All grown up – what’s next for Interreg?

Interreg is a key funding instrument to foster cooperation and cohesion in the European Union. It is now almost 35 years old, and it has grown up. Interreg has increased in, size, scope, and significance. In line with this change comes higher expectations and pressures, particularly in terms of what Interreg programmes and their projects deliver. The expectation has been that programmes move, from knowledge and relationship building to delivering tangible results. A sharpened focus on results is further amplified by budgetary pressures, and the administrative burdens of participating in territorial cooperation.


Source: DG Regio referenced in https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/659340/EPRS_BRI(2020)659340_EN.pdf

The 2021-27 period has seen some Interreg programmes dramatically impacted by international events, most notably, the war in Ukraine, Covid, and Brexit. Just transition and the green economy are major areas of activity. Programmes have also become more collaborative, developing synergies and networks on issues or territories of shared interest.

The evolution of Interreg to date raises the question – What’s next with Cohesion Policy? Following the launch of Report of the High-Level Group on the Future of Cohesion Policy (20 February 2024), reform debates for the post-2027 period are gathering pace.  So, now is a good time to be looking at options for the future.

There could be more of the same. Previous efforts to ‘simplify’ and streamline both the number of programmes and the administration involved have not resulted in major change. For example, a proposal to cut Interreg C, now Interreg Europe, was strongly resisted. Dealing with major change is a complexity within itself. A period of stability, and limited change in the regulations, could allow programmes to amplify and intensify their work, ‘work with what they’ve got’, and streamline existing systems.

Interreg could face a challenging balance. ‘What does it really do?’ and ‘What is it for?’ are questions which plague Interreg. Papers prepared on future European Territorial Cooperation for the Commission’s High-Level Group, present quite different visions of Interreg in the future, with one focussed on a drive to formal integration and reducing regulatory barriers across borders, and the other looking at Interreg’s role as a means to build cohesion. Could Interreg get caught in the middle of these debates?

Interreg programmes could intensify their links to other Cohesion policy programmes. Interreg programmes have significant experience and expertise in working across complex administrative boundaries, across sectors, and between programmes. These are all areas of activity that national Cohesion policy programmes seek to enhance. Related interregional and transnational cooperation could provide a valuable means of wider network links and exchanges.

Interreg could become more diverse. Border regions are hugely varied. The relationships and linkages across the borders are even more diverse. In some cases, cross border interactions are well established elements of everyday life, with shared service provision and deepening cooperation. In others, new barriers to exchange have been thrown up, and trust between communities is low. The structures and ambitions for territorial cooperation have to be sensitive to these diverse needs.

Interreg could be a superhero of Cohesion policy. Interreg should build on its ‘special powers’. Whatever the solution, Interreg can capitalise on experience, build on results, reinforce its distinct identity/role, and gain higher profile by using the ‘extra’ development resources’ it can draw on, like working across borders, pooling resources, and sharing knowledge and learning

 

Notes:

1 CEC (2024) Forging a Sustainable Future Together: Cohesion for Competitive and Inclusive Europe, Report of the Group of High-Level Specialists  on the Future of Cohesion Policy,

2 McMaster I and Maguire R. (2023) Territorial Cooperation, Widely Pursued, Widely Questioned, EoRPA Report to the 44th annual meeting of the EoRPA Regional Policy Research Consortium, October 2023

3 DG Regio (2020) Issue paper 5 – Reinforcing territorial cooperation and its contribution to European integrations,  Report to the Future of Cohesion Policy Group of High-Level Specialists.

4 Böhm, H. (2023) Reinforcing Territorial Cooperation and Addressing Challenges on European Integration, Report to the Future of Cohesion Policy Group of High-Level Specialists. Novotný, L. Böhm, H. (2022). New re-bordering left them alone and neglected: Czech crossborder commuters in German-Czech borderland. European Societies 24(3): 333-353.

 

For more information, contact Irene McMaster.

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