From Scotland to Spain and the Azores

Three months ago, I was moving to Portugal to become an IVY volunteer. It was my first time in the Iberian Peninsula, and I had no idea of the language, the local working culture or the kind of job I would have done, were it not for the short description provided in the ad on the IVY online platform and the interview I went through. It was going to be an amazing experience.

Very soon, I was integrated in the Interreg Atlantic Area team, having the chance of working both with the Joint Secretariat and the Managing Authority. I witnessed the tireless support given by the Joint Secretariat to project leaders and partners, and appreciated the strategic dimension of programme priorities definition, in this crucial moment when the new budget of the EU is being negotiated and cohesion policy sees its budget shrink.

The Atlantic Area transnational programme currently supports 72 projects focused on Innovation, Resource Efficiency, Biodiversity and Risk Prevention in an area stretching from south of Spain to the northernmost regions of Scotland. It seeks to capitalize on shared assets and tackle transnational challenges along the Atlantic coast.

This is one of the most important European ecosystems, with a huge and yet unexploited economic potential linked to sub-optimal cooperation among grass-roots stakeholders. The programme calls civil society, public bodies, academia and industry to propose solutions and join forces in transnational consortia, so that project results have the largest possible impact and are replicated. It favours innovative solutions and takes on a significant part of the financial risk associated with projects.

As with all Interreg programmes, projects financed under Atlantic Area should contribute to increasing territorial cohesion in the programme area and provide a common solution to shared problems. This is done by promoting cooperation between partners with a view to eliminating obstacles such as legislative and administrative gaps, and sharing best practices. This effort results in sustainable economic growth and social inclusion.

Many different types of projects can be financed under Atlantic Area as long as they show coherence and concrete contribution to its Strategic Objectives. For example, some projects help identifying new economic opportunities, contribute to energy security and resource efficiency, or go some way towards the energy transition to renewables. Others help requalifying cultural and environmental heritage sites and revitalizing core economic sectors linked with the ocean.

The MMIAH project, for instance, aims at recovering disused buildings and assets linked with the military, maritime and industrial sector which made in the past a characteristic of the selected place. The project aims at reintegrating such buildings in the life of the city by giving them a new purpose which generates added value. In particular, the project aims at transforming such places in objects of cultural tourism and engines of sustainable economic progress.

Another interesting project that has concrete impact on local communities and the citizens’ quality of life is Dairy-4-Future. This project aims at requalifying the dairy sector along the Atlantic Area by emphasizing innovative dairy practices. The project aims to tackle the economic difficulties faced by the dairy sector on the Atlantic by diffusing innovative techniques coming from 10 pilot firms and tested in other 100 firms in the consortium. Spreading such new tools and technologies should help the dairy sector in the Atlantic to achieve resilience to external threats of various nature, which, today, undermine the livelihood of the sector. The relevance of this project for both local communities and the EU at large appears immediately when one considers that the Atlantic Area, from Scotland to Spain and the Azores, accounts for the 20% of the production of the EU. The success of this project, by bringing about resource-efficient production patterns, would make the sector more competitive, resilient to always new challenges and competitors and sustainable in the long-term.

During my stay at the Joint Secretariat I could experience first-hand the monitoring of ongoing projects. This activity is at the core of the programme. Reimbursements to projects under implementation depend on administrative and content checks. Project progress reports are tested against the originally approved project to verify its real progress. Only if a satisfactory level of progress and compliance with administrative rules are certified, reimbursements will be given out, as the programme applies a result-oriented and value-for-money approach. On a more general note, this experience gives plenty of opportunities to reflect on the contribution of the programme to the regional and maritime policies of the EU.

Serving Atlantic Area as a volunteer certainly gives many occasions to reflect on the importance of projects as instruments to implement EU policies. It seems to me that, if they succeed in activating long-term cooperation among and beyond project partners, transnational cooperation programmes really have the potential to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth through territorial cohesion across the EU. I would strongly recommend the Atlantic Area to future IVY applicants; Porto and the Atlantic Area are some of the best places ever to experience how the EU works for territorial cohesion in a friendly and welcoming environment.

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