Quest on for financing suited to macroregions
By Isabelle Smets | Wednesday 19 May 2010
While the main principles of the Integrated Maritime Policy are exactly the same across the board, the characteristics of different maritime spaces – the Baltic Sea is not the Mediterranean – make it necessary to come up with specific strategies. This is what is called the approach by maritime basin or by macroregion. The first concrete illustration of this is the strategy for the Baltic Sea adopted by the EU in 2009. A strategy for the Danube is due by the end of 2010 as per the Council’s request. The corollary to this is that the demand from interested parties to adapt funding from EU Structural Funds to macroregions is becoming more and more pressing. At present, the way Structural Fund programmes are financed is not suited to this type of cooperation. This is to be expected as everything was defined before the first integrated maritime strategy was adopted.
And it is difficult to reorganise budgets and financing arrangements on an ‘ex post’ basis. But, for the next programming period, “adapted arrangements could be imagined,” confirmed the European Commission during a seminar organised by the EU’s Committee of the Regions, on 13 April.
The idea is not new. During her term as the EU’s Regional Policy Commissioner, Danuta Hübner had already suggested the possibility of distributing part of the funds by programme without taking national borders into account. She had macroregions in mind in particular. As Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development (REGI), Hübner continues to defend this principle. Clearly, it remains to be seen how member states will react to this approach.
MEMBER STATES WARY
Clearly, without the political will of member states, the macroregions or tools to support them will not exist. It was because the European Council specifically requested it that the maritime strategy for the Baltic Sea – the first official EU macroregion - was able to become a reality and that the Danube strategy is set to take off by the end of 2010. But what happens now? Discussions are underway for other areas, such as the Atlantic Arc, the Adriatic and the North Sea. During the seminar, the Commission confirmed that it is drawing up a communication on a maritime strategy for the North Sea and the English Channel, and another for the Atlantic, for the spring of 2011. However, DG Maritime Affairs has made no secret of the fact that, at least for the North Sea, the Commission “does not have the political interest of all the member states today”. It is clear that if it fails to convince them, there will be no integrated maritime strategy in these regions, not to mention financing.
What about the regions?
The Committee of the Regions, a champion of macroregional strategies - intergroups have been set up on the Baltic, Mediterranean, Danube and North seas - adopted, at its plenary in April, an opinion on the EU’s Baltic sea strategy. It regrets the inactive role assigned to regions in terms of implementing the strategy on the ground. The regions took part in the consultations that preceded the adoption of the strategy, but the action plan that followed gives member states responsibility for implementing the priority areas. Symptomatic of this is that the regions will not play a leading role in any of the 78 flagship projects launched in the Commission communication. Jean-Yves Le Drian, president of the ‘Aquamarina’ working group specialising on IMP from the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions and president of the Region of Brittany (France), confirms this: “The regions appreciated the development of strategies via maritime basins. But the comeback that we have leaves you thinking that the role of local and regional authorities is sometimes not taken into account very much”.