Brussels, 5 February 2014
Approaching lift off: focus will be key to success of new EU macro-regional strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian
Preparations have reached a milestone for a brand new macro-regional strategy to support cooperation among 8 countries in the Adriatic and Ionian region. Hosted by the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, a high-level Stakeholder Conference takes place in Athens on 6-7 February. It marks the end of a wide consultation that has involved civil society and stakeholders across the 8 countries.
This will feed into a formal proposal later this year from Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, for a tailor made strategy that reflects the needs and the capacities of the region. It follows a request from EU leaders in December 2012 to deliver the new macro-regional strategy by the end of 2014.
This week at the conference, Commissioner Hahn and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki are joining Foreign Ministers from the countries involved. They currently form part of the existing Adriatic Ionian Initiative. More than 500 representatives from the national, regional and local administrations, businesses, civil society, academia, media and regional associations will be contributing to the discussions in the conference. Antonis Samaras, Prime Minister of Greece, will open the conference
This is the first time in a macro-regional strategy that there has been an equal balance of EU countries (Croatia, Greece, Italy, Slovenia) and non-EU countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia) working together to meet common challenges and build on shared strengths. Crucially in a region that has seen some of Europe's most serious conflicts, the strategy will help to bring the Western Balkans closer to the European Union. Its focus will be above all on blue growth, transport, sustainable tourism and protecting the environment. Through this, it will contribute to creating prosperity and jobs in the region.
Speaking ahead of the conference in Athens, European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn commented: "We are at a crucial stage in our preparations for a tailor -made strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian macro-region. Thanks to the extensive consultation with its bottom up approach, it should focus on the precise needs and challenges of this part of Europe and the people who live here. With four EU members and four non EU countries the strategy will also contribute to the further integration of the Western Balkans by offering the chance to work alongside neighbours on areas of common interest. This is Europe's third macro-regional strategy, and we have learnt the importance of political commitment and of participating countries focusing their efforts in the macro-regional approach. This will be key to this Strategy's success."
Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries added: "As our Blue Growth strategy highlights, seas and oceans have the potential to generate huge economic growth and much needed jobs. The Adriatic Ionian nations have already shown that they share the will to address the region's challenges together: since 2007 there have been 135 projects of cooperation on marine and maritime issues, worth almost half a billion in total. I am looking forward to the discussion with the Member States and stakeholders on how we can build on this success and give the process the push to overcome remaining challenges to ensure the most productive and sustainable use of what our seas and coasts offer."
The Maritime Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, adopted by the Commission on 30 November 2012, is integrated in the Strategy which will be structured around four key areas: marine and maritime growth, connecting the region (transport and energy networks), environmental quality and sustainable tourism. In addition, capacity building as well as research, innovation and small and medium side enterprises will inform the four key areas.
The stakeholder consultations were conducted between September-December 2013. Two countries, a Member State and a non-EU country, were responsible for coordinating the consultation for each of the 4 pillars: Greece and Montenegro on marine and maritime growth, Italy and Serbia on transport and energy, Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on environment and Croatia and Albania on tourism. From October 2013-to January 2014 a general on-line public consultation on the strategy was also launched by the Commission.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Johannes Hahn, a new approach for regions working together has been successfully developed. Macro-regional strategies assist countries in tackling common issues together such as pollution, crime, missing transport links and lack of competitiveness.
The European Council of 13-14 December 2012 formally requested the European Commission to bring forward an EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region before the end of 2014, building on the positive experiences of the Danube and Baltic Sea regions. The request by the European Council was subject to the evaluation of the concept of macro regional strategies, adopted by the Commission in June 2013 and endorsed by the EU Council on 22 October 2013
These strategies are supported through Member States' regional funding allocation under Cohesion Policy, inter alia. In the case of non- EU members, pre accession funds (IPA) are available. The reform of Cohesion Policy for 2014-2020 promotes this macro-regional approach and makes it easier to combine different European funds across borders and within projects.