26th May 2020

Cross-border 'macro-regions' unlikely to get own funding

  • 'Danube strategy needs to focus on a few themes,' says Johannes Hahn (Photo: European Parliament)

Geographical ‘macro-regions' around the Baltic Sea, along the Danube river or surrounding the Alps are unlikely to receive their own funding in the new EU budget from 2014, but should rather focus on spending existing money more efficiently, regional policy commissioner Johannes Hahn said Tuesday (13 April).

"It's not so much a question of more money, but of using the available funds more efficiently," Mr Hahn told delegates from Europe's local and regional authorities gathered in Brussels for a conference on EU's macro-regions.

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A relatively new concept developed under Mr Hahn's predecessor, macro-regions refer to several states sharing a common geographical feature.

Last year, the European Commission launched a strategy for the Baltic Sea region, seen as a pilot project for other cross-border macro-regions such as the Danube, the Alps or the North Sea.

The strategy did not earmark any new funds, however, neither did it envisage the set-up of new bodies or legislation, at least not under the current seven-year EU budget, ending in 2013.

The biggest added value of the strategy, according to participants from this region, seems to be better co-ordination of existing projects, for instance in cleaning up the sea. But several speakers raised the question of Russia still being very reluctant to co-operate with this new initiative, as it prefers to stick to an older EU-born forum, the Northern Dimension.

Despite "great enthusiasm" from other regions to follow suit, Mr Hahn warned that macro-regions only make sense if they respond to a real need on the ground and are not a collection of disparate projects.

"The Danube regions are developing many projects, but if you ask them how this will bring them closer to their neighbours, they don't know it very well. They need to identify the important themes – for instance environment, safety or capacity building in their national administrations," he said.

His own country, Austria, is one of the big promoters of the Danube region, and is pushing for a common strategy.

The Austrian politician also referred to problems in cross-border regional co-operation, when highways or bridges are not constructed at the same pace on both sides. A motorway linking the Czech city of Brno to Vienna has been delayed due to such problems.

Mr Hahn indicated he thought it unrealistic that regional policy money would be increased in 2014. "I hope the share of the budget can be increased in the next financial perspective, but you have an idea of the challenges posed to budgets amid the crisis," he said.

The political debate in the Netherlands, one of the biggest contributors to the EU coffers is already touching upon this issue. Last week, the Dutch conservative-liberal party (VVD) launched its draft election manifesto proposing to cut by almost half the country's contribution to the EU budget.

Asked about these trends and the outlook for his policy in the upcoming years, Mr Hahn said "regional policy is not charity, it is an investment in your own region."

"Richer countries need to understand that their own regions benefit from helping poorer ones to develop, as it increases the market potential for their own companies, for their exports."

"In addition to that, no region has a guarantee to be rich forever. Just look at the crisis," he said.

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