Alpine macroregion close to launch

The Alpine macroregion will hope to provide more concrete results than its Adriatic-Ionian equivalent. [Artur Staszewski/Flickr]

The EUSALP project moves closer towards reality, while its maritime cousin, EUSAIR, struggles to provide results. EURACTIV Italy reports.

Representatives from seven countries (as well as 48 cantons and regions, with a combined GDP of nearly €300 billion that make up the Alpine macroregion), have been holding talks in Brussels about the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) project .

After the adoption of the action plan by the European Commission on 28 July, final approval of the macroregional strategy will be needed from the European Council meeting schedule for the 17-18 December. Once definitive approval is granted, the strategy will be launched at a conference planned for 25-26 January in Brdo, Slovenia.

However, before it is brought before the Council, both the Committee of the Regions and European Parliament will vote on the proposal towards the end of November. Their final opinions will be taken into consideration by the Council. Today’s (15 October) face-to-face meeting between regional leaders, in which Italy is represented by the presidents of Lombardy, Liguria, Piedmont and the Aosta Valley, presents a chance for the concerned parties to coordinate ahead of these important meetings.

>>Read our Special Report: Farming in mountainous areas: A fragile balance

Currently, the action plan stipulates that each country be permitted three representatives, from three different government ministries.

Among the critical issues is the role of Switzerland. The country’s 2014 referendum and ban on certain European products has cooled relations between the Alpine country and the European Union. Brussels does not look kindly upon countries that impede the rules of the internal market.

During the last meeting of the steering committee in Milan on 8 and 9 October, a rotating presidency was suggested, which would be based on alphabetical order. This would have given Switzerland seven years to address the critical issues facing it. But it now seems that the presidency will be a voluntary position, with Slovenia, the host of the opening conference, taking its turn first.

The macroregion was one of the talking points at the Open Days event, held in Brussels by representatives from the autonomous region of Trentino-South Tyrol. Sergio Chiamparino, president of the Piedmont region, voiced his doubts about the effective functioning of the EUSALP project, “I still see too much localism on the table, the real steps forward will be made when the different regions come to together on European projects of transalpine collaboration.”

He added that, “I don’t want the macroregion project to be just a support system, it should be a benchmark, a point of reference, that will be able to promote projects that the Commission can finance.” Collaboration between alpine regions could be decisive in the areas of hydrogeology and transport links.

>>Read: Italy haemorrhaging tax revenue

Meanwhile, the EUSAIR project (EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region), established in November 2014 during Italy’s presidency of the European Council is struggling to get off the ground. It was also being discussed in Brussels, at a round-table event organised by one of the project’s members, the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.

There is strong political will to strengthen cooperation ties within the macroregion, but the actual implementation mechanism has provided any real results yet. “Invest in projects,” urged Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy.

“The macroregion will play a fundamental role in the integrating the Western Balkans,” she added. Mogherini has made available Commission resources to assist and facilitate the project, but “the initiative must be taken by the member states and regions.”

Andrea Mairate, a head of unit at the Commission’s directorate-general for regional policy, said that the project “lacks the operational commitment of governments, states and regions, to get off the ground. Political will isn’t enough, the strategy needs the best available resources, as well as seemingly trivial factors such as officials who can speak English.”

Despite the strategy being based on mutual cooperation, the involved parties still tend to compete in certain areas, notably tourism.

Italy coordinates with Serbia on the second pillar of the strategy: connecting the region. Maritime transport development and connecting infrastructures are fundamental for the president of north-eastern Italian Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, Debora Serracchiani, who has called for increased investment in the area.

An operational response will be made on 10 December, when the ADRION programme is launched. The project has a budget of €99 million for 2014-2020, of which €83 million was provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with the rest being made available by the instrument for pre-accession assistance (IPA II)

The issue of macroregions will go before the European Parliament in Strasbourg in the next ten days, where it will be voted on at the plenary. Ivan Jakovcic, a Croatian MEP and member of the Parliament’s committee on regional development, is satisfied with the strategy. “We will have Parliament support. It doesn’t include everything we wanted, but there’s enough in there to implement the regional projects.”

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