‘United we stand strong’ is a tag line of Bulgarian presidency of the Council of European Union. Having attended the Interreg Europe Experience Fair in Sofia, I am tempted to slightly modify this motto to ‘Collaborating we stand strong’. The event on 24-25 April, that brought together almost 300 participants from across Europe, was a true testimonial to the benefit of working together and mutual learning.

“Policy makers at all levels share the same social and economic challenges. Interreg Europe allows us to share our experiences and learn from each other.”

Said Milen Obretenov from the Bulgarian Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in his opening speech.

“We can’t do anything on our own. Regional Policy is a way to make Europe stronger.”

Emphasized Jean-Marc Venineaux from the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy. The European Commission Officer encouraged project partners to work with policy-makers to help them develop long-term visions and promote interregional collaboration as something obvious and essential.

 Erwin Siweris, Director of Interreg Europe, presented the impressive numbers that summarize the programme achievement so far:

  • 184 projects worth €247m involving 1500 partners from 30 countries.

However, what is most important are the stories of successful solutions that are results of those projects. As an evaluation of the INTERREG IVC shows, the policy change happened in 80% of project regions.

“Interreg Europe is at the heart of the European Union Cohesion Policy and acts as an accelerator for regional development.”

Aptly remarked Erwin.

The Experience Fair was a great learning opportunity itself. In multiple sessions and informal conversations, the participants had a chance to hear about good practices and knowledge exchange experiences from each other. The sessions on effective stakeholder engagement was particularly useful for me. In a group discussion we identified success factors for active involvement of our stakeholders, such as:

  • Empower stakeholders, making clear that they can influence future policy;
  • Build a common goal;
  • Give them a platform to express their ideas and opinions;
  • Provide opportunities to network;
  • Involve in as many project activities as possible.

At PDR (Design4Innovation Lead Partner), we are great believers in collaboration and European values, and we will continue our efforts to foster interregional cooperation and knowledge exchange.

The future of Cohesion Policy is currently being discussed - please express your opinion here:

[Photo credits - Interreg Europe website]