Baltic Sea region cooperation is a major political priority of Germany’s northern-most region Schleswig-Holstein. In this interview, the minister responsible for Baltic Sea affairs, Sabine Sütterlin-Waack, provides her views on the benefits and future of transnational Interreg cooperation around the Baltic Sea. Schleswig-Holstein, represented by its development bank IB.SH, has been hosting the Managing Authority and Joint Secretariat of several generations of transnational Interreg Programmes for the Baltic Sea region.
Sabine Sütterlin-Waack, Minister of Justice, European Affairs, Consumer Protection and Equality of Schleswig-Holstein (Photo: Frank Peter)
Do you remember the first time you took a bath in the Baltic Sea?
Sütterlin-Waack: That must have been in the beginning of the 1960s in the Lübeck Bay. As in all childhood memories of past summers, I remember best weather and pleasantly warm water.
You visited several Interreg Baltic Sea Region projects. How do these projects benefit your region, Schleswig-Holstein?
Sütterlin-Waack: Background of my visit tour was the legislative proposal for cohesion policy post 2020 the European Commission tabled last year in May. I am very well aware of the new tasks and challenges the EU is facing. However, to my mind the proposed reduction of funds for the Interreg programmes is entirely incomprehensible. Like no other funding programme, Interreg makes a significant contribution to European integration and to fostering a peaceful neighbourhood and fruitful cooperation within Europe.
Interreg projects create real benefits for the citizens of Schleswig-Holstein. I became convinced of this also on my visitation tour to project partners last summer. As an example, the MAMBA project led by Diakonie Schleswig-Holstein aims to meet challenges of ageing populations in rural areas, where it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up public transport and other services that depend on mobility. The project is working on sustainable and user-friendly mobility solutions. This means help for the people on the ground through transnational cooperation!
Another example: The Flensburg University of Applied Sciences is leading the project BaltCityPrevention. 14 partners from seven countries are developing innovative solutions for health prevention and health promotion by using advanced information and communication technologies. E-health does not replace a personal visit with a doctor or other health experts. However, in particular in rural areas where the number of doctors is declining and other health services are missing, e-health applications can offer an essential supplement. It helps to meet the challenges of demographic change also in the more sparsely populated parts of Schleswig-Holstein. To put it concisely: Transnational cooperation serves the development of cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of the people in our regions.
The current Programming period will end in 2020, and preparations for a new Programme for 2021-2027 are going to start soon. What are your wishes for the future of transnational Interreg cooperation in the Baltic Sea region?
Sütterlin-Waack: With regard to the high European added value of Interreg, I strongly plead for envisaging a financial allocation for Interreg in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework that corresponds at least to that of the current funding period.
Let me now turn to contents. I very much appreciate the proposal of the European Commission to allocate funding to people-to-people actions. The funding of projects which strengthen intercultural exchange, promote democracy or highlight our cultural heritage and the European values are of utmost social and political importance for the future of Europe. We must win the people for the European project and convince them with a common vision. And we must take a clear stand against growing nationalism and populism. Interreg cooperation offers opportunities also in this respect.
The main goal of European Territorial Cooperation is to contribute to the integration of the region. Fostering growth and employment is at the heart of European politics and rightly so. But in times, where the European project is faced with Euroscepticism, we have to go beyond the growth and jobs orientation and put a stronger focus and adequate resources on strengthening European and regional identity. Besides smaller projects and people-to-people actions we should also think big and make the promotion of cultural identity eligible within the new Interreg programmes.
In April, the next Interreg Baltic Sea region conference will take place in Schleswig-Holstein, namely in Lübeck. Do you have a personal relation to Lübeck?
Sütterlin-Waack: We are very happy to welcome guests from the whole Baltic Sea area in Lübeck. Like no other town in Schleswig-Holstein, Lübeck as one of the headquarters of the former Hanseatic League stands for Baltic Sea cooperation. And actually I have personal relations to Lübeck. I grew up in Ahrensburg, which is about 30 kilometres south of Lübeck, where I spent the first 14 years of my life. My mother and I often went to Lübeck for shopping.