Regional and local leaders deliver their proposals to tap the potential of macro-regional strategies (MRS) over the programming phase 2021-2027. Innovation of small and medium enterprises, digital and low carbon economy are the most promising cooperation fields identified in the opinion drawn up by Dainis Turlais, (LV/ Renew Europe), and approved during the 26 June plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR).
As one of the European Union's key instruments for promoting European territorial cooperation, macro-regional strategies (MRS) bring together regions from Member States and third countries facing a common set of challenges. The EU's first macro-regional strategy, the Baltic Sea Strategy (EUSBSR), launched in 2009, was followed by three other strategies (Danube, Adriatic-Ionian, Alpine). The common objective is to coordinate joint actions to deal with issues that are best tackled together, from environment protection in sea basins to transport connections, from health services for border communities to industrial research.
The CoR stresses that MRSs proved to be an excellent bottom-up instrument for territorial cooperation, offering opportunities for true multi-level governance without creating new bureaucracy, closing the gap between EU and local governance and involving representatives and regions directly.
Local leaders want the discussion on macro-regional strategies to move ahead from the current "three Nos" approach (No new EU funds, no additional EU structures, no new EU legislation) and proposes "three Yesses": yes to better synergies existing financial instruments, yes to better integration of existing structures into the MRS and yes to better implementation of current rules. The Committee regrets that the European Commission, in its recent assessment, has not taken this proposal into account.
In the context of the UK withdrawal from the EU, the CoR also suggests exploring how MRS could contribute to build the future relationship between EU and UK regions and to involve local and regional authorities in the discussions.
After the adoption, rapporteur Dainis Turlais - Member of Rīga City Council - stressed that: "MRS represent a deeply European vision, having great potential and innovatively promote working together to achieve shared goals. These goals are important for European citizens regardless of the country or region they live in. The strategies provide real opportunities for multi-level governance without creating red tape while bridging the gap between EU and local policy-makers as they involve directly the representatives of cities and regions."
MRS can bring specific benefits in key areas such as environment and climate change, economic development and connectivity. Preserving environmental resources is a common public good and a priority for all existing MRS. Matters like pollution, flood protection and climate change can be better addressed by coordinating cross-border actions and objectives.
“I would like to propose my idea of the magic triangle, which could be our new success formula. This triangle is made of three sides: academia and science on one side, entrepreneurs, who use the scientific achievements and turn them into products, on the other side, and local and regional governments, who play connecting role and provide infrastructure for the stakeholders, on the third side", rapporteur Turlais added.
Regions and cities also delivered a specific assessment of the role of clusters in promoting innovation and growth in the macro-regions, especially in the Danube region. The CoR stressed the potential of clusters to become world level value chains and to have a real impact on social, economic and territorial cohesion. Therefore, the CoR demands that the EU provides further support to promote the activities of transnational clusters, including logistical and small-scale financial support for testing and further developing cooperation between SMEs clusters. The CoR suggests considering developing a smart specialisation strategy for the Danube.
European structural and investment funds remain the key funding source for MRSs and the preparation of investment plans for the phase 2021-2027 will provide, over the forthcoming months, a unique opportunity for them to demonstrate and strengthen their contribution to EU programmes' priorities, also thanks to improved regulations. Nonetheless, without joint political impetus at national and regional level, the commitment of players on the ground, while very valuable, will not be enough to ensure that MRS survive.
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