This particular consultancy service – called the West Sweden EU Project Analysis Service or WEPA – takes as a starting point the political visions of its member regions and municipalities.
In other words, rather than simply point them in the direction of EU funds which are currently available, they ask them what their development goals are and only then begin to brainstorm on sources of funding.
WEPA - A more political model?
West Sweden President Kjell Peterson explained to EurActiv that his region, just like other European regional bodies, has plenty of experience in the bread-and-butter business of transferring EU information to the grass-root level and helping local and regional members to develop project ideas.
However, in most other countries, project ideas are often driven by individual civil servants or departments within local and regional authorities, "whereas the WEPA model builds directly on the political visions of the local authorities," he argued.
WEPA in practice
The model has a number of steps. In a preparatory phase, West Sweden representatives will sit down with elected representatives and officials for an all-day kick-off meeting. After this first step, the analysis phase will allow the regional office to make an assessment of potential funding options based on the region's priorities.
In a second all-day recommendation meeting, authorities will outline the next steps and finally during the application phase the local authority will set up a project applying for EU funds, assisted by West Sweden throughout the process.
West Sweden officials quizzed by EurActiv cited Arvika Municipality as an example of how WEPA works when it works well.
Arvika was the first local authority to test the model. At the kick-off meeting, around 30 leading politicians and civil servants took part in a two-day discussion. West Sweden noted 25 areas which Arvika wanted to develop using EU funds. These were analysed and further prioritisation was made which resulted in three successful project applications for a total of 260,000 euros.
As an example, one of the projects aimed to rescue elderly people from isolation through the use of new technologies. Arvika was advised to apply for funding under the Ambient Assisted Living Programme and joined a successful bid from a Dutch-led European partnership.
The Arvika and WEPA models have received considerable media attention in Sweden, officials were eager to point out, noting that "both Sveriges Radio and several local papers have reported about the model's achievements".
WEPA: Filling in the blanks for local officials
WEPA is needed, says Peterson, because in many cases, local officials simply don't have the time or money to begin the lengthy procedure of applying for sectoral and structural funds. At local and regional level, EU-funded projects are seen as something separate to the "normal work" of civil servants and it is therefore sometimes difficult to find the resources needed to apply for EU funding, explained the West Sweden president.
"The insecurity of success - even in the case of a good quality application - and the lack of competence and experience of the processes leading up to an EU fund application are also major hurdles," he added.
Can it work elsewhere?
According to the West Sweden president and officials, their model can be replicated elsewhere. Peterson said West Sweden had already been contacted by several other regional offices in Sweden, "whose members have heard about the model and are interested in carrying it out themselves".
Likewise, "we have received requests for presentations from other European regional offices who also would like to offer the services to their members. West Sweden is also planning to apply for an Interreg IVA-project, aiming at testing WEPA in regions in Denmark and Norway," he concluded.
However, while the model can be easily replicated in Scandinavian countries which share Sweden's wealth levels and governmental infrastructure, it remains to be seen whether WEPA could work in countries where GDP and governance levels stem from entirely different political traditions.
One solution, argued West Sweden officials, could be higher investment from the European Commission in projects that promote international exchanges for regional and local authorities.