Erwin Siweris, Source: Interreg Europe

When regions of Europe have the opportunity to see how things are done in other countries it opens their mind

When regions of Europe have the opportunity to see how things are done in other countries it opens their mind

“Cooperation works and helps in making Europe a better place to live.”

Erwin Siweris is responsible for the overall programme management and relation to the programme governance institutions. He is also in charge of managing the secretariat's team of 28 members. He has experience in managing finances for the transnational programmes INTERREG IIC and IIIB Baltic Sea Region in Rostock, Germany; and two years with the Investitionsbank Schleswig-Holstein in Kiel, Germany, advising SMEs about EU funding schemes. Erwin was Deputy Programme Manager in the INTERREG IIIC West and the INTERREG IVC Programme.

Siweris holds a diploma in Political Economics and Banking and has worked as a consultant in political economics.

Interreg Europe allocates financial resources amounting to hundreds of millions of euros. Tell us a little about your responsibilities. What does your daily work involve?

Thats right, the Interreg Europe programme distributes EU funds to public institutions from all over Europe. They work with similar institutions from other regions on improving policies related to research and innovation, SME competitiveness, low-carbon economy, or environment and resource efficiency.

As director of the Interreg Europe programme, I lead the joint secretariat with 30 professionals from ten different countries. We support the country representatives from 30 Partner States in managing the programme. Our team ensures that the programme objectives are achieved in an efficiently way and always in close cooperation with the beneficiaries and our stakeholders.

At the moment, we asses project applications, support 184 running projects in their implementation, rolling out further services of our policy learning platform and organise networking events. We also start promoting the results of our interregional cooperation projects. My role is to make sure that all these tasks are well done.

At the beginning of this year, Interreg Europe launched a study on the long-term effects of interregional cooperation projects. What do the results show?

The European Commission, the European Parliament and many other institutions emphasised the need to look beyond the current programming period and check what the long-term effects of EU money invested in cooperation are.

We took the initiative and contacted projects that we financed in the previous funding period 2008-2014 with questions about that. 80% of the respondents reported that thanks to their interregional project there was a policy change in their region. More than 70% out of them said that the change had a form of new projects or initiatives. Moreover, almost 90% of the changes had long-term effects in the region or territory of the responding project partner.

We are really happy to confirm with this study that cooperation works and helps in making Europe a better place to live. For example, Oakenshaw (UK) supported the construction of a windmill to provide the community with revenue for other energy-efficient projects, thanks to the experience shared by the Danish partner. We have 20 detailed stories about similar changes published in a report.

You know that better performance leads to better results. Unfortunately, projects are not always checked for quality performance. Do you think there is a need for a change in this direction and the indicators need to be expanded?

Absolutely! Results and quality have to be monitored. It is a must! I cant talk for all EU programmes, but I am happy to share the experience we have in the Interreg Europe programme.

First, our programme sets high quality requirements already on our project applications. We follow a strict quality assessment of the project proposals before they are selected. We approve only good quality projects - in line with the EU priorities, with clear objectives, focus on results, and activities aligned with the set objectives and well-planned budget. We are also transparent with our rejected applicants and send them a detailed assessment report.

Second, we closely monitor projects during their implementation. Every six months we check how the projects progress towards their set objectives. We also carry out a comprehensive mid-term review with the project partners to discuss with them the state of implementation, obstacles and success story and outlook.

But how to monitor the policy change when it often goes beyond the projects duration? In our programme, the project partners draft an action plan for each participating region. There they define the road map on how policy instruments are changed and amended based on the lessons learnt.

In this programming period, we introduced a new feature to capture the results better. During the second phase of our projects, we follow how the actions plans get implemented and what the effects. Learning and capacity building is not an aim in itself by a tool to improve local and regional policy instruments on the ground.

I am sure that Interreg Europe is already on the right track when it comes to quality performance of projects.

You are helping the EU regions to become the best that they can be. What upgrading changes Europe needs in the next programming period?

My team and I are true believers in the interregional cooperation. We see again and again in our projects that when regions of Europe have the opportunity to see how things are done in other countries it opens their mind. It helps them think outside the box. They get inspired by others and avoid reinventing the wheel. It is always easier to modify existing solutions to your own context than trying to start something from scratch.

I believe that we need to build even closer links among EU countries, regions, institution and people. And Interreg Europe has an important role to play in this. In the future, we might start looking for solutions even beyond Europe, allowing European regions to learn from the successful regions from all over the world.

And how do you see the future of Europe?

I would like to see Europe as modern, innovative and brave to take smart decisions. I prefer Europe moving slowly, but steadily forward. Our continent is rich in culture, expertise and experience, and it is important that we start using these advantages even more than weve done so far.

Exchange among people has to stay at the core if we want to have a united and strong Europe in the future. Ive always believed that the big things start from the small, and each of us can contribute. Take 5 minutes of your time and report one solution that you are proud of in your region to the Interreg Europe good practice database.This might turn into a great value for others who look for inspiring ideas to make positive changes in their regions. That way we will all contribute to a greater future of our Europe.

What do you think about a unified platform for European municipalities and its main goal to make and keep European citizens better informed about what is taking place in the European Union? How the portal can cooperate with Interreg Europe for better European present and future?

Initiatives that bring institutions and people closer this is what does - are always welcome.

Interreg Europe also has a lot of knowledge to share with European municipalities. Those who could not join an interregional cooperation project can access knowledge at the Interreg Europes Policy Learning Platform.Its database of good practices on the policies that boost innovation, help to create more jobs, reduce CO2 emissions, encourage the use of renewable energy, and much more, can inspire many policy makers looking for solutions to take up in their own regions.

In addition, all European municipalities are invited to apply for the peer-reviews here if they have a specific policy challenge to solve and would like to get an advice from other EU regions that have experience on the topic. I also encourage everyone to participate actively in our networking events and online discussions. Those are only a few examples of what Interreg Europe can offer to the readers.



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