Interreg helps advance the Baltic Sea macro-region

Why play alone if we can play together? For over a decade, the Baltic Sea Region Programme and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region have been working in a strong and unique partnership that has brought great benefits for the region and its people.

By Elena Kolosova and Anna Gałyga Interreg Baltic Sea Region Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat
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Sharing the geographical area obliges. Both the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme and the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) work to make the Baltic Sea region green, resilient and innovative. In a macro-regional dimension, the Strategy strives to save the Baltic Sea, connect the region and increase prosperity. These objectives outline the most important actions for 14 thematic policy areas. And this is when the Programme comes into play. It provides funding for fresh ideas that connect different organisations across borders and helps them implement projects across topics relevant for the Strategy. “Interreg Baltic Sea Region brings a lot of added value and impacts to people on the ground. It is a bright example of bringing the EU closer to the citizens, increasing solidarity and prosperity”, says Anna Hagström, Presidency of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, Prime Minister’s Office, Sweden.

Thanks to Interreg funding, cooperation in the Baltic Sea macro-region has improved across borders, sectors and governance levels.
Ronald Lieske, Director of the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat of Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme
Since the adoption of the EU Strategy in 2009, more than 120 Interreg Baltic Sea Region projects have helped in the implementation of the Strategy’s action plan. “Our Programme has been one of the main instruments to turn the will of political leaders into practice. Thanks to Interreg funding, cooperation in the Baltic Sea macro-region has improved across borders, sectors and governance levels. The Programme helped implement the action plan and fuelled the management of the Strategy itself. By using the resources smartly, we prove how efficient the Interreg funds are,” explains Ronald Lieske, Director of the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat of Interreg Baltic Sea Region.
So, what does the cooperation between the Programme and the Strategy look like? Interreg project developers link to macro-regional strategy. Connecting a project idea to the needs of the region and anchoring it in regional strategies can boost visibility and help connect the project to public administrations and thematic experts in the macro-region. It’s no wonder that Interreg project developers seize this opportunity. For example, one applicant highlighted in a survey carried out by the MA/JS that a briefing with the EUSBSR policy area coordinators opened their eyes to the real will of cooperation.
Interreg Baltic Sea Region 2021-2027 helps applicants better understand the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and its framework that drives the development of the region across the policy areas. At multiple events, the applicants get to know the Strategy and selected actions as well as the coordinators driving the policy areas. Policy area coordinators also provide feedback on project ideas and discuss how they can support the implementation of projects from the beginning.

New Interreg projects to put the EUSBSR into action

The new funding period has yielded promising results on Strategy and Programme cooperation. “Interreg Baltic Sea Region (Programme) is a powerful tool which, through various types of projects, contributes to the achievement of the goals of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region”, says Elīna Veidemane, coordinator of the EUSBSR policy area Spatial Planning, commenting on the results of the first calls for applications in the new Interreg Baltic Sea Region 2021-2027.

Almost all of the 48 newly selected projects have a clear vision of how their activities will help implement the actions of the EUSBSR policy areas. More than 350 project partner organisations from countries around the Baltic Sea are working together to turn their ideas into practice, offering innovative solutions to shared challenges and building new networks that are important for the region. Through these practical steps, they are contributing to the strategic objectives of the EUSBSR, including to increasing prosperity, saving the sea and connecting the region. All in all, they will spend at least 85 million euros from the European Development Fund to advance the implementation of the EUSBSR action plan. However, more projects with more funds will come later in the Programme implementation.

Check the benefits

  • Energy transition

Projects play a crucial role in increasing the share of renewable energy and implementing the EUSBSR policy area (PA) Energy actions. Project partners collaborate to build new networks and develop roadmaps for various projects, such as the production of offshore hydrogen in the BOWE2H project, the installation of solar energy and photovoltaic systems for households and companies in the PV 4 All project, and the use of biogas for transport needs in the BEST ACE project.  In additiona, they are helping to develop renewable energy storage infrastructure in the Energy Equilibrium project. These initiatives enable the coordinators of PA Energy to strengthen cooperation and facilitate the energy transition towards a carbon-neutral economy, thereby supporting Europe’s efforts to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

  • Inclusive and sustainable growth

Projects play a critical role in implementing the actions of the EUSBSR policy area Innovation, with a particular focus on challenge-driven innovation. In the project We make transition! project partners are working with public authorities and civil society to address social and ecological challenges. The BSI_4Women project supports women refugees from Ukraine and other countries in starting their own businesses. The BALTIPLAST project aims to reduce single-use plastic waste and use it as a resource for recycling. The TETRAS project is taking advantage of regional marine resources and promoting land-based fish and shrimp farming to sustainably produce blue food. The BSR Food Coalition is bringing local farm products to schools. Through these projects, coordinators of PA Innovation are able to better address challenges and turn them into opportunities for sustainable growth.

