…time for another North Sea Conference for sure, but also that time in the Interreg programme lifecycle when the first meetings are taking place about cooperation after 2020. That time when we start asking hard questions about what we are in fact achieving, what we could do better, and whether there should even be a North Sea Region Programme after 2020.
It’s a great time to be having the conference – because we would also really like to hear what the regions of the North Sea and the people who develop and deliver our projects have to say on these issues.
These questions have taken on extra significance after Brexit and other political developments over the past year. It’s clear that we need to get better at providing some of the answers so that discussions about the future can be based on facts and evidence rather than just opinions and beliefs.
It’s all too easy to look into our world from the outside and believe the stories you hear about the EU only caring about rules, leaders’ summits and Brussels telling everyone what to do. But at these conferences especially, I am always powerfully reminded about another EU: the EU where new contacts are created, where ideas and new knowledge flow across borders, where we create solutions to some of the most serious challenges facing our countries and regions.
So I’d like to use this post to talk about some of the big questions we need to answer about transnational cooperation, encourage you to get involved in the debate at the conference and back home, and also invite you to use the conference to let us know about anything that is working less well than we hoped.
Time for some fact-checking…
One of the main questions we hear being asked is what our programmes actually achieve and where people can find evidence for it? It’s always been our belief that good projects will use the funding to experiment and draw on the strengths of the partners to develop new knowledge and techniques. We really like projects that include an element of field testing and piloting, but the real value we think comes from those ‘Eureka!’ moments when a project can say, ‘We’ve found a better way of doing this!’
The trouble with new ideas though is that you can’t see, weigh or measure them and this is where we need your help.
First off, those of you working on projects will have noticed our new indicator system (and probably sent a curse or two our way because of it). We really need you to work on collecting good information for these indicators though, because they’ve been designed to showcase the benefits of working together on developing new ideas.
Secondly, we know that new ideas don’t change things overnight and that the greatest benefits of your projects often happen years after the project closes. Over dinner, many of you have shared a lot of stories about the long-term impact through the years, but we would appreciate you telling us again because this is exactly the kind of evidence we are being asked for to show how cooperation is improving Europe.
Time to think about challenges and opportunities for your regions…
Another thing we’d already love to hear from you is what sorts of projects you think work best? It’s much too early to start talking about themes for the new programme and of course the European Commission has not yet made its ideas on that issue public. But we would like to know whether the themes in the current programme match your region’s needs?
We’re pretty pleased so far with the response to some of the newer elements in the programme like supporting green technologies, and opening up the possibility to directly support SMEs with product and service development.
We hope also that there is still room for old themes like tourism and urban development, which have disappeared as named priorities over the years, but which can still be addressed from economic development and sustainability angles. But what do you think? Perhaps more importantly, what do you need?
Time to ask if the North Sea Region still makes sense…
And finally, what about the North Sea Region itself? As always seems to be the case, discussion on the future has started by asking whether the existing programme structures and geography are right?
We think the North Sea Region works – and we really hope that the UK will remain an active part of it regardless of the outcomes of Brexit. We think the regions around the North Sea face the same problems but also share the same awareness of the opportunities they represent, and the same determination to tackle them and win from the solutions.
We’d like to make it easier to include partners from outside the region, but partners in the region find it easy to connect and find common ground, and have provided an excellent base for many ambitious and successful projects. In the North Sea Commission we have a strong partner which continues to explore visions for our collective future and activate regions to get involved in projects.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider though? Let us know your thoughts.
We’re not blind to the negatives. But we’d rather focus on the positives…
We know the programme is not perfect. The rules are still more complicated than we would like and we know, for example, that some of you have struggled with the monitoring system. I hope you’ll feel free to grab one of us from the secretariat during the conference and let us know what the problem is if you’re still having trouble.
But I hope also that we won’t focus on problems here and can instead set our sights on starting to build the future.
The first proposals for any new programmes are currently due out from the European Commission in the first half of 2018. It’s time to talk about what you think should be in them!
Have your say
This won’t be the last opportunity to provide your input, but it is a great time to express whatever ideas you have on the big picture for the future. You can post a comment here or get in touch with us during or after the conference. We look forward to hearing your views!