Tamara Espiñeira is the Secretary-general of the network of Atlantic Cities, a platform for local authorities of the Atlantic Arc to defend their interests and co-create sustainable development. She’s also doing her Ph.D in Geography (Rennes 2 University), writing a thesis on the development of urban diplomacy.  Twitter: @TamaraEspineira LinkedIn: https://fr.linkedin.com/in/tamaraguirao

Stochiero describes a macroregion as “a pragmatic approach to the need to find new ways for public policy to become more effective in a large multi-level cross-border area, with better coordination of existing institutions and resources”. This approach was confirmed by the creation of the Baltic Strategy.

In the framework of “better coordination and more strategic use of EU programmes”, the Baltic strategy set the pillars for the European macro-regions:

  1. the identification of a territorial area that crosses several states (EU or non-EU) affected by common problems;
  2. the will to put in place strengthened territorial cooperation in a limited number of areas, aimed at economies of scale between the levels of governance and the different programs and funds;
  3. the implementation of a flexible agreement, characterized by the absence of new sources of funding, new institutions or new legislation

These objectives were to be implemented through an “Action Plan” organized around thematic areas, specifying the major challenges and flagship projects of a greater scale than traditional territorial cooperation projects.

In 2012, the communication analyzing the implementation of the Baltic Sea Strategy, identified some key elements for the success of a macro-regional strategy:

  1. Political commitment from all levels involved: from local to community institutions;
  2. Operational coordination between the different policies, programs and sources of financing with support by a monitoring system;
  3. A system of open governance, led by the European Commission as coordinator, supported by the national contacts and thematic coordinators of each project.
  4. Meaningful participation of all stakeholders.
  5. Support of all EU countries, with particular emphasis on the role of the European Council as facilitator;
  6. Use of existing platforms and networks, including international organizations already present in the region;
  7. Awareness-raising campaigns to enable the transfer of capacities and to favour the appropriation by the citizens.

These points were also included in the report on macro-regional governance published by the European Commission in 2014.

Currently, four macro-regions are already operational: the Baltic, the Danube, the Alps and the Adriatic-Ionian strategies. Looking at the maps of these different initiatives, it should be noted that the external dimension, that is to say, the inclusion of states that are not members of the European Union, seems a determining factor. This is the case for Russia (Baltic Sea), Albania (Adriatic-Ionian), Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia (Danube and Adriatic-Ionian), Croatia, Moldova, Ukraine (Danube) as well as Switzerland and Liechtenstein for the alpine macro-region.

The progress of the Baltic Sea Strategy immediately inspired other areas of the European Union such as the Mediterranean basin, the Alpine area or the Atlantic Arc.  The Atlantic territorial networks[1] marked their desire to be part of the macro-regional approach by publishing already in 2009 positioning documents, such as the final declaration of the General Assembly of the Atlantic Arc Commission or a Cities’ op-ed, entitled “The Baltic Strategy: A Mirror for the Atlantic“.

Figure credited to the European Commission.

On 09/09/09, these two associations presented the idea to the Spanish presidency (to be) of the European Union. As it was for the Baltic Strategy, the future macro-region had to be “sponsored” by an Atlantic state. This would serve to obtain the agreement of the European Council to institutionally launch the initiative. Therefore, the Spanish Presidency (first half of 2010) was a unique window of opportunity.

Thus, the Spanish Presidency brought the idea of ​​an Atlantic strategy to the European Council. Surprisingly, the conclusions of the Council of the European Union of June 2010 invited the European Commission to “present a strategy of the European Union for the Atlantic Region as part of the integrated maritime policy” and not in the context of Territorial Cooperation as for the Baltic Strategy. The Atlantic would only have a maritime strategy.

The European Commission’s communication that followed announced an Atlantic “Forum” that took place between 2012 and 2013, consisting of a series of thematic workshops and a written consultation.  Born out of these initiatives and among the activities of the Irish Presidency of the European Union, the Atlantic Strategy Action Plan was unveiled in May 2013.

Both identify a concrete territory where functional cooperation exists around common problems. Both strategies present innovative proposals to promote an integrated approach to territorial development.

Nevertheless, there are also substantial differences between the two initiatives. The first and most significant is scope. While the Baltic Strategy targets priorities in a comprehensive approach to sustainable development, the Atlantic Strategy is limited to the Integrated Maritime Policy. As a result, macro-regional initiatives are led by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy, while maritime strategies are managed by the Directorate General of the Sea.

Another difference lies in the carriers of the initiative. Although the Atlantic Strategy relies on a “High Level Group” composed by the states, just like the macro-regional strategies, the difference is established at field level. In the case of macro-regions, local authorities become the pilots of flagship projects and / or thematic areas. In contrast, the Atlantic Strategy Action Plan delegated the facilitation role to a private provider and confined territorial cooperation platforms to casual consultative status. The local support groups are absent in the drafting of the Atlantic Action Plan and therefore citizen’s participation seems very limited. This seems to reflect a differentiated interpretation of the principle of subsidiarity.

It seems that the third difference lies in the external dimension. While the Baltic Strategy places Russia among the states involved, the Atlantic Arc is not part of the neighborhood policy. Hence the interest of defining the Atlantic as an “open basin”, taking into account existing cooperation with countries such as Morocco, Cape Verde or even more remote  countries. In this sense, a protocol of cooperation was signed with Canada in 2013, launching the Alliance for Atlantic Ocean Research.

Even if these differences may seem decisive, there is still an opportunity for evolution for the Atlantic Maritime Strategy. The installation of a macro-regional initiative could be proposed if, during the on-going mid-term evaluation of Action Plan, the European institutions detect a lack of efficiency. Knowing that this is a fundamental requirement of the 2014-2020 regulations, this artificial difference (sea basin / macro-region) could disappear for the Atlantic Arc to evolve into a macro-region. This was also the case for the Adriatic-Ionian basin. Born in 2012 as a maritime strategy, the Adriatic-Ionian macro-region was adopted on 17 June 2014.

[1] The Atlantic Arc Commission (Regions), the Atlantic Cities, the Atlantic Social and Economic Committees (ATN).

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