Interreg offers EU states way to work together

The European Union program known as Interreg began in 1990 with the aim of preparing border countries for a community without internal barriers. Broken into three phases, the last of which wraps up by 2007, the program is supposed to encourage cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation and balanced development in areas such as transportation, business, energy and water networks, and technology. The EU has allocated millions of euros to its member states to help put this program – considered one of the EU’s most valuable – into practice. But to ultimately be successful, the program requires several things, including truly creative partnerships, stable and prolific company relations and active participation at all levels – from the citizen of a small rural municipality all the way up to the head of the highest administration. Undeveloped potential Though the Ministry of Economy and Finance shows Greece is absorbing EU funds, the spending doesn’t appear to translate into results. People here have usually perceived EU programs as offering easy money and a way to service certain clients – Interreg is no exception. So Greece has lost a great opportunity. A country must participate in programs by exchanging know-how, interregional experience and creating specifications for further European planning if they want to develop relevant policies accordingly. By failing to exploit the Interreg program, Greece has excluded itself from Europe-wide policymaking. Consider those portions of the program applicable to Greece’s islands: Interreg offers big opportunities in these areas which haven’t been pursued at all. Meanwhile, Italy and France, who also have programs within the context of the second phase of Interreg, have laid the foundations toward developing international cooperation on issues such as land use, the environment and preservation of the cultural heritage in the fragile island area of the Mediterranean. Reducing inequalities When the last phase of Interreg wraps up in 2007, the program will be converted into a central EU initiative with the title «European Territorial Cooperation: The promotion of harmonious and stable development in the EU.» «Reducing inequalities in the area’s regions is the central goal of the European Union’s regional policy,» said Christina Daoussi, general director of the Center of Euro-Mediterranean Regions for the Environment. «Until recently, it was known for developing economic and social cohesion policy, even though since 2000 we are essentially talking about ‘territorial cohesion policy’.» But she said that, through Interreg, agencies aren’t just called upon to come up with any particular plan. «They are asked to study their country, to get to know the countries of the other cooperating agencies, to define common needs and to make requests for coordinated planning,» she said. «This is the added value of Interreg: Through international cooperation, the agencies become energetic protagonists in the programming and specification of new policies. That takes the edge off the perception that European programs are only kitties of money.» Daoussi added that the EU Commission has intimated that the new phase of Interreg programming will be best utilized by those who have the right know-how – or those who have created programs within the spirit of the European Union. In 2000, the Center of Euro-Mediterranean Regions for the Environment (KEPEMEP-CERE) organized a series of international meetings with representatives from the European Commission and EU member states, which Greek officials didn’t attend, even though they had been invited. A Greek consortium These meetings eventually led to the creation of a network of approximately 200 Greek municipalities – one fifth of the country – which took on the shape of a consortium or forum. KEPEMEP-CERE leads this consortium, while participating Greek organizations include the Regional Union of Municipalities and Societies (TEDK) and five institutions of higher learning: the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, University of Thessaly, Polytechnic of Crete, University of Crete-Rethymnon and University of Ioannina-Agrinion. «The value of the particular consortium is that it will coordinate universities which cultivate knowledge with local governments, the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities, and KEPEMEP-CERE,» said Ilias Beiratos, a University of Thessaly professor specializing in land use.