More than 450 delegates from nine countries have gathered at Aviemore to attend the second Joint Annual North Sea Conference. This is the largest European event held in the Highlands and adds to the reputation that Scottish local authorities have for being active and influential in the European environment.
Being held at Macdonald’s Aviemore Highland Resort, the conference has brought together senior politicians from around the North Sea to exchange ideas and to discuss practical ways to be more innovative in the delivery of European regional development policy..
One of the EU’s more successful initiatives in encouraging innovation and the exchange of ideas and development models INTERREG (Inter regional Co-operation) will form a major part of the agenda. The body responsible for overseeing the disbursement of the North Sea element of this Initiative has arranged an exhibition of some 30 of the projects funded via the current programme to be in Aviemore. This will serve as a practical demonstration of what working together and exchanging best practice can achieve in the field of regional development.
The debate on the role of INTERREG in delivering regional development is of particular relevance as the current Programme comes to a close at the end of 2006. As a consequence there will be a focus, during the Aviemore conference on the future of trans-national co-operation via the EU’s Objective 3 and what the priorities and objectives should be for the proposed successor North Sea programme. This programme, if successful, will run from 2007-13. Given the success of the current programme the, organisers are in no doubt that a clear message will emerge from Aviemore that Brussels should retain the North Sea programme, so that the good work funded during 2000-06 can continue from 2007-13.
As part of a plan to ensure a quick start to any new programme a partner search has been arranged to allow those with new ideas to find project partners. It is anticipated that many delegates will depart Aviemore with a new set of working colleagues, thus furthering the EU’s ideal of trans-national co-operation as a means of fostering greater mutual understanding between the citizens of Europe.
Whilst The Highland Council has taken on the vital role of managing this event, it has done so on behalf of the Scottish members of the North Sea Commission who have contributed to the funding of the event.
The Convener of the Highland Council, Councillor Alison Magee, is delighted that so many people had signed up for the conference.
She said: “Europe has been an important friend to the Highlands in helping fund many projects which have undeniably made a huge difference to the lives of those of us who live here. The Council recognises that, whilst the amount of money that will be available to the region from Brussels will fall in the future, Europe can assist in other ways. We, in the Highlands do not have a monopoly in good ideas. It is by working with others that we can learn from others how to do things differently and better. This is one of the reasons why the Council is involved with such European networks as the North Sea Commission. We must also look to new ways of funding projects. Whilst some doors may be closing via less Structural Funds it may be that new opportunities can be tapped into via the trans-regional funds such as INTERREG.”
The North Sea Commission is governed via an Executive Committee comprising a member from each member country, a president and two vice-presidents. The current President is Gunn-Marit Helgesen (Telemark) whilst the Scottish member on the Executive Committee is The Highland Council’s Councillor Kathleen Matheson.
The North Sea Commission
The Highland Council was a founder member of the North Sea Commission (NSC) which is a network of local authorities around the North Sea basin. Currently the NSC has 69 members across eight states.
The NSC is governed via an Executive Committee comprising a member from each member country, a president and two vice-presidents. The current President is Gunn-Marit Helgesen (Telemark) whilst the Scottish member on the Executive Committee is the Council’s Councillor Kathleen Matheson.
Much of the work of the NSC is carried out via six thematic groups focusing on Culture &Tourism, Economic Development, Education & Research, Environment, Fisheries and Transport. Work is carried out via projects, networking, seminars and conferences and in lobbying on specific issues.
The NSC is known for approaching issues from the perspective of what local authorities themselves can do to address and tackle issