By the end of August I will start a volunteering trajectory at Interreg Flanders the Netherlands. This is an agency that subsidises smart, green and inclusive growth in provinces along the Belgian-Dutch border, aiming to contribute to the economic, social and territorial cohesion in this region. Simply put, the general idea here is that as Belgians and Dutchies work together on projects that benefit the entire region, they’ll also get more connected along the way. Upgrading the coast line of Flanders and Zeeland to a safer and more sustainably managed area is one example of a cross-border project. Another example is the CrossCare project, which facilitates cooperation among Belgian and Dutch health care institutes and companies to boost innovation in this sector. There’s an impressive list of equally inspiring projects going on that you can check on www.grensregio.eu.
But the Belgian-Dutch case is not the only Interreg project in the EU. Projects can be found all over Europe, for example along the Danube river, among North Sea states and in many other areas. You might like this online database that allows you to search for projects using filters to refine your search. All of this made me wonder: where does the idea come from and who funds it?
The idea of Interreg already dates back to the 90s. It’s a European Commission initiative with the overarching objective to promote a harmonious economic, social and territorial development of the EU as a whole. Joint action and exchange of knowledge among national, regional and local authorities can contribute to a more coherent and stronger Union. While four consecutive Interreg programmes have today been completed, Interreg V (2014-2020) is still in progress. Among others, it consists of 60 cross-border projects along 38 internal borders, of which the Flemish-Dutch is one example. While each of these projects has its own themes responding to specific regional demands, they all contribute to that single goal: regional development and integration. It all starts to make sense now, right?
Interreg V mostly gets funded out of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), one of the main financial instruments of the Cohesion Policy. From this fund, resources are allocated through investments in
- Innovation and research;
- The digital agenda;
- Support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
- The low-carbon economy.
The ERDF is only one out of several existing financial instruments that aim to stimulate job growth and sustainable development across the EU. While I won’t mention the other ones in this blog for clarity’s sake, you might be interested in reading the differences between the various investment funds here.
So, to summarise, there’s a couple of concepts that are important to remember. The ERDF invests money in regional projects that encourage economic growth and policy cohesion, while reducing discrepancies between regions. This fund supports Interreg V, a currently operating EU-wide programme that executes the ideas behind the fund at the regional level through regional agencies. Some of these agencies focus specifically on cross-border integration, the Flemish-Dutch one being an example of that.
I hope that this overview provides enough background information for you to be able to contextualise my future blog posts. In any case, writing it helped me understanding better what Interreg is and where it comes from. If you would like to add to this description or if you still have some questions, feel free to fill out my contact form.
Video: an introduction to Interreg Europe – share solutions for success