  • Cleaner Baltic Sea waters

Projects are making significant contributions towards improving the state of water in the Baltic Sea region and making its management more sustainable. They are playing a vital role in implementing the actions of the EUSBSR policy area Nutri, with a particular focus reducing nutrient emissions from point sources. In the WaterMan and ReNutriWater projects, public authorities and water companies are testing solutions for reusing treated wastewater and recirculating retained water. The NURSECOAST-II project is helping near-coast touristic areas adapt to the seasonal increase of wastewater by investing in wastewater treatment solutions. These projects are providing innovative and nature-based solutions that help reduce discharges to the Sea, and their results can be further communicated to local administrations around the Baltic Sea by the coordinators of PA Nutri.

Engage and share: The EUSBR helps make the projects and their results more visible

The EUSBSR provides a framework to assist projects in achieving success. The policy area coordinators bring together thematically related projects and link them with their respective steering groups comprising representatives of national or regional governments from EUSBSR Member States and Norway. Additionally, they aid in disseminating project solutions and results to thematic networks in the Baltic Sea region and other EU macro-regions.

“The Policy Area Innovation (PA Innovation) supports projects during their implementation by facilitating the transfer of solutions within the EUSBSR and BSR networks and other EU macro-regional strategies. PA Innovation engages in policy dialogue with its steering group, and participates in macro-regional events in the BSR and EU. Furthermore, PA Innovation contributes to project events, explores synergies and identifies exchange opportunities between the projects and other related BSR/EUSBSR projects, as well as those under different EU macro-regional strategies” , says Esa Kokkonen, coordinator of the EUSBSR policy area Innovation, the Baltic Institute of Finland.

Use Interreg project results: How projects drive the implementation of the action plan

By 2021, more than 120 projects had been co-financed by Interreg Baltic Sea Region with over EUR 250 million from the European Regional Development Fund, aiding the implementation of the EUSBSR action plan. The 2022 report by the European Commission on the implementation of the EU macro-regional strategies provided examples of successful projects. In the policy area of Energy, the Interreg project Baltic InteGrid developed a professional network that facilitated expertise exchange and interdisciplinary research, optimising offshore wind energy. The project BEST supported the policy area Nutri in addressing eutrophication and the dangers posed by hazardous substances by enhancing industrial sewage treatment in the Baltic Sea region. The project ECOPRODIGI and its follow-up EXOPRODIGI helped the policy area Ship to improve eco-efficiency in the maritime sector in the Baltic Sea by designing and testing jointly developed digital solutions by industry end-users and research organisations.

Project platforms implemented from 2018-2021 built upon around 100 Interreg and other EU funding programs, leading to significant policy changes. For instance, BSR WATER and SuMaNu platforms with coordinators from policy areas Nutri, Bioeconomy and Hazards played an essential role in developing the new Baltic Sea Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, HELCOM. The Capacity4MSP platform, led by the coordinator of the policy area Spatial Planning, helped shape the Regional Maritime Spatial Planning Roadmap 2021-2030 adopted by HELCOM and VASAB. The CAMS platform with the coordinator of the policy area Energy developed policy recommendations on integrating climate change considerations into the new European Structural and Investment Funds programs 2021-2027. Finally, the Blue Platform, in conjunction with coordinators from policy areas Bioeconomy and Innovation, developed a roadmap for the blue bioeconomy’s continued development in the region beyond 2021.


Cooperate and stay together!

Aside from the obvious advantages of advancing the EUSBSR action plan and instilling a macro-regional dimension to projects, it is important to highlight the working relationship within this partnership. The EUSBSR policy area coordinators and the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat of Interreg Baltic Sea Region hold bilateral meetings and mutually contribute to each other’s events as a rule rather than the exception. As a result, policy area coordinators can act as Interreg ambassadors who understand the benefits of transnational cooperation. Conversely, the Programme can better support projects tuning in to the Strategy objectives. Ultimately, the results of projects and how they impact the lives of people around the Baltic Sea are crucial. Cooperation between the Programme and the Strategy elevates these changes to another level.

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