Interreg Europe ‘Let’s Cooperate’ forum

Scotland Europa attended the annual INTERREG Europe cooperation forum ‘Let’s Cooperate’ in Brussels last week in what was the fifth edition of the coming together of stakeholders from throughout Europe.

This was an exciting opportunity to hear from over 500 project coordinators, policy-makers and local authorities’ representatives on their collaborative projects throughout the EU as well as ideas for the future of the programme and EU regional collaboration more generally.

The event comes at a very pertinent time, as the future of the European Territorial Cooperation programmes (as well as INTERREG Europe) are under discussion as part of the wider negotiation on regional policy and funding within the EU’s next long-term budget – the 2021-2027 Multi-Annual Financial Framework. The contributions made by stakeholders will equally help the Commission to understand how best to design instruments in the next funding period, which can maintain and build upon the results achieved in this programme.

One such discussion underway at the moment concerns a new funding instrument in the INTERREG family, a so-called “INTERREG Component 5” (because it was fifth in the list of named programmes in the new regulation), which aims to build on the work of INTERREG Europe, and help local and regional authorities cooperate with the private sector and other regions along the lines of common ‘smart specialisation’ priorities.

The event kick-started with plenary discussions with all attendees being given the opportunity to share their ideas on two key themes, this year; ‘Why interregional cooperation matters’ and ‘When Europe cooperates: results worth sharing’.

Firstly, we heard from a number of policy-makers from the EU institutions and regional authorities, including the current Romanian Presidency of the Council, the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions. The session ended with INTERREG Europe Programme Director Erwin Siweris underlining the recent success of the programme; namely highlighting that the programme had seen a 29 per cent increase in collaborative projects since the previous year, which now stands at 258 projects in total.

Participants also heard from some of those running the projects. This year, this ranged from the OSIRIS project, which had used regional cooperation and funding to construct the ‘Design Factory’ – a social innovation hub providing a space in the centre of an historic Portuguese town for designers, engineers and crafts people – to PERFECT, which seeks to turn Green Infrastructure into sustainable, smart and inclusive growth.

The afternoon session presented attendees with the opportunity to browse the exhibition space where project participants had set up to show how their projects had drawn on regional collaboration and EU policy instruments to drive innovation and competitiveness within their regions. This year, this included exhibition spaces for projects within which Scottish Enterprise has participates; ‘S34Growth’ (which has drawn on Vanguard Initiative collaboration to bring together industry leaders to drive competitiveness and growth based on analysis of the partners’ smart specialisation strategy (S3) priorities), and RaiSE, which brings together partners to encourage support for social enterprises.

The session also included presentations on successful projects where best practices were shared across different regions to improve the projects’ outcomes. The session included a panel discussion focusing on research and innovation with projects in Brittany, France and Lower Austria following INKREASE project - “craft platform” and “house of digitisation” respectively, which facilitate the connection between researchers and businesses, foster cross fertilisation and digitalisation and connect territories and generate collaboration.

The second topic to be discussed was SME competitiveness with PURE COSMOS project with ‘OSS’s’ (one stop shops) in Catalonia, Genoa and Florence. The successes of the project translated well across the regions showcasing the possibility to ease access to administrative expertise as the reference point for all entrepreneurs in devolved regions and showed the importance of pooling knowledge between municipalities in Italy. In Greater Manchester, UK and Central Macedonia, Greece, low-carbon economy REFORM project proved to be a success showcasing the importance of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs), which set out a long-term vision for transport policy in a region. The final panel discussed the successes related to the circular economy showcasing the Finnish and Slovak achievements with the BIOREGIO project, which focused on the integration of circular economy policies into regional and urban planning.

The exchange of innovative ideas and cutting-edge projects among practitioners, policy-makers and local authorities throughout Europe is an invaluable tool towards creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The ‘Let’s Cooperate’ event was a fantastic, interactive way of showcasing what regions throughout Europe can bring to the table and an invaluable opportunity for Scotland to engage in the discussion on the future of interregional cooperation in Europe.

Matt Broadbent - Scotland Europa - April 18, 2019