Written by Isabel Moran Vidal
The European Economic and Social Committee held in October a public hearing titled ‘ Macro-regional Strategies across Europe ‘ aiming to look for a common denominator in the problems macro-regional strategies face, as well as those points which make macro-regional strategy successful. The objective is to prepare an opinion which will be discussed at its ECO section meeting on 3 February 2015.
What are Macro-regional Strategies?
Macro-regional Strategies (MRS) are an instrument to make smarter use of the financial resources available and to maximise the effectiveness of European Union (EU) regional policy investment; there are no border restrictions and therefore they tackle the problems at the appropriate level. MRS include areas which gather different countries or regions, inside and out with the European Union, which face common challenges and situations. Based on exploring comparative advantages together, macro-regional strategies strengthen cooperation within the area, leading to deeper economic, social and territorial cohesion. And furthermore, without the need to create new large-scale institutions.
The first MRS to be launched was the Baltic Macro-regional Strategy (EUSBSR). The idea was born at the European Parliament back in 2006. Once the Baltic Sea became an internal sea, it was natural to get the surrounding countries together to strengthen links in an area which was historically a significant gateway between the West and the East.
MRS are fashionable nowadays. In this context of economic crisis, they are a useful non-cost tool to better coordinate the existing available resources and to increase the effectiveness of investments, as pointed out by Rossella Rusc, from the Italian Permanent Representation. MRS are of relevance as economic growth, employment and investment depends to a large extend on regional and urban adaptability to the point that, Etele Barath, EESC rapporteur, considers that MRS should become a fully-fledged EU policy. On a large scale, they also help to achieve Europe 2020 targets.
Apart from the strategies already in place, there are some in the pipeline: the Alpine region and the Atlantic Area : a sea-basin strategy, conceptually different from the other MRS in place. Others are in an exploratory phase with stakeholders: Carpathian region or the Western Mediterranean or Mediterranean strategies.
What are the outcomes of the Macroregional Strategies experience?
The speakers presented those points which they considered crucial to building up a successful MRS:
They all agreed on the importance of ownership. They do not consider it possible to achieve MRS goals without the full-involvement of the civil society organisations, involving the people of the participating regions as fully concerned owners of the strategy. This idea is also indicated in the European Commission Report on the governance of the MRS published in May 2014, which states that a great part of the success of MRS is due to civil society involvement. Mikko Lohikoski, representing the EUSBSR, indicated that if all stakeholders are allowed to participate, more efficient results can be obtained, because the MRS tool is not only related to funding but human resources and knowledge are also important. The Danube Macro-regional Strategy representative elaborated on this idea, stating that civil society organisations should be included, as they can mobilise many people and have much experience to share.
Private sector involvement
An essential point for many of the speakers was how to get the private sector involved in this kind of initiative. It is a key parameter because EU resources are limited and this sector is almost absent in MRS. The fact that a successful MRS is based on the involvement of social and economic partners, meaning as much civil society as private sector, was indicated in the Council conclusions on the added value of macro-regional strategies.
Andreas D Mavroyiannis, former Minister of Cyprus for European Affairs, stated that the added value of MRS is to create a framework of institutions in a bottom-up inclusive approach, to accommodate capacity-building, participation of civil society and synergies between local, regional, institutional, national and supranational authorities along with the private sector at all levels. Representing a possible Mediterranean Region Macro-Regional Strategy, he considers that this specific region has the potential to gather private sector initiative.
Implementation and monitoring
Another common point was implementation and monitoring activities. The implementation and the results are two core words in any discussion of macro-regional strategies. Although a lot of work has still to be done, the Italian Presidency ensured that the Council conclusions on European Union Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region and the Governance of Macro-regions , would give indications of transparent monitoring and evaluation, comparable data, specific tools, relevant indicators, appropriate monitoring in progress and implementation of the MRS, indicated Rossella Rusca. Peter Mehlbye, from ESPON, communicated that ESPON has already developed a test monitoring system for EUSBSR and could offer other macro-regions support from spring 2015 through the ESPON 2020 Programme .
Knowing what to achieve is a central element for the experts. This includes a common purpose but also having a territorial dimension in the MRS, a long-term reference framework. As Markus Reiterer, Secretary General of the Alpine Convention indicated in his views of the basic elements, for MRS success there is common purpose, based on an area of cooperation or an area of common characteristics and supported by a number of already existing organisations working at different levels (interregional, inter-municipal or intersociety cooperation organisations).
European Union’s macro-regional strategies / by Sorina Silvia Ionescu, September 2013
The EU Strategy for the Danube Region: three years on / by Sorina Silvia Ionescu, EPRS keysource, December 2014
EU macro-regional strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) / by Isabel Morán Vidal, October 2014
A macro-regional strategy for the Carpathian Region? / by Isabel Morán Vidal, February 2014
Towards a Macro-Regional Strategy for the Alps / by Sorina Silvia Ionescu, September 2013