“Contributing to the stability of the region”

Corina Cretu, EU-Commissioner for Regional Policy explains how EU is targeting the growth potential of the Danube region

The Danube Strategy approach is logical: working together, to solve common problems, is effective – Corina Cretu

What is your personal resume after four years of the European Strategy for the Danube region?

I clearly see that five years after its launch, the Danube Strategy is bringing tangible results and I am proud of what my team and I have built. We have a community of countries, regions and people, who working together to tackle common challenges such as navigation, improved water quality, energy and security. By involving EU neighbouring countries on equal footing, the Strategy has also contributed to the stability of the whole region, bringing the western Balkans, Moldova and the regions of the Ukraine closer to the Union.

Do you feel a lack of European euphoria after the recent challenges? Is the Danube region strategy still a reference point for the hope of dynamics and growth?

Europe is facing many political, social and economic challenges, which are more and more of a transnational nature and this why we need the Danube Strategy, today more than ever.

Despite complex challenges at all levels, the European Union is still acting as a “magnet”, attracting its external neighbours and doing its best to integrate them. Thanks to its prospects for EU membership, the whole Balkan area has become more stable and secure. Growing together in the Danube area contributes to the stability of the whole region.

Will the EU need much more public attention for its programmes to encourage institutions, networks and entrepreneurs to new joint initiatives?

The European Union has a lot of instruments in place to encourage the adoption of effective, result-oriented and successful programmes and joint initiatives. Among those instruments, and considering the policy area and funds I am responsible for, I refer in particular to the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds). The ESI Funds cover the programmes under cohesion policy, i.e. the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund but also those programmes funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI).

In this respect, I am very proud to announce that on 14th December 2015 the Commission adopted the Communication “Investing in jobs and growth – maximising the contribution of European Structural and Investment Funds” on the contribution of the ESI Funds to the EU goals of jobs and growth, to the Investment Plan and to the Commission’s priorities, in support to the European Semester and the country-specific recommendations

Altogether, we are talking about over 500 programmes and EUR 454 billion euro from the EU budget

In the new programming period, we will fully exploit the potential of the ESI Funds, by maximising the possible synergies between them. Moreover, by adding the national co-financing of some EUR 183 billion, the total investment will amount to at least EUR 637 billion. With this budget, the ESI Funds are the EU’s main investment instrument.

Thousands small and medium enterprises and start-ups in the Region are creating jobs and are the base for future growth. They are heading for international markets. Is there any joint initiative to support co-operation and marketing networks?

Not only the creation of jobs and growth is the first of the European Commission’s political priorities, but it has been also included in the regional policy, as previously mentioned when I referred to the European Structural and Investment Funds.
Under the Danube Strategy, there is a whole priority area dedicated to support competitiveness of enterprises in the Danube Region, with the involvement of a wide network of key players. Given the complexity of the tasks in this field, specific working groups are dealing with the different topics: their role is to reveal, synthesize and present concrete projects, which are in line with the targets set for the Danube Region Strategy. The Working Groups cover various topics, from innovation and technology transfer, to vocational education and training, but also cooperation of business organizations, environmental technology and energy efficiency, competitiveness in rural and urban areas, entrepreneurial learning.

Commissioner, what is your personal idea to stop the ongoing brain drain: literally thousands of highly motivated talents are on the move to leave the countries, where they were educated well and where the public spent a lot of resources to do so. How should and can EUSDR and the member states contribute to change this “megatrend” effectively?

This is a very important question and this is why there are even two priority areas that reflect this challenge in the EUSDR: priority area 7, which aims to develop the knowledge society through research education and information technologies, and the already mentioned priority area 8 dealing with the competitiveness of enterprises.

There are common projects of these priority areas, which are addressing this problem, like the DANUBE-INCO.NET project, which is a coordination and support action funded under the 7th Framework Programme and addresses EU Strategy for the Danube Region in the field of research and innovation (R&I). It is supporting the policy dialogue, the creation of networks, and providing analyses and support to R&I activities.

Moreover, several joint projects and initiatives have been launched in the field of education, aiming to bring the education system closer to the real business needs, and therefore provide competitive and attractive work to qualified graduates.
Last but not least, by addressing several fronts, such as environment, transport, socio-economic issuer, EUSDR aims to increase the quality of life of the Danube macro-region’s inhabitants, increasing the level of wellbeing thus making the region particularly attractive for start-ups and businesses.

Corina Creţu is a Romanian politician of the SPE / PSD party. Since the accession of Romania to the European Union on 1st January 2007 to 31st October 2014, she was a Member of the European Parliament. Since 1st November 2014, she is the European Commissioner for Regional Policy