What does the European Union (EU) do for you? In a much appreciated interview with the Head of the joint Secretariat Jakub Fedorowicz (JF) and the Communication and Capitalisation Officer Vassilen Iotzov (VI) of the EU South Baltic program in Gdańsk, I (JK) was given the opportunity to gain some first-hand knowledge about the added value which European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programs and this EU program in particular brings to its citizens with its numerous innovative projects in the South Baltic region.
Here’s what they had to say:
JK: What does your program involve and why it is of relevance to citizens in Europe, and in your area in particular?
JF: Our program in the South Baltic is “a special one” together with many other European Territorial Cooperation programs across Europe because it involves more than one country. Regions from Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, Denmark and Germany which share a rich hanseatic culture and heritage are encouraged by the EU South Baltic program to cooperate multilaterally across land and maritime borders on common challenges the South Baltic region faces mainly in such areas as entrepreneurship, labour, environment, transport and tourism.
JK: Can you give readers an example of an EU-funded project that led to an improvement of citizens’ life in the South Baltic region?
VI: The INTERFACE project is an excellent example of how EU-funded transnational cooperation continues to have a positive effect on EU citizens’ life in the South Baltic area. The regions of Denmark and Germany shared knowledge and joined efforts in developing a special cross-border ticket, allowing citizens to travel for a reasonable price between the two coastal cities, Rostock and Nykøbing. The project successfully connected two urban hubs, thereby providing a perfect solution for daily cross-border commuters as well as citizens who simply wish to travel for leisure in the South Baltic region.
What makes the INTERFACE project so special is its success in combining different transport modes (bus, ferry, etc.) into a single multinational product. The InterCombi ticket available in Danish, German, and English has been purchased over 10.000 times just in the development phase of the 2007 to 2013 programming period.
The project is innovative; it is the first of its kind to introduce a multi-modal, cross-border timetable information system in Europe. The system provides travelers with real-time information on arrivals and departures of different transport means in the neighboring country, thereby creating seamless connectivity in terms of information flows. The sharing of bigdata by EU-member states across national borders as well as the standardization of different data processes within an overarching EU framework can be envisaged as yet another stepping stone on Europe’s path towards deeper integration in the Union’s South Baltic area.
JK: Can stakeholders from countries outside the EU also participate in your program?
JF: The program is primarily for EU project partners (“beneficiaries”) from the eligible program area. Having said that, we also allow for participation of organizations from outside the EU (e.g.: Kaliningrad), if we believe they can bring innovation and a unique idea, not previously available to the region itself.
JK: In what ways and to what extent did last years’ crises affect the program (the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, and the rise in populist sentiments across Europe)? How does the program respond to these external challenges?
JF: These challenges did not affect the program in terms of its level of investments as the program’s budget has already been set for the 2014-2020 period. What could be an issue is the situation of the beneficiaries, however. If they have less money, they are less willing to participate in the program.
JK: Do you have any resolutions for 2017 regarding the South Baltic program? What do you hope to improve in the future?
JF: We try to make our program as flexible as possible in order to serve the need of our beneficiaries. However, we do see the need for further simplification of administrative processes, while also ensuring that taxpayers’ money is being spent in the most efficientway. Another aim involves capacity-building of small organisations from the Programme regions in order to help them participate in the EU South Baltic program.
JK: Where can readers find more information about the program and are there any upcoming events you would like to inform them about?
JF: If you wish to find out more about our program, you are always welcome to visit our website or one of our contact points in the program’s five participating countries.
In response to very first question, one can definitely say that the EU does a great deal for its citizens with its numerous European Territorial Cooperation programs all across Europe. With its “on-the-ground” projects of a cross-border and macro-regional nature, the EU takes a far leap bridging deep dividing lines and bringing its citizens closer within a shared European Community. It moreover succeeds in narrowing the “expectations/delivery” gap by delivering tangible results to citizens that are looking towards the EU with their justified expectations of living a better life in Europe