With its 12 priorities and 85 actions, the EU Danube Strategy covers key challenges for territorial development ranging from mobility to healthy ecosystems, and from social inclusion to quality of public services. In doing so, the strategy sets out a comprehensive framework to improve quality of life for the around 115 million inhabitants in the Danube Region. At the same time, critical situations such as the current pandemic prove once again the need for cooperation and joint development to diminish territorial disparities. Hence, European, national and regional funds play a crucial role in supporting necessary investments in infrastructure, socio-economic welfare, sustainable development, and administrative capacities.
Against this background, the draft Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) for the Cohesion Policy programmes 2021-2027 takes into account the contribution of macro-regional strategies to coordinate regional development. The regulation reiterates that all EU member states that are involved in macro-regional strategies shall integrate the strategies to select funding objectives. Likewise, accession countries and EU neighbourhood countries are encouraged to align their EU funding (i.e.: Instrument for Pre-Accession – IPA III, Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – NDICI) with the strategy’s objectives wherever it is deemed appropriate.
In the course of the programming start for the new funding period, the EUSDR Presidency published a guidance to support the embedding of the Danube Strategy in EU programmes. At the first meeting of the Danube Strategy’s embedding task force in December 2019, the National Coordinators reinforced the need to connect the strategy closer to EU funding instruments.
Transnational Cooperation for social cohesion in the Danube Region
One of the key aspects of embedding is to increase the impact of national and regional actions through macro-regional coordination. Hence, the Network of ESF Managing Authorities in the Danube Region started to discuss transnational cooperation in the next funding period. In this initial phase, the Managing Authorities discussed potential areas of cooperation that are linked to the Danube Strategy (Priority Area 9 “People and Skills” and Priority Area 10 “Institutional Capacity”). Additionally, the network drafted provisions for transnational cooperation taking into account macro-regional strategies. The ESF network is working together since 2015 and builds upon the experience of the current funding period and the good practices from the Baltic Sea Region.
Embedding the Danube Strategy in EU programmes 2021+
In addition to the on-going process in the European Social Fund (ESF), the EUSDR Presidency called for the integration of the Danube Strategy in the European Fund for Regional Development (ERDF), IPA III, and the NDICI. In the first stage of the process, each Priority Area selects up to three topics that should be addressed in the next funding period. Subsequently, the National Coordinators will discuss and refine the thematic selection. In the final stage, the national representatives will link the strategy’s topics to the national and regional programming processes. In doing so, the selected topics must contain the following criteria:
- Macro-regional relevance within the proposed priority and added value for the whole Danube region
- Linkage to the Annexes D of the European Semester Country Reports 2019 and 2020
- Consistency with priorities set at the national/regional level
- Alignment with the ESIF Policy Objectives and Specific Objectives
- Inclusion of horizontal themes (e.g. digitisation, demographic change & migration, climate change & sustainable development) if possible
Stepping up institutional capacity with civil society, local actors, and eGovernance
In mid-April, the Steering Group of Priority Area 10 “Institutional Capacities and Cooperation” discussed possible topics for the Danube Strategy’s embedding process. Despite the varying stages of assessing and setting national priorities, the Priority Area agreed on the following three topics:
- eGovernance (and better quality of public services)
- Participatory Governance
- Capacity building for cities & Municiaplities
The group of National Coordinators will process the results of the Priority Areas in the course of the first half of 2020.