European Interreg: programs for sub-regional recovery and resilience

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Priorities in the EU’s Interreg program – concerning the Baltic Sea region (BSR) – include three main directions: save the sea, connect the region and prosperity. Already there are 48 projects’ applications contributing to such activities as innovation, energy, transport, bio-economy, spatial planning, etc.  

Interreg, as an abbreviation of the European-wide territorial cooperation, is one of the two goals of the EU Cohesion Policy. Interreg contributes to a harmonious economic, social and territorial development of the Union as a whole. It provides a framework for working across borders for partners from different EU member states and beyond.
In the six-year programming period (2021-2027), Interreg has acquired a budget of about €8 billion, mainly through the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF. This funding brings public and private partners together in four strands of cooperation aimed at: combating modern geopolitical challenges, protecting environmental quality, dealing with technological changes and increasing socio-economic prosperity.
Combating challenges and implementing priorities often affect citizens and governments on all sides; hence, Interreg helps funding and implement solutions to these shared challenges and take stock of new opportunities as they arise in suggested projects.
Through cooperation among professionals, public officials and academics, EU member states are growing together, as no border should ever prevent the exchange of resources, ideas and knowledge. More than 100 Interreg programmes, with over 25,000 partners in almost 7,500 projects have been shaping Europe in the past seven years. Now, the new generation of programs with fresh funding will help continue making a greener, smarter, more connected and social Europe that is closer to citizens. Interreg also actively strengthens governance, safety and security in the EU sub-regions.

Funding facilities in regional policy
EU regional policy is an investment policy. It supports job creation, competitiveness, economic growth, improved quality of life and sustainable development.
EU supporting actions in the EU-wide regional policy is delivered through 3 main funds:
• European regional development fund (ERDF),
• Cohesion fund (CF) and
• European social fund (ESF)
Together with the European agricultural fund for rural development (EAFRD) and the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF), they make up the European structural and investment (ESI) funds.
For example, the EU Cohesion Fund provides support to the EU states with a gross national income (GNI) per capita below 90% EU-27 average to strengthen the economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU-27. The Cohesion Fund supports investments in the field of environment and trans-European networks in the area if transport infrastructure (TEN-T).
For the 2021-2027 period, the Cohesion Fund concerns Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Important to mention that about 37% of the overall Cohesion Fund’s financial allocation is expected to contribute to mitigating climate changes.
The ERDF finances programs are in shared responsibility between the European Commission and national and regional authorities; the latter’s governance primarily choose which projects to finance and take responsibility for day-to-day management.
During 2021-2027, the ERDF will support investments in the European regions in the following priority spheres: = more competitive and smarter, through innovation and support to small and medium-sized businesses, as well as digitisation and digital connectivity; = greener, low-carbon and resilient communities; = more connected territories by enhancing mobility; = more social, supporting effective and inclusive employment, education, skills, social inclusion and equal access to healthcare, as well as enhancing the role of culture and sustainable tourism; and = closer to citizens, supporting locally-led development and sustainable urban development across the EU.
Based on their prosperity, all regions and the EU member states will concentrate the support on a more competitive and smarter Europe (policy objective – PO 1), as well as greener, low-carbon transitioning towards a net zero carbon economy and resilient Europe (PO 2), through the mechanism known as ‘thematic concentration’. Besides, all regions and the member states (MSs) will concentrate at least 30% of their allocation to PO 2 and: = More developed regions or MSs will dedicate at least 85% of their allocation to PO1 and PO2; = Transition regions or MSs at least 40% to PO1; = Less developed regions or MSs at least 25% to PO1.
All regions and the EU states will also concentrate at least 8% of their allocation to urban development that will be delivered through local development partnerships with different tools.
Operations under the ERDF are also expected to contribute 30 % of the overall financial envelope to climate objectives.

