What is your relation to the Baltic Sea?
I did not grow up at the Baltic Sea, but I have been working for nearly ten years with topics related to the region. The people here are interesting and dynamic. They test and explore a lot: social innovation, new ways of working – many ideas come from here. And this makes the Baltic Sea region very interesting to me. I also like sailing a lot and did several pleasant sailing cruises at the German and Danish coasts.
What are your tasks at the European Commission as the contact person for the Programme?
A core task of mine at DG REGIO is to monitor if the Programme is implemented at a reasonable speed and quality. If things go well, I have an easy job. If not, I bring them to the attention of the Monitoring Committee or the Managing Authority. I also help Programmes interpret the regulations so that they can set up suitable rules and procedures for applicants and project partners to follow. And I release payments to the Programme, so that the Programme can release payments to the projects.
In terms of quality monitoring, there has been a development from the previous to the current programming period: The current Programme has a much stronger focus on performance. We expect Interreg Baltic Sea Region to bring forward high quality projects that can actually make a change towards the Programme objectives. The projects and the Programme will report on this, and I will look at these reports.
Within DG REGIO, I have additional tasks. For example, it is my duty to make sure that the aspects and specificities of European Territorial Cooperation or Interreg are duly reflected at policy considerations and at communication activities at different levels. I have to stay tuned on the discussions at DG REGIO. This is my day to day work.
How do you picture the future of Interreg Baltic Sea Region?
What I would like to see is a stronger link of Interreg Baltic Sea Region to the strategic debates in the region. There is a lot of cooperation going on at very different geographic and thematic levels. And the Member States in the region have developed a strategic framework for territorial and thematic cooperation, the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. That means that a lot of strategic thinking for cooperation has already been done for the Baltic Sea region: Why do we need cooperation? For which themes do we need cooperation? For which not? How much cooperation at national, regional, local or European level?
Interreg Baltic Sea Region is a very well managed Programme with a long tradition, a good network of project developers and a very effective and efficient Secretariat. It has already done a huge effort to bring these two worlds of territorial cooperation together, the strategic world and the world of project generation and implementation. Yet, it is my wish to bring these two worlds even closer together for the benefit of both. An important element to achieve this would be to increase the overlap of people and institutions working in those two worlds.
What would you like to tell those working in projects?
I would like to encourage everyone to work with their partners towards the objectives they have set in their project applications. And on top of that, I would like to call for them to keep their open spirit to find solutions with others. This is a unique feature I have met in cooperation projects: a positive attitude of looking for what you can learn from someone else on the other side of the Baltic Sea, of the river, of the border. A natural readiness to speak to neighbours, to approach people outside your comfort zone, to look across borders. Continue with this reflex!