Annual Event 2020 – the South Baltic Programme now and in the future

Due to the precarious situation caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Joint Secretariat decided to organise the Annual Event 2020 virtually.

On the 17th of September, starting at 10 am, the very first online conference of the Interreg South Baltic Programme has been launched.

Over 170 participants from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden – project partners, beneficiaries, representatives of local and regional authorities, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGO) joint the virtual Annual Event 2020 to share thoughts on the impact of Interreg funds on small regions and celebrate the 30 years of Interreg and European Cooperation Day.
The event had a form of a webinar and lasted three hours. It featured two panel discussions with Danish projects partners and local authorities from the Programme’s Member States, a quiz to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Interreg and the reflective summary at the end.

The Annual Event started with welcoming speeches from the Managing Authority of the Programme, Magdalena Bednarczyk-Sokół, Deputy Director of the Territorial Cooperation Department, Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, who admitted the importance of the Interreg cooperation in solving common problems across the same sea. Dominika Butkiewicz, Head of the Joint Secretariat, referred to the current pandemic situation, solutions to it and how it challenged projects and the Programme. She also mentioned the future of the South Baltic Programme and confirmed that decisions already made by the Joint Programming Committee have already created the first picture of the Programme in the new perspective. 
Jacob Bjerring-Hansen, the Director of the Museum of Bornholm, where the exhibition on the occasion of the 30 years of Interreg and European Cooperation Day is hosted, mentioned the Baltic history as a very big resource for future tourism and cooperation, expressing the hope to make common history known even better in the future.

The two panel discussions were led by Niels Chresten Andersen, the Regional Contact Point Bornholm who virtually met with Danish representatives of the South Baltic projects:

CAR – represented by Thomas Meier Sørensen from DTU Elektro-Technical University of Denmark - Electrical Engineering,
WASTEMAN – represented by David Andreas Mana-Ay Christensen from BOFA,
ARCHAEOBALT – represented by Nick Carreta from Museum of Bornholm, 
Baltic Museums Love IT! – represented by Rene Vilsholm from NaturBornholm
INTERCONNECT – represented by Frede Danborg from Guldborgsund Municipality. 

The projects’ representatives lively talked about how Interreg funds supported their regions and institutions and how many options the funds open for them. Each of them described ideas and roles of their projects and presented concrete cases, also from outdoors where one of the project’s prototypes are located.

The discussion as a whole proved the impact of the projects’ results on the everyday life of local people and how important cross-border cooperation is. Regional strategies and collaboration between municipalities and scientific institutions are crucial to achieving concrete results. The South Baltic projects are thematically very different but thanks to new technologies the connection between our countries and their history improved.

The second session was dedicated to the future of the South Baltic Programme. Local authorities discussed the upcoming programming period and regional cooperation:

Denmark – Egon Bo, Member of the Regional Council, Region Zealand, 
Sweden – Johanna Wyckman, Member of the Regional Development Board, Region Kalmar, län county; Member of the ERB Youth Board, 
Lithuania – Vytautas Grubliauskas, Mayor of Klaipėda City, Chairman of Klaipėda Region Development Council, 
Poland – Monika Cholewczyńska-Dmitruk, Head of International Programmes Unit, Department of
Regional and Spatial Development, Office of the Marshall of Pomorskie Voivodeship, 
Germany – Henrik Fanger, Deputy Head of Financial Administration Department, City of Wismar, 
Euroregion Baltic – Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło, Head of International Permanent Secretariat.

The discussion focused on the future of the South Baltic Programme. The Joint Programming Committee aims at preparing the next programme’s perspective 2021-2027 and the first phase with socio-economic analysis has been completed. The next phase will comprise the Programme’s strategy and setting priorities. The South Baltic should follow the European Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 which comprises of five policy objectives (thematic areas): 

PO1 – A smarter Europe (innovative & smart economic transformation)
PO2 – A greener, low-carbon Europe (including energy transition, the circular economy, climate adaptation and risk management)
PO3 – A more connected Europe (mobility and ICT connectivity)
PO4 – A more social Europe (the European Pillar of Social Rights)
PO5 – A Europe closer to citizens (sustainable development of urban, rural and coastal areas and local initiatives)

Each of the local authorities mentioned their preferable thematic areas, developed their points of view and reasons for choosing them. The discussion showed that the major focus is on greener, smarter Europe with innovative, environment-friendly and sustainable solutions, as well as attention towards citizens in rural areas, involving small local actors in creating more partnerships.
Both discussions were followed by questions and answers sessions. 

During the quiz which was launched in between, participants had a chance to check their knowledge about Interreg by answering five questions. Ten first participants who answered the fastest will receive prizes ¬ gadgets with 30 years of Interreg and the South Baltic Programme branding.

The conference’s summary presented Sławomir Demkowicz-Dobrzański, Coordinator for International Relations in the Region of Kronoberg, Sweden, who has been involved in the Baltic Sea cooperation for 17 years. Having experience of working together with colleagues from the member regions in Euroregion Baltic and participating in a process that ultimately led to the establishment of the programme back in 2007, he brought some historical and current overview of the South Baltic Programme. He mentioned economic, political, social and environmental developments and challenges that affected Europe and the world throughout recent years. “Our societies and communities have shown a great deal of resilience. And the ability to re-learn, to do things in a different way which for example can aid our efforts in mitigating the consequences of climate change. This annual event for the South Baltic is a very good example” – says Sławomir Demkowicz-Dobrzański and continues with the summary: ”Interreg is celebrating its 30 years as the EU flagship for cooperation across borders at the regional and national level, to the benefit of all EU citizens. Today, it includes 60 cross-border programmes, 4 interregional cooperation programmes, 15 transnational cooperation programmes, 10 cooperation programmes with accession countries and 15 cooperation programmes between EU and neighbouring countries”.

During the event, we heard concrete examples of projects that have brought positive and lasting changes in our South Baltic area. Representatives of regional authorities showed their perspectives and presented their specific objectives for the Programme. Even though the Annual Event 2020 in a new, virtual form appeared to be effective and well accessible, everyone expressed their hope for the South Baltic family to meet next year in person and shake each other hands with a feeling of security and enthusiasm about the upcoming new programming perspective 2021-2027.

The full Annual Event is available on the South Baltic YouTube channel.