The Interreg North Sea Region (NSR) Programme is important for North Sea cooperation and a valuable partner for the North Sea Commission. The Programme was originally set up in the late 1990’s as a communities initiative after advocating from the North Sea Commission, as the NSC regional authorities saw the need for joint development initiatives around the North Sea.
The close link with the programme has been kept strong. Not only with the organisation of the joint annual North Sea Conference, where common priorities are discussed and consortia formed, but also through active participation by NSC members in projects. Today, initiating and capitalising on the projects is a core activity of the NSC.
For more than 20 years the programme has attracted and brought together actors from public administrations, knowledge institutions, business- and non-governmental organisations to help the region prosper through transnational cooperation.
Only in this programming period over 68 partnerships have been formed, with more than 900 partners around the North Sea Region, generating new knowledge and innovative solutions. Whilst the NSC cannot participate directly in projects, almost 500 of the beneficiaries are from the NSC member regions, of which 29 are NSC regional authorities, involved in 15 different projects. Moreover, the NSC thematic groups develops projects linked to the NSC priorities, as defined in the NSC North Sea Region Strategy, as well as share funding and project opportunities.
There is a close alignment between NSR projects and the NSC North Sea Region Strategy.
The NSC North Sea Region strategy provides a common framework for engagement and investments around the North Sea.
Developed through a bottom-up process involving member regions, regional authorities in the North Sea Region, NGOs, industries and academia, it defines the major challenges and opportunities in the North Sea. What we can see today, is that of the NSR programme projects contribute to the aims of the NSC strategy.
One of the major challenges facing the North Sea Region is climate change, and the related adaptation and mitigation measures that this will require. Moving towards decarbonisation is a top priority. Active sharing of research and best practices as well as promoting new technological innovations is vital. To date, over 100 green business solutions have been piloted in current NSR programme.
For instance, the Scale-Up project has contributed to moving towards decarbonisation by accelerating the uptake of new technology aimed at reducing the CO2 levels. They have done so by organising “meet the buyers” events all around the North Sea Region. So far 18 success cases have been implemented leading to an average of over 30% CO2 reduction. Overall, over 30 solutions have been demonstrated in relation to climate change adaptation. In total the project has triggered nearly €29 million in investments. Efforts in this area must be intensified for the North Sea region to become climate-neutral.
Regional authorities can also be driver for “green” procurement to enable the transition into a circular economy. The ProCirc project is a good example of how to streamline practices and make it easier to procure in relation to investing in the circular economy.
To accomplish a productive and sustainable North Sea different interests need to be balanced to promote sustainability. Maritime spatial planning (MSP) is a good tool to promote such dialogue. The NorthSEE project has been a good project to create coherence and better conditions for MSP coordination. A comprehensive understanding of what MSP can deliver and how now digital tools can make it more accessible is however still needed. Regions have an important role to play here.
Sustainable maritime business development is vital for the future of the North Sea Region, this includes the need to improve the access of SMEs to financing. This is also one of the conclusions from the Periscope project, aiming to enhance the capacity of actors in the blue economy. This was highlighted at the Periscope Forum 2019: Global leadership in the blue economy on 5 November 2019 in Brussels, where NSC president Kerstin Brunnström was invited to speak.
Efficient and sustainable transport of passengers and is key for promoting a desirable development in the North Sea Region. A good example of a joint project is the HyTrEc2 project that promotes the hydrogen transport market in the NSR, helping to develop and rolling out alternative fuels and technology which is key priority NSC. Similarly, G-PaTRA aims to reduce CO2 from personal transport in remote and rural area by accelerating the use of zero emission vehicles and vessels in public transport. The project will have demonstrated over 100,000 low carbon passenger kilometers resulting from their activities by the end of the implementation period.
To stay competitive NSR needs to be well connected to the TEN-T. Projects, such as the #IWTS 2.0, looking at the use of inland waterways, aims to achieve just that and thus enables the NSR to be competitive in the long term. Overall in the current NSR programme, almost 100 green transport solutions have been introduced or processes improved.
The North Sea Region has strong industrial and research clusters, with high potential to capitialise on the transnational innovation capacity. The project Northern Connections addresses this by connecting regional clusters in the energy sector and breaking ”regional barriers” to competition.
Investments in skills and competences is also crucial for continued social and economic development. More projects like RIGHT skills for the right future will be needed in the future to develop the competences (both upskilling and reskilling) of the workforce to maintain a high innovation capacity.
The strong link between the priorities of the regional governments as expressed in the strategy and the cooperation programme for the NSR Programme secures regional ownership, which is key to make EU developments efforts successful. It also fosters active participation of regional governments in the programme, directly or through co-financing of projects. This in leads to optimal use of investments and contributes to a higher impact of EU cohesion policy.
The NSC calls for a continuation of the NSR programme
The projects of the NSR Interreg Program are important both for realisation of the current NSC North Sea Region strategy and the future, on which we will decide next summer. It is also vital for fostering cooperation between regions around the North Sea, including those outside of the EU. With Brexit, this will be even more important.
The potential of severe cuts in future long-term budget of the EU (2021-2027) and in the financial support to European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programmes are therefore worrisome. That is why the CPMR called on the European Council to step up for an ambitious EU budget and to avoid disruption regarding programme scope and geography for post-2020 ETC programmes
The NSC itself also sent a letter to the European Commissions, urging the continuation of the Interreg North Sea Region programme in the next programming period (2021-2027), with sufficient resources to address common challenges and strengthen cooperation across internal and external borders of the EU. Access the letter here!