the main problem is taking the practice out of its specific context to make it usable in other regions or countries.There are no, or very few, practices that are ready to be ‘copy-pasted’ directly, so much of our project activity focuses on decontextualising good practices to make them transferable.

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