A recent European Commission report pinpoints a number of weaknesses in one of the European regional funding programmes and calls for priorities to be more specific in future. EURACTIV France reports.
During the 2000-2006 period, Interreg created 5,800 start-ups, 115,000 jobs and 12,000 "cooperation networks," according to a recent report published by the European Commission. During this seven-year period, 4.9 billion euro was spent across 80 cross-border programmes.
A severe assessment
However, beyond these numbers, the authors of the report delivered a fairly severe assessment. On the one hand, development objectives were judged to be too vague, while on the other hand – despite being largely relevant – cooperation objectives were too optimistic, they concluded.
Strand A of Interreg 2000-2006 had a total 62 programmes, focusing primarily on enhancing the socio-economic development of the regions working together. Of the 57 programmes evaluated by the report, 61% had achieved by the end of the term an above-average "level of depth and intensity of co-operation".
On the negative side, regions often had a "varying level" of success in their attempts to collaborate – i.e. the number of genuinely joint projects was patchy overall. The overall performance of Strand A was good, the authors concluded.
Sterner criticism was reserved for the so-called Strand B of the programme, however. This section, comprising 13 programmes, was designed to support environmental protection and effective management of cultural and natural resources.
The main negative in this area was a failure to "concentrate financial support on a limited number of priority topics". As a result, the strategies failed to have a clearly discernible impact – a disappointing outcome given the substantial sums of money involved.
Thirdly, and finally, Strand C sought to bring together the less developed regions – mainly areas suffering from industrial decline – and this strategy proved to arguably post the greatest advances in the 2000-2006 period, according to the report.
"Significant breakthroughs" were made by these regions in the sharing of best practice, it concludes.
Programmes' objectives too vague
While providing an interesting snapshot into the 2000-2006 period, the real value of this report is to offer some lessons and suggestions to EU lawmakers as they are about to reform EU regional policy in the coming years.
The main 'lesson learned' seems to be that the guidelines designed to achieve these "territorial development objectives" were too vague, while the goals outlined – though largely appropriate – were "overly optimistic," which in turned raised "unrealistic expectations" of what Interreg could achieve.
Above all, the authors call on the Commission to narrow the focus of priorities for future cross-border programmes.
The report also stresses the key role of so-called 'macro-regional' EU strategies – such as the recent Baltic or Danube Strategies – and believes the Interreg model can help in making them a success.