A Hanseatic legacy - cooperation in the midst of a diverse region
30 Nov 2017

Mona Farnisa spent two months at the premises of the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat of Interreg Baltic Sea Region in Rostock. She worked as an Interreg Reporter, a volunteer in the context of the Interreg Volunteer Youth (IVY) Initiative. The initiative is aimed at involving young volunteers to promote cooperation across European borders and related values such as solidarity. Mona takes account of her time at the Interreg secretariat.

Mona Farnisa (left) worked as an IVY volunteer in Rostock © IB.SH/ Anna Galyga

The end of my time as an IVY Reporter has come. I am writing this as my final days are approaching here at the Interreg Baltic Sea Region’ secretariat. Although my volunteering experience was short, only two months, I was able to witness how Interreg works from the inside, behind the scenes, among a dedicated team who oversee a total of 74 Interreg projects from all over the vast Baltic Sea region. 

The secretariat of Interreg Baltic Sea Region is located in Rostock, Germany. It is a small Hanseatic city located in the North-east of Germany, a 20 minute train ride from the Baltic Sea. Although I have been to Germany many times before, I had never been this far North and was not sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Rostock is beautiful. Being a Hanseatic city, the massive churches, Gothic styled architecture and colourful socialist buildings offer for scenic city walks. Walking along the Warnow river the air is fresh and boats of all sizes are visible sailing either towards or away from the Baltic Sea. Much earlier, in the 13th Century, it was here where the Hanseatic merchants and people came together and exchanged goods with the surrounding Baltic countries and with the world. A perfect city for an Interreg office. 

Neuer Markt in Rostock ©Mona Farnisa (Interreg Volunteer Youth)
A row of buildings in Hanseatic style architecture ©Mona Farnisa (Interreg Volunteer Youth)

Interreg Baltic Sea Region is an extremely diverse program. It includes Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This means working with people who represent a combination of nationalities and languages. This may seem like a challenge, yet within the walls of the secretariat, which is also made up of employees from multiple international backgrounds, it all seems to run smoothly. The key to its success is that everyone is united on one important objective - to advance the Baltic Sea region towards a more innovative, better accessible and sustainable area for its inhabitants. 

The diverse backgrounds, ideas and interests of the Baltic Sea project partners are reflected in the projects as well. Projects range from developing social service infrastructure in Baltic rural areas  in the project SEMPRE , to improving inland shipping in the Baltic Sea region in project EMMA , to informing communities on how to plan for and adopt renewable energy infrastructure in the project Co2mmunity, to name a few. Due to the sheer number of projects in all locations around the Baltic Sea, I was mostly confined to conducting my reporting from the office in Rostock. This came with benefits however, as I was able to interview one of the main drivers of BERAS, an Interreg project that is now part of a core initiative in the UN. 

BERAS (Baltic Ecological Recycling Agriculture and Society) presents a solution to improve the agricultural practices on farms in the Baltic Sea region which release agro-chemicals into the Baltic Sea, causing eutrophication and threatening the fragile ecosystem. Making efforts to reduce environmental damage however, is not only the responsibility of farmers. BERAS also raises awareness and invites consumers to reflect on their own eating habits and develop more conscious and sustainable diets. This is reflected in one of BERAS’ core concepts ‘Diet for a Green Plant’ which has been adopted by cities across Europe and has been incorporated into school meal plans. The biggest accomplishment of BERAS, in my opinion, is that it offers a reconstructed food systems approach which is necessary to pave the way to a more ecological, locally connected and environmentally friendly means of obtaining food. My academic background in the environment and agriculture made me really passionate about researching the BERAS project and it excites me that sustainable development projects are supported by Interreg and are part of a Baltic and European future (If you are interested in reading more about BERAS, check out my article.).

Transformation projects like BERAS, which have big ambitions to tackle current global and societal challenges, can only be successful through the input and cooperation of numerous actors. Working in the secretariat allowed me to witness firsthand the expectations, challenges and duty that comes with being an Interreg project. I saw the value of transnational cooperation in achieving better societies, especially in a region as big and varied as the Baltic Sea. Ingenuity and advancement are fostered through diverse collaboration. Interreg provides a platform to connect actors and projects with similar goals and enables them to collectively improve the Baltic Sea region for future generations.

Hanseatic architecture in Rostock © Mona Farnisa (Interreg Volunteer Youth)
Hanseatic architecture in Rostock

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rostock. I am not sure what my next steps will be after IVY. However, working with Interreg and being exposed to novel ideas and projects that aim to build and advance various aspects of society has resonated with me. It makes me excited to continue to be a part of and dedicate my time to projects I am passionate about which can lead to further innovation.

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