AEBR Executive Committee Meeting in Xanthi, end June 2018 :



 

On 28-30 June members of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) met in Xanthi (East Macedonia-Thrace, Greece) for a very intense programme organized by the Chamber of Xanthi. On Thursday the 28th, AEBR and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Xanthi organised an AEBR conference on cross-border cooperation along Greek borders with neighbouring regions. The conference was an occasion to bring together local authorities and chambers of commerce from various Greek regions as well as participants from neighbouring Bulgaria, Turkey and Albania.

 

Mr. Stylianos Moraitis, President of the Chamber of Commerce of Xanthi, introduced the meeting with welcoming words and a positive view of future perspectives for the region of East Macedonia and Thrace. Discussion topic revolved around a willingness to cooperate with neighbouring regions and with other partners within the framework of the European Union.  Thanks to tools offered by the EU, this desire to cooperate is strong. The common aim to enhance better understanding and contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the citizens is clear. Representatives of local authorities from Greece and bordering regions all shared enthusiastically to be present at AEBR conference, as this was a good opportunity to meet, exchange information and learn from each other's experience in cooperation.

 

AEBR's Secretary General Martin Guillermo-Ramirez stressed the relevance of regions like East Macedonia and Thrace which lay both at the internal border with another EU member state, as well as external borders with neighbouring countries. The position of the region is strategic, and AEBR is particularly interested in listening about the peculiar experiences of this area and to work with local actors.

 

In particular, Mr Guillermo-Ramirez noted the growing importance that this region will gain in light of the stronger focus that migrations will have in future EU policies: within the proposed Cohesion Policy for the period 2021-2027 designed by the European Commission, those funds dedicated to the management of migration will increase and, on the other hand, integrated territorial strategies will be a major focus of next European Territorial Cooperation (Interreg VI) for the same period. AEBR is at disposal of local actors to supporting them utilise the tools that the Commission will provide to develop innovative solutions in this framework.

 

AEBR Secretary General also emphasised how Greek border regions (and their neighbours) can benefit from the effort to foster decentralisation in the process of implementing cross-border cooperation ties enforced by the proposal of the European Commission. The recommendation to promote structures of territorial cooperation which hold legal personality responds to the need to guarantee more power of decision to the regions at the border and thus reduce the involvement of national authorities. From this proposal, a stronger bottom-up approach to the implementation of cross-border programmes is demanded, along with stronger institutional building and a horizontal governance overall.

 

AEBR is committed to supporting regional policy-makers in understanding the proposals of the European Commission, and especially in adapting to its principles. The common goal of the Commission, of AEBR and of the local authorities is to ensure that the structures which implement territorial cooperation are close to the recipients of those very same policies. This conference laid down a further step in this direction to foster collaboration between AEBR and local authorities from Greek border regions.

 

On Friday 29th, the executive committee of AEBR ensued. Great attention was paid to the initiatives implemented by DG Regio on issues related to cross-border cooperation: AEBR's Secretary General elucidated about the latest development of the Commission’s Border Regions Communication. The main instruments newly introduced are the Border Focal Point in DG Regio, the online platform Boosting EU border regions and the pilot initiative b-solutions. The Border Focal Point serves the need to provide assistance through a clear and dedicated focus to general and specific cross-border issues within the work of DG Regio. The online platform Boosting EU border regions offers a tool to exchange information, ask questions, disseminate results and connect actors involved in cross-border cooperation (see https://ec.europa.eu/futurium/en/border-regions ). Mr Guillermo-Ramirez took occasion to strongly encourage AEBR members to make use of this tool as it allows to communicate directly with the European Commission.

 

AEBR Secretary General highlighted also the increasing interest from DG Regio in collecting data and evidence on border obstacles: a strong effort is made to identify initiatives to promote cross-border cooperation which are realised beyond the structures given by Interreg funds.

 

Of particular significance to the Executive Committee participants was the information ensuing the Commission's communication following the proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, A Modern Budget for a Union that Protects, Empowers and Defends, the MFF 2021-2027. Some of the implications of the proposal for the MFF 2021-2027 are especially crucial for AEBR's members, and in particular those regarding the implementation of the new regulations for territorial cooperation, the new approach to maritime programmes, the relevance of people-to-people projects and small project funds, as well as the role of intermediate bodies to implement these funds. The shift of the regulation of “small project funds”, now under article 24 in the Specific Regulation for Interreg, Section III of Chapter III, refrains the implementation of these operational means, which worries many Euroregions. AEBR has already contacted the Commission (DG Regio) to express some remarks on these regulatory proposals and will lobby during the negotiations at the Council and the European Parliament.

 

With regard to Cohesion Policy, the main objective of keeping territorial cohesion in the new programmes is accomplished. DG Regio has announced in mid-May that the draft MFP foresees 9.5 billion Euro for CBC and this figure stays stable. Negotiations with the Council and the Parliament are now taking place with the idea to have an agreement before the European Election in May 2019.

 

Additionally, an important news introduced by the regulatory framework for Cohesion Policy is that there is a specific regulation for territorial cooperation (Interreg VI): the future Interreg architecture will be modified to better reflect its territorial dimension as functional areas will be defined. In this light, maritime borders will be handled in a differentiated manner and CBC on maritime borders will be integrated into the enlarged “transnational cooperation and maritime cooperation” component following the logic of macro-regions. On the other hand, all CBC programmes: Interreg, those of Neighbourhood under the new NDICI (Neighbourhood, Development and Internacional Cooperation Instrument) and the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) will be managed by DG Regio under the same set of rules.

 

Moreover, structures implementing territorial cooperation will have to comply with the condition of holding a cross-border legal personality, either as legal bodies or EGTCs, in order to favour decentralisation.

 

AEBR will inform its members of future developing of these issues, as well as of other topics of interest for border and cross-border regions.

 

The executive committee ended with the approval of all proposed decisions, and the attendants concluded the day with a visit to the border between Greece and Bulgaria.  The president of the Chamber of Commerce of Xanthi Mr. Stylianos Moraitis enriched the tour by informing the participants about the specific socio-economic situation of the border region, where there are some minorities (including Pomaks, a Muslim community) living in small villages scattered around the border mountain area, where communication across the communities is scarce due to the boisterous landscape.

 

The evening has been a superb occasion to fully embrace Greek hospitality end enjoy its culture, its excellent food, its entertaining music and its sociable dancing.

 

It has been a real pleasure for AEBR's members to be warmly welcomed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Xanthi - many thanks for the memorable time!

 

<< back