Cohesion policy
EU Cohesion Policy contributes to strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion in the European Union. It aims to correct imbalances between countries and regions. It delivers on the Union’s political priorities, especially the green and digital transition.
Cohesion Policy targets all regions and cities in the European Union in order to support job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and improve citizens’ quality of life. In order to reach these goals and address the diverse development needs in all EU regions, € 392 billion – almost a third of the total EU budget has been set aside for Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027. The bulk of Cohesion Policy funding is concentrated on less developed European countries and regions in order to help them to catch up and to reduce the economic, social and territorial disparities that still exist in the EU. The Just Transition Fund alleviates the socio-economic costs triggered by the climate transition, supporting the economic diversification and reconversion of the territories concerned, helping people to adapt in a changing labour market. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economic situation of EU regions is addressed by REACT-EU, the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe.
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Specific EU program is connected to inter-territorial cohesion –hence Interreg- which is aimed at promoting balanced and harmonious territorial development between and within countries, regions, cities and municipalities, as well as ensuring a future for all places and people in Europe, building on the diversity of places and subsidiarity; all the pertinent directions are described in the EU Territorial Agenda 2030.
Territorial cohesion has been included for the first time in the Lisbon Treaty (entered into force in December 2009); among the Union’s objectives there is one aimed at “strengthening its economic, social and territorial cohesion, for an overall harmonious development” (article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU. Thus, territorial cohesion seeks, in particular, to reduce disparities between the levels of development of various regions, with a focus on least developed regions.
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Among the regions concerned, particular attention is to be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.
Every three years, the EU publishes a report providing the current state of the EU’s economic, social and territorial cohesion; the latest is the Eighth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion (see the link to the 8th Report “Cohesion in Europe towards 2050”).

Interreg program priorities
The Interreg program is structured along four priorities, which in the years 2021-2027 guide partners in achieving the most when cooperating across borders; each Interreg Baltic Sea Region project has its own share of the funding.
Interreg, with the total budget of €8 billion for 2021-2027, is an important component of the EU-wide cohesion policy: it provides a framework for working across borders for a harmonious economic, social and territorial development.
Interreg is built around four strands of territorial cooperation: cross-border, transnational, inter-regional and integration of the so-called outermost regions in their neighbouring environment.

Transport, mobility and connectivity
The EU-wide attention to transport is materialized in the so-called trans-European networks (TEN-T) policy, which affects the regions along the corridors to a large extend, and can be expected to have many positive but also negative effects. Transport policy is typically a matter of shared competence between the EU and states; though generally of national responsibility; hence, the regions’ needs, concerns and proposals are not automatically considered in TEN-T implementation.
However, the connectivity’s ideas cover transport corridors that connect the Scandinavian region with the rest of Europe, particularly, the Mediterranean. The project called Scandria®2Act is an initiative of several regional and local councils and public authorities along the Scandinavian-Mediterranean Core Network corridor. With support of a number of established research institutes, Scandria®2Act wanted to foster clean, multimodal transport through those corridor regions. It aimed at increasing connectivity and competitiveness, while at the same time minimising the negative environmental impact induced by transport activities.

Transport’s thematic priorities for up t0 2027
The Scandinavian-Mediterranean Core Network Corridor connects Helsinki (Finland) and Oslo (Norway) with Palermo (Italy) via Sweden, Germany, and Austria. It is one of nine corridors in Europe that make up a Europe-wide transport network of railway lines, roads, inland waterways, maritime shipping routes, ports, airports and railroad terminals, also called Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). TEN-T was launched by the EU institutions as one major policy of the EU in the mid 1990s. The idea of Transnational European Networks goes back to the Treaty of Rome (1957).
Europe-wide networks of transport, of energy (TEN-E) and of telecommunications (eTEN) are considered as a fundament for the internal European market and for economic and social cohesion of the European Union. The “core transport network” includes the most important connections, linking the most important cities, and is to be completed by 2030. The “comprehensive network” covers all European regions and is to be completed by 2050. To complete these networks is a matter of smaller and large infrastructure constructions such as the Øresundbridge between Denmark and Sweden (completed) or the Fehmarn Belt Railway axis between Germany and Denmark (ongoing).

Interreg-Baltic dimension
Interreg Baltic Sea Regional program for 2021-2027 offering new funding to public and private participants in the countries around the Baltic Sea wanting to shape their and regional economies in a sustainable way. The area of the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Program covers eight EU member states’ territory of around 2.9 million km² with a population of 80 million inhabitants. It stretches from central parts of Europe up to its northernmost periphery, comprising European metropolitan areas, while major parts of the program area are counted as rural.
Baltic Interreg for 2021-2027 creates an environment for public and private partners to work together across borders on their smart ideas helping them to put into practice innovative, water-smart and climate-neutral solutions for the benefit of the citizens across the Baltic Sea region.
Baltic priorities are not different from the EU-wide regional and cohesion policies; but still Interreg-Baltic has some specifics – the following are most vital directions: innovation (with actions towards resilient economies and communities, and responsive public services), sustainable use of fresh and sea waters (including marine resources, water management and innovative businesses), and climate neutral growth (with circular economy, energy and digital transitions, as well as smart green mobility).
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