In 1990, the Interreg programme was created to formally facilitate and encourage cooperation across borders. Now in its 30th year, Interreg continues to raise awareness and bring action to important issues the EU is facing today
Cooperation is one of the main characteristics of the EU which revolves around the sharing and exchange of experiences or best practices not only between regions but between nations as well. Financed through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Interreg Europe programme was created to facilitate this cooperation and help regions find solutions to common problems. Now, this cooperation is specified into 3 strands: Cross-border cooperation, Transnational cooperation, and Interregional cooperation. As Interreg turns 30, let us take a quick look at the milestones it has reached, observe the changes and growth it has undergone, and join in on the activities it has planned to celebrate.
Created as a community initiative in 1990, Interreg operated with a budget of approximately €1 billion from 1990 to 1993. During this time, the amount benefitted 11 Member States. As the union grew and more states became members, the budget and legal status of Interreg changed. By 2004, Interreg began to be integrated into the regulation of structural funds being allotted a budget of up to €5 billion. Today, Interreg has its own regulation with a budget of €10.1 billion which brings benefits beyond the member states of the EU.
The current Interreg period (2014-2020), Interreg V, is one of the two goals of the EU Cohesion Policy. It comprises 2.8% of the total cohesion policy budget which benefits a total of 107 cooperation programmes. These programmes are divided within the 3 strands which Interreg is built upon. Currently there are 60 cross-border programmes which supports cooperation between NUTS III regions from at least two different Member States lying directly on the borders or adjacent to them; 15 transnational cooperation programmes to tackle common challenges & share good practices among countries in the same geographical area; and 4 interregional cooperation programmes that foster capacity building and cooperation between urban areas and regions, across the European continent. In Europe & beyond, there are 12 cooperation programmes with accession countries (Interreg Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) Cross-Border Programmes); and 16 cooperation programmes between EU and neighbouring countries sharing a land border or sea crossing, (Interreg European Neighbourhood Instrument Cross-Border (ENI CBC) Programmes).
Furthermore, these programmes are categorized within the 2 types of actions through which Interreg functions: either through projects or platforms. Projects allow public organisations from different regions in Europe work together for 3 to 5 years on a shared policy issue. Each public organisation work on their action plan to ensure that the lessons learnt from the cooperation are put into effect. Meanwhile, platforms provide the space for continuous learning. They function as a tool for faster and better sharing of knowledge which ultimately aims to support local and regional governments to be more effective when planning and implementing policies within their territories.
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Interreg is having a year-long celebration which will focus on the following three themes: We all have a neighbour, Youth and Greener Europe. These topics are seen as important factors in helping build a stronger and more cohesive Europe based on cooperation.
With all the issues and problems humanity is currently facing, it is tempting to crawl back into our shells and let the rest of the world figure these things out. However, the geographic arrangement of Europe and the progress brought about by the EU makes it difficult for European countries to completely shut its borders off from its neighbors. Past experiences of the Interreg programme have also shown that while having shared borders means it will be less challenging to find solutions to common problems, common benefits also arise beyond the borders. These come in the form of common opportunities, common interests, common lifestyles and cultural practices which citizens not only have connection to, but more importantly, access and choice. Closely connected to this is the support we can give to today’s youth.
Making up 17% of the EU population, young people all over Europe face common challenges be it in terms of weak labour markets or a lack of education and training opportunities. Through its programmes and cooperation policies, Interreg has and will continue to help provide job opportunities for young people, facilitate youth mobility via cross-border traineeships and cooperation between educational establishments.
Recognising the need for more attention and action, the EU is now placing more focus in efforts to address pollution and climate change. This was presented through the Green Deal, Europe’s new growth strategy with the aim of creating a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050. As the body for cooperation, Interreg has reiterated and continues to work on the premise that a green and climate-neutral Europe can be achieved once we all cooperate and work together.
As an organisation that brings together a community of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs), EURADA and its members are involved in several Interreg projects like Beyond EDP, ESSPO, Scale Up and Social Seeds. Scale Up, for instance, is dedicated to contributing to European competitiveness and accelerating regional economic growth through the improvement of 6 policy instruments linked to business growth and robustness. It is a project lead by the regional development agency of Murcia, INFO Murcia, which is also a member of Eurada. Meanwhile, Beyond EDP is a project which aims to stimulate European businesses, knowledge institutes, and relevant partners to join forces to discover new ideas which could lead to innovation. The project is formed by eleven partners from nine countries and lead by Dev’up, the regional development agency of Centre-Val de Loire and Eurada member.
Regional development agencies carry out an economic development mission characterised by the search of the collective or overall interest of an area (and not corporative or sectorial) and which are significantly linked with a local, metropolitan or regional authority with respect to management, financing or missions. As such, Eurada was created to bring together these RDAs so as to encourage exchanges of experience between members and promote “best practice” in the field of local and regional economic development. Sharing the same mission and vision, Eurada is proud to be actively involved in Interreg projects and contribute to the spirit of community and togetherness fostered by the programme.