The answer to this question is very simple – especially when looking at the official title of what is more commonly known as Interreg. It is European Territorial Cooperation, one of the objectives of EU Cohesion Policy. If Interreg already is about territorial cooperation, why then Interact started working two years ago on bringing territoriality into Interreg? As if it was not yet there?! The reason being a shared perception among many involved, that during the 2014-2020 programming period Interreg drifted towards a more sectoral perspective in its approach.
In our view the work on territorial integration, functional geographies in cross-border border areas and in transnational groupings of Member States ranks among the unique selling points of Interreg – next to cooperation and partnership approach. That is why bringing territoriality into Interreg including its linkages with the Territorial Agenda 2030 was put on the agenda and the feedback and engagement of various actors from within and beyond the Interreg community in this work during the past two years has confirmed that we are on the right track. Especially during the time preparing and transiting into the programming period 2021-2027.
The pathway: From concepts to implementation
We started off with events on the notion and concept of territoriality, functional areas, Policy Objective 5 and the Territorial Agenda 2030. Spring 2022 marks a milestone in Interact’s work. We moved on to very operational focused, hands-on events and products.
Firstly, the event on Functional areas as living labs for territoriality on 23 March 2022 proofed that ‘functional area’ is not abstract academic concept, but reality in very many cross-border areas across Europe. Many territorial actors in such cross-border functional areas, driven by joint challenges and opportunities, are aware and make use of Interreg funding to a ddress these common challenges and opportunities.
Secondly, in close cooperation with representatives from cross-border, transnational and interregional Interreg programmes, from EU, regional and national territorial actors, we developed a Territorial Package – a set of eight fiches on various aspects of territoriality and Interreg. These fiches help those involved in the implementation of Interreg programmes (and projects) to integrate the territorial dimension into their day-to-day work. The most hands-on and operational fiches are probably those relating to the integration of territoriality into all steps along programme and project life cycles – with a focus on project selection.
We want to demonstrate that territoriality is not something nice-to-have, but a fundamental element, firmly anchored in the whole programme and project life cycle. What else would one expect from Interreg as European Territorial Cooperation?!
The way forward: Capacity building and joint communication efforts
There is still some homework to be done to really meet these expectations. Firstly, we plan to continue working on capacity building to foster territorial perspectives and thinking: Not limited to the spatial planners in the Interreg community, but as shared understanding among each and everyone. And secondly, to still more strongly communicate, advertise and promote the territorial way of thinking within the Interreg community, e.g., by further spreading the Territorial Package as a very practical support tool into this direction.
Through our work, we do hope to also inspire other stakeholders to undertake similar approaches supporting us in our efforts to focus Interreg (again) more on the territorial than the sectoral side. Or, with reference to Monty Python, always look on the territorial side of life!
This blog represents the personal views of the authors and should not be considered as an official Interact opinion.