Interview with Brigitta Zicherman Mikulas

"I would like to wish good luck to all the potential applicants and encourage them to take advantage of the unique characteristics of transnational cooperation programmes"...
SEENews (SN):...Let's start with a few words about yourself for the SEEnews readers.

Brigitta Zicherman-Mikulas (BZ): I started to deal with cross-border-cooperation programmes under the Phare programme period in 2002, within the National Development Agency. Since then, the characteristic of CBC programmes has changed a lot, therefore, when I took over heading the Managing Authority in the middle of 2008 it was very interesting to take a look at back the long history and the enormous development of these type of programmes.

SN: The NDA is managing several territorial cooperation programmes. Do you have a particular approach towards the SEE Programme, as a transnational programme, compared to other programmes, or a "one size fits all" strategy? What are the main differences?

BZ: The Managing Authority within the NDA is mainly dealing with cross-border cooperation programmes. They differ quite much from the transnational programmes. We can of course identify issues which are similar in all of our programmes, but we can't prepare one overall strategy for all of them. A transnational programme contains high number of cooperation between many beneficiaries from different countries. High number means a higher number in correlation with the cross-border programmes. The SEE programme involves 16 countries. If we compare them with the cross-border programmes we can state that they are simpler, there are only two countries involved in the programmes and we have less application. The documents we use in the programmes are very similar e.g. the Rules of Procedure of the Monitoring Committee or the Memorandum of Understanding between the participating countries. In conclusion I can say that our programmes are similar, but also a bit different.


SN: In your opinion, is territorial cooperation "the Cinderella" of regional policy, as it has often been described? How can we demonstrate better its added value?

BZ: As third objective the European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programmes are the best tools for developing border areas and support international cooperation between beneficiaries. ETC programmes are based on the subsidiarity principle; it means a decentralised decision making system which is more close to the applicants than in any other programme funded by the EU. The projects, presented in these programmes are smaller and very often implemented directly by the beneficiaries, while in other, bigger programmes projects are often managed and implemented by ministries and professional interlocutors. With the help of these programmes we can identify the real need of the beneficiaries; we can concentrate on small, but important projects.

SN: Let's go back for a moment to the first call: we received 800 valid expressions of interest in the first step-and we have selected 40 projects in the end. Which was, in your opinion, the number one factor that attracted applicants towards this particular programme? And what is the best strategy in order to have an increase not only in the number, but also in the quality of applications?

BZ: In my opinion the close connection to the beneficiaries can cause miracles. We concentrated ourselves to share more and more information with the potential project applicants about the programme. Before and after we launched the first call the JTS took part at Info Days in 9 different countries. Through a huge Kick off conference (before the first call) we could secure a high publicity for the SEE programme. Concerning the quality I have to mention the Contact Points and the JTS. These bodies have day-by-day connection to the beneficiaries in order to support their work. The bottom-up and top-down approaches must work very well during the implementation of the programme.

SN: What is the biggest challenge facing the SEE Programme and do you have any solutions to suggest?

BZ: The biggest challenge is to deal with so many projects and to find the best ones which implement the aim of this programme in the very best way. To reach our goals we of course will need help from the applicant's side. Without well-prepared, good projects with added value it is very hard to fight for a better programme.

SN: The second call deadline is approaching. What are your expectations? How do you see the evolution of the SEE Programme?

BZ: I hope to inspire more and more applicants for the next calls. We of course also count on the unsuccessful candidates from the first call for proposal. We have to prepare our statistics and have to learn from our mistakes. I hope to have well prepared, sustainable projects in the future.

SN: Talking about successful projects: What were, in your opinion, the main characteristics of the projects selected? Do they have something in common? Do you think there is a recipe for successful projects?

BZ: Each project is different, I can not standardize them. What I can do is to build groups. During the implementation I identified well prepared, good projects, good projects which failed through an oversight and I saw of course bad quality projects. I think it is extremely important to mention the inadvertence of the applicants, which can lead on to rejection. I would recommend to all applicants to be more precise when preparing the project application. This would be one part of my recipe. The other part is to have well working partnerships and good project ideas which are based on real need existing on the programme territory.

SN: A word for the future applicants?

BZ: I would like to wish good luck to all the potential applicants and encourage them to take advantage of the unique characteristics of transnational cooperation programmes.

SN: Thank you!!!