The main objective of territorial cooperation in the European Union is to overcome negative barrier effects of borders, maximise potential synergies and promote joint solutions to common challenges. This is done to promote a balanced integration of the EU territory and to enhance the quality of life for citizens.
The EU Programme for European Territorial Cooperation (ETC), also called Interreg, provides a framework for implementing these aims. It started in 1989 with only 14 individual projects and a small budget.
Since 1989, the overall budget has increased over time from ECU 1.1 billion for Interreg I to EUR 10.1 billion for ETC (or Interreg V) in the current funding period 2014-2020. Interreg is fully financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Interreg has three action lines, of which Strand A addresses the cross-border cooperation along internal and external EU borders. Cross-border cooperation programmes connect people and institutions at the local level of cooperation, for instance between two bordering regions or provinces. In the 2014-2020 funding period, 60 Interreg A programmes are supported by the EU.
Innovation is considered as one of the main priorities of Interreg Programmes. Innovation plays a key role in enhancing smart growth. Policy makers highlight the important leverage effects innovation can have when it comes to fostering growth and competitiveness. In Europe, border regions are usually lagging behind because of historical reasons and their peripheral location within their countries. Here, innovation represents one of the key tools to foster territorial cohesion in these peripheral regions. By promoting cross-border cooperation, SMEs in border regions can achieve larger economies of scale and benefit from agglomeration effects.
Map of INTERREG A Cross-Border Cooperation Programmes in the EU in 2014-2020
Source: DG REGIO website at ec.europe.eu/regional policy