Interview with Roland Arbter - New programme area, new actors and new chances in South East Europe

SEEnews has talked to Roland Arbter, the current Chair of the Monitoring Committee, about a new programme area, new actors and new chances in South East Europe.

Short CV Roland Arbter

  • Born in 1962;
  • University degrees in Geography (University of Vienna) and in Planning (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich);
  • Working since 1992 at the Austrian Federal Chancellery, Division "Coordination - Spatial Planning and Regional Policy";
  • Austrian representative in transnational co-operation programmes since 1996;
 Roland Arbter

"Successful cooperation on all levels is normally built on trust and positive partnership spirit between actors - this needs time to develop....."

SEEnews: Roland Arbter, you have been working now for a long time in the field of territorial cooperation - an objective of the regional policy which some say still needs to prove its added value. Do you think that territorial cooperation can be, in a sense, called "the Cinderella" of regional policy? And how can we better demonstrate its value?
R.A.:Cinderella was about a "fitting shoe". EU structural funds in general and the co-operation programmes in specific should not be seen as a "one size fits all (shoes) model" for any territory but rather as "shoehorn" which has to be taken up by the addressees themselves to unfold an impact and thus demonstrate its value. 
SEEnews: There's a lot of discussion around the new Gowth and Jobs agenda. How exactly is transnational cooperation helping to achieve more Growth and Jobs in the in SEE area?
R.A:I believe that EU funding can provide incentives for innovating international regional policy making - more in a way of stimulating pilot-projects than aiming at influencing Growth and Jobs radically in a short run.
SEEnews:How do you think that can we improve the visibility of the programmes in the territorial cooperation strand?

First of all, the impact of cooperation programmes has to be assessed in an integrated way and in a longer-term perspective. But at the same time the short-term visibility of projects and project impacts to the local and regional level constitutes one of the most important objectives for the next period. At the very end, the value-added of EU-programmes should become understandable also to the individual citizens! And this is particularly important and challenging the South East European area!

SEEnews:What are the three words that in your opinion best describe the South East Europe Programme?
 SEEnews:So far, there seems to be a consensus regarding the SEE Programme: Big area, big number of countries, big expectations.... As the current (and first) chairman of the programme, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the SEE Programme and what solutions do you suggest? And what are your expectations towards the SEE Programme? How do you see its evolution ? How will be 2009 for SEE? (A lot of questions, I know...)
 R.A:To a certain degree, transnational co-operation even in the 3rd period of EU programming remains an experimental approach - in particular in the South-East European area, where several EU-funding instruments will have to be coordinated efficiently. Thus, the biggest challenge still is to produce "success stories"...and to keep a realistic mind in the beginning and to progress year by year and call by call. Successful cooperation on all levels is normally built on trust and positive partner­ship spirit between actors - this needs time to develop ... and, of course, the "success stories"!
 SEEnews:Do you think we can talk about a recipe for successful projects? And in more concrete terms: is there a typical Austrian approach to project development that could be transferred / assimilated within the programme area? What type of projects would you like to see developed?
  R.A:Based on the Austrian experiences, transnational EU programmes could potentially stimulate new forms of cross-sectoral and multi-level governance - internationally and even nationally. Partnerships which "cross borders" in a wider sense - borders between countries, sectors, administrative competences and cultures, etc.. Good projects neither have to cover the whole area nor to foresee a very sophisticated broad partnership, but their results should - in the meaning of a "visible pilot project" - raise and meet interests of a wider community and could thus stimulate various follow-up activities. Overall, this requires keeping the administrative framework conditions and restrictions always in mind!
 SEEnews: Over 1000 applications received in the first step - the figures clearly demonstrate the huge interest raised by the SEE Programme, but also bring increased responsibility for the programme. What do you think it was 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? Is the top-down approach the solution?
R.A.The high interest in the 1st phase of the 1st call is both a positive signal and a reminder to programme actors to fulfil their responsibility of giving clear guidance to those actors "on the ground" who develop, submit and finally implement projects. To strike the balance between visionary project ideas - "what could be done" - and the administrative requirements in the EU programme reality  - "what has to be fulfilled" remains the big challenge for all parties involved (to be honest, not for every brilliant idea an EU programme is necessarily the best way forward!) The European Commission, the Monitoring committee of member states, the Managing authority in Hungary, the JTS in Budapest and the Contact Points in the countries and regions have been aware of this responsibility from the very beginning and have tried to provide as much clarity as possible for the programme start, but at the very end only the "reality test" of the 1st call implementation will give the prove that the SEE programme could fulfil the main expectations of its stakeholders.
 SEEnews: Thank you very much! And see you soon, at the Monitoring Committee Meeting in Belgrade!