Cooperation across the Pyrenees

Ever heard of Jaca? Well, until three months ago neither had I. It’s a small city in Northern Spain, right at the foot of the Pyrenees and 25 km from the border with France.

And that’s where I’m living now.

You guessed it: I’m an IVY, a young European volunteering at the local Interreg programme, which is called POCTEFA.

Poctewhat? What it means is “Spain-France-Andorra Cross-border Cooperation Programme”... only, in Spanish. What it does is co-finance cooperation projects across the Pyrenees to support the region’s sustainable development. These projects (there are dozens of them) range from promoting local culture and artists, to building cycle lanes, to setting up a cross-border hospital in an isolated, high-mountain area.

Some projects are big and some are smaller, but every one of them is making a positive impact on the lives of citizens on both sides of the border. Projects have funny names, usually based on the word “Pyrenees” - such as Inturpyr, Pyrmet, Sapyra, Piremobv or Pirempfor - and they receive EU funding through the European Regional Development Fund, covering 65% of the projects’ expenses.

The Citadel of Jaca, in front of the Pyrenees

How I got here

First, of course, I sent an application. From my bedroom in Brussels (my hometown), I had found out about the opportunity on the European Solidarity Corps portal, the initiative which gathers volunteering offers from across Europe. I had a skype interview in early July with the communication manager at POCTEFA, and a week later I learned I had been accepted!

Then I had to figure out how to get to Jaca - and that’s not as easy as it looked, because crossing the Pyrenees can be tricky. I was on holiday in France, so first I had to get to Paris. There, I took a night train to Perpignan, then a high-speed train to Zaragoza, in Spain, and finally a small, slow-moving train to Jaca. Total duration of the trip: 34 hours… to end up just 500 km from where I started!

Jaca is home to the Working Community of the Pyrenees

Living in Jaca

Jaca is a nice little town, surrounded by mountains and surprisingly lively given it has just 13,000 inhabitants. As in any Spanish city, I wasn’t surprised to find a lot of activity, bars and restaurants, but there is more than that: Jaca thrives thanks to the many tourists who come in the summer and winter and flood its charming streets, thus punching above its weight in terms of animation, culture and nightlife. Jaca also enjoys a central position in a region with no big city, fueling its ambition to claim itself as the capital of the Spanish Central Pyrenees.

A view of Mount Oroel from Jaca

Among Jaca’s other attractions, there is of course its proximity to the mountains, with the Pyrenees to the North and the Prepirineo to the South as well as the emblematic Mount Oroel, and many opportunities to go hiking. I’ve also enjoyed exploring the countless little paths just outside of town, some of them part of the Camino de Santiago, which crosses Jaca following the river Aragon.

At the Ibón de Estanés with Stéphanie, another IVY in Jaca

Volunteering at the CTP

The programme I’m volunteering for is run by the Working Community of the Pyrenees, or CTP (its acronym in French and Spanish), which is a very special organisation. It is a platform for cooperation between neighbouring territories of the Pyrenees, including two French regions, four Spanish Autonomous communities and the States of France, Spain and Andorra. The CTP has no less than five official languages: Spanish, French, Catalan, Euskara (Basque) and Occitan.

The main role of the CTP is acting as the Managing Authority of POCTEFA, the European programme for cross-border cooperation in the Pyrenees region. But the CTP also takes part in other programmes; it runs its own projects, such as the Pyrenees Climate Change Observatory, and it is currently pushing its Pyrenean Strategy, the result of an ambitious collaborative effort establishing its priorities for the region’s future development.

At the office, in the Working Community of the Pyrenees.

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