Euroregion Spree-Neisse-Bober points out in Brussels the importance of cross-border cooperation and people-to-people projects along German-Polish border:


AEBR was invited to accompany representatives from Spree-Neiße-Bober (SNB) headed by Landrat Harald Altekrüger, German President of SNB, and Czesław Fiedorowicz, Polish President of the Euroregion and President of the Federation of Polish Euroregions (FERP), during their agenda with several institutions in Brussels last 21 January. They exchanged on issues of interest for the region with the Representation of the German Federal Land of Brandenburg to EU institutions, with Dr. Christian Ehler, Member of European Parliament (MEP), and with representatives of the Directorate General of Regional and Urban Policy (DG Regio) at the European Commission.

The Brandenburg Representation to the EU hosted the first meeting of SNB Delegation.  Dr. Marcus Wenig, Head of Office, and his team member Birgit Urban. There they had a very fruitful debate about the interest of the region in Brussels, in particular the future of the so-called “coal regions”, on the next programming period for EU structural funding and new challenges, such as migration phenomena. They focused especially the proposed regulation for next Interreg Programme (VI), which has raised many questions among European cross-border regions. The representatives of Euroregion SNB especially highlighted the role of small project funds for people-to-people projects, which are very relevant in the daily activity of many euroregions, and they have been tackled specifically by the Commission’s Proposal of Regulation. However, it establishes some very strong pre-conditions which might affect the normal functioning of various euroregions.

A recent report of the European Parliament has also added some more “suspense”, including many amendments related to a higher involvement of local and regional authorities and the strengthening of subsidiarity. It proposes a softer management of small projects funds, but still keeps limitations to their management.

The delegation moved to the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG Regio) offices in Beaulieu, where they met first of all MEP Dr. Christian Ehler, who referred to the aforementioned report of the European Parliament and the proposed increase of the budget earmarked for ETC in the next programming period. MEP Ehler concentrated on energy issues and the challenges for “coal-regions”, one of his working areas at the Parliament. He made a very interesting presentation on how the institutional steps towards the reduction of pollutant emissions are affecting very much some regions focussed in fossil fuels. They need to build up alternative strategies and join wider platforms working in new and cleaner sources, such as solar-, wind-, geothermal-, bio-, tidal- and hydrogen-based energies (a workshop on “Fuel Cells & Hydrogen” took place in the afternoon). Such a strategy should include a wider financial approach. It is not only about Interreg, but also the new framework programme will include new technologies, energy infrastructure, etc. A good combination of investments from different EU programmes would be a very good base for a smart approach to this challenge.

Several representatives of DG Regio joined the meeting, who showed a pessimistic approach towards a possible increase of the budget in times of Brexit and other challenges. Carsten Jacob, Director of Euroregion SNB highlighted how cross-border cooperation (CBC) has changed the lives of many Europeans, just the same as Erasmus, and the role of small-project-funds for people-to-people projects in trust building across the border. Other representatives of the Euroregion showed their active involved in improving CBC on the German-Polish border for the past 25 years and the essential role which plays on the status quo the continuity of the current framework.

They presented a joint memorandum prepared by the four Euroregions at the German-Polish border, and a position paper by the Federation of Polish Euroregions. Both were handed in to be taken into account for future design of Interreg programs, stressing ongoing challenges across the German-Polish border, the need to keep the level of trust and further develop their joint achievements. Euroregion SNB and AEBR welcomed very much the fact that the European Union has acknowledged the importance of cross-border cooperation and has made its support an integral part of its territorial cooperation policy. However, they also wanted to point out their concern about future Interreg programs, in particular at the German-Polish border, where people-to-people projects are probably the most important instruments to promote cooperation and generate trust.

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