Cross-border Impact Assessment 2019
Dossier 4: Governance under the new Interreg Regulation
The entire dossier is available here in Dutch and English.
The new Interreg regulation for 2021-2027 will require each Interreg programme area to allocate at least 15% of the budget to ‘Governance’. This dossier provides an ex ante assessment of what ‘Governance’ means to different stakeholders in programme areas in the Benelux. It focuses on the expectations how it may affect programme implementation and change the latter’s scope. The analysis leads to an assessment of the research themes Euregional Cohesion and Socio-Economic Development, before we draw general conclusions and recommendations from an Euregional perspective. Ideas for an ex-post evaluation are put forward, including qualitative indicators for the assessment of the ‘Governance’ objective. While the broad understanding of the term ‘Governance’ is shared by all interview partners, their ideas of how to concretely put it into practice differs. A key debate lies in the question whether the ‘Governance’ objective can and should be realised through projects or whether it requires innovative approaches to cooperation, which help to transition the programme to a more strategic ‘framework building’ for CBC.
Dr. Mariska van der Giessen
In sight of the upcoming INTERREG VI-A period 2021-2027, programme areas across Europe are developing new cooperation programmes (CP), defining their respective strategies, goals and objectives. For this new programme period, the European Commission (EC) has developed and proposed a new regulation to the European Parliament and European Council, which introduces ‘Governance’ as a novel objective. The term ‘Governance’ can be understood and defined in multiple ways. It appears for the first time in an INTERREG regulation as a binding objective with mandatory budget share. How do different INTERREG programme areas understand this concept and how do they plan to realise it in their CP? This dossier investigates the different approaches to the ‘Governance’ objective of three INTERREG programme areas, namely the Germany-Netherlands programme, the Euregio Meuse-Rhine programme and the Greater Region programme. For this purpose, we conducted interviews with key stakeholders of these programme areas as well as a representative of the EC’s DG REGIO.
In our dossier, we state that the fostering of ‘Governance’ activities can increase Euregional Cohesion and be a basis for Socio-Economic Development in border regions by counteracting Cross-Border obstacles. One may even argue that the ‘Governance’ objective is to guide a substantial reform of the INTERREG programme, transitioning from its routine ‘project mode’ to a more strategic and long-term ‘framework building’ for CBC. Arguably, the project mode might have become outdated after almost 30 years of INTERREG cooperation, while some might reckon that the ‘overarching objective’ of structural CBC has gone out of sight. An innovative framework for structural cooperation guided by the ‘Governance’ objective could thus allow for more sustainable CBC processes. This would lead to a better Euregional Cohesion as well as the creation of jobs and economic opportunities, thus stimulating Socio-Economic Development.
Generally speaking, the interviews show a consensus among INTERREG stakeholders on the interpretation of the ‘Governance’ objective: It is supposed to foster a more durable and sustainable CBC with structurally cooperating institutions. In this context, a key notion is the need to set-up a ‘framework’ for improved and enduring CBC. Views differ, however, on the implementation approach for the ‘Governance’ objective. Suggestions and plans range from meeting platforms for potential partners to common trainings for public administrations and improved public relations. This diversity in local realisation plans was anticipated by the EC, who formulated the objective broadly to account for the differing border region contexts across Europe and allow flexibility in implementation. While it is reasonable for the EC to avoid strict requirements for the objective, several programme area representatives wished for more concrete guidance on implementation in our interviews.
Additionally, some expressed their scepticism towards the new objective, believing that it is rather oriented at ‘less experienced’ border regions and not seeing the relevance for the border region they are responsible for. From a third party’s perspective, this situation motivates additional communication efforts to emphasise the opportunities the new objective entails for programme areas and to discuss suitable implementation approaches. More topical exchange between representatives of the EC and the programme areas can avoid that the objective and the underlying concepts are misunderstood and increase the likelihood for DG REGIO’s expectations to be fulfilled. In this respect, amongst others, the EC’s “Cross-Border Review” (2017) that displays various examples of CB challenges still present in many border regions, including the ones which are at the centre of this dossier, could be pointed at. Thanks to Interact, this type of exchange will be stimulated. It is also to be noted that the CPs will be formally negotiated with the EC before adoption. It is therefore to be seen, if programme area representatives will have clearer insights after such clarifications.
Moreover, it is debatable whether the ‘Governance’ objective can and should be realised through the usual project mode or requires innovative approaches. The ‘Governance’ objective puts a focus on the ubiquitous challenge of INTERREG and programmes with comparable funding structures. The nature of projects, being timely and financially limited, and the fact that successful projects are often not granted with follow-up and long-term financing by local authorities counteracts the sustainability aspirations. As suggested by several interview partners, one could consider administrating the funds differently to allow for a longer lifetime of the activities. Such considerations seem in line with the intention of the EC to strengthen institutional cooperation which would increase the chance of more sustainable structures for cooperation activities.
Finally, the EC representative we interviewed points out a general lack of data on the quality of CBC for ‘Governance’ structures and a need to find methods for the measurement of positive effects of ‘Governance’ cooperation. As only a small portion of the European Union’s cohesion budget is allocated to INTERREG, no resources are dedicated to this type of data collection and evaluation. Additionally, the assessment of CBC activities funded by INTERREG currently concentrates on quantitative indicators, which are not very meaningful for the ‘Governance’ objective. If the newly introduced objective was therefore connected to a list of qualitative indicators, clarifying goals and targets, its implementation would be facilitated for programme representatives. Also, programmes could be encouraged to spend a fraction of their budget on studies investigating the effects of ‘Governance’ activities. In the long run, a type of scoreboard for CBC could be developed, similarly to the “European Quality of Government Index 2017”. Notably, this Index is “the only measure of institutional quality available at the regional level in the European Union” but does not include any CBC aspects.
European Commission: “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on specific provisions for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) supported by the European Regional Development Fund and externa financing instruments”, COM(2018)374, Strasbourg, 29.05.2018, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/budget-may2018-specific-provisions_en.pdf, p.30, last visited on 01 July 2019.
Cf. European Commission “Cross-Border Review”, 2017,
https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/policy/cooperation/european-territorial/cross-border/review/#1, last visited 15 July 2019.
Cf. European Commission: “Interact, Interreg.”, https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/EN/atlas/programmes/2014-2020/
europe/2014tc16rfir002, last visited on 15 July 2019.
European Commission: “European Quality of Government Index 2017”, 2017, https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/information/maps/quality_of_governance, last visited on 01 July 2019.