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The philosophy and profound impact of the European Interreg programme

Interreg programme
Aurora García

Aurora García

Regions and Cities Knowledge Area Leader

The European Union’s Interreg programme emerges as a bastion of territorial cooperation among the diverse regions of the continent. Since its inception in 1990, Interreg has played a crucial role in regional integration and development, promoting solidarity among member states and addressing common challenges through cross-border, transnational, and interregional projects. With a budget of nearly €10 billion for the 2021-2027 period (the sixth for Interreg), this programme is structured around five cooperation pillars: cross-border, transnational, interregional, outermost regions, and neighbourhood. In any of its first three strands, Interreg represents a significant opportunity for European regions to successfully develop initiatives aimed at enhancing Europe’s well-being.

This programme emerges within the broader framework of European integration and the creation of the single market. In the 1990s, the European Union faced the need to strengthen economic and social cohesion among its member states, particularly in the context of eastern expansion and the need to mitigate regional disparities. Since then, Interreg has significantly evolved, adapting to changing realities and expanding its scope to address not only economic convergence but also environmental, social, and innovation issues.

The fundamental philosophy of Interreg is based on several interrelated pillars.

On one hand, there are solidarity and territorial cohesion among European regions. This programme is conceived as an instrument to reduce economic, social, and territorial disparities, promoting balanced and sustainable development across the European Union. Historically, it has facilitated the convergence of living standards and development opportunities among regions that might otherwise have lagged behind.

On the other hand, there is the major issue of cross-border and transnational integration. Beyond national boundaries, Interreg fosters collaboration between neighbouring and distant regions through projects addressing common challenges such as the sustainable management of natural resources, the improvement of cross-border infrastructure, and the promotion of labour and student mobility. This approach not only strengthens ties between local communities but also fosters a shared European identity, crucial in a continent with such rich cultural and linguistic diversity.

Lastly, in the current context of climate urgency and digital transition, Interreg positions itself as a vehicle for promoting sustainable development and innovation. Promoting smart, inclusive, and environmentally respectful economic growth is fundamental to its agenda. In this way, Interreg aims to ensure that all European citizens equitably benefit from the opportunities provided by the digital economy and the green revolution.

Tangible impacts and benefits of Interreg programme

The impact of Interreg transcends the tangible results of individual projects. Over the years, this programme has significantly contributed to European cohesion and the integrated development of participating regions from various angles.

Economically, Interreg-funded projects have stimulated investment and employment in areas that might otherwise have been marginalised. From improving transport infrastructure to promoting sustainable tourism, Interreg has catalysed local and regional development, generating long-term economic benefits.

Socially, it has strengthened integration and mutual understanding among diverse communities, facilitating cultural and educational exchanges that enrich the common European experience. These exchanges not only foster tolerance and respect for diversity but also strengthen the European identity at a time of increasing political and social tensions.

Environmentally, Interreg has promoted sustainable practices and the responsible management of natural resources. From protecting cross-border ecosystems to adapting to climate change, environmental projects have demonstrated how transnational cooperation can generate more effective and lasting green solutions than isolated strategies.

These tangible results in individual projects have a clear impact on citizens’ lives, ultimately offering better provision of advanced and quality services to the public.

Interreg is destined to continuously adapt and evolve. Climate change, digital transformation, and social inclusion emerge as priority areas, where technological innovation and interregional collaboration can play a crucial role in creating a more resilient and sustainable European economy and implementing the main priorities of the EU’s cohesion policy: smart, green, connected, social, and close to the citizens.

The Interreg programme is not only a testament to European solidarity but also a vital tool for promoting sustainable development, innovation, and territorial cohesion across Europe. As the European Union navigates an uncertain future, programmes like Interreg demonstrate the intrinsic value of territorial cooperation in building a more united and prosperous continent.

Keys to a successful territorial cooperation project

Nevertheless, for a territorial cooperation project to achieve success, it is important to focus on its essence, which lies in collaboration and joint work between diverse entities and regions. These initiatives are based on the idea that by facing common problems and challenges, more effective and sustainable solutions can be generated. Cooperation allows for the sharing of experiences, knowledge, and resources, thereby achieving a synergy that benefits all parties involved.

A crucial aspect of these projects is the generation of common solutions. By joining efforts, innovations in strategic sectors relevant to all participating regions can be identified and applied. This collaboration not only brings technical and scientific knowledge but also fosters creativity and innovation, essential elements for development and progress.

Alignment with the Smart Specialisation Strategies of each region is another fundamental pillar. These strategies allow cooperation projects to be oriented towards specific objectives, maximising the impact and relevance of the actions undertaken. By aligning with these strategies, projects achieve greater coherence and effectiveness in their results.

Furthermore, cooperation projects create and reinforce strategic value chains. These value chains benefit from new synergies and joint actions, resulting in tangible outcomes such as tools, services, and pilot actions. Collaboration not only strengthens existing capacities but also opens new opportunities for development and innovation.

One of the most significant benefits of cooperation projects is their contribution to minimising local problems. By positively impacting territories, these initiatives generate beneficial effects, improving the positioning in R&D&I, promoting regional growth, and generating direct benefits for the population. By focusing on common challenges and working together to solve them, these projects achieve results that would be difficult to attain individually.

It is essential to understand that no project of this nature could be carried out without mutual help and joint effort. Cooperation teaches us that we would not have been able to carry out the project without the help of others, so we must work together to achieve shared goals and create a positive and lasting impact.

Expert person

Aurora García
Aurora García

Seville Office

Regions and Cities Knowledge Area Leader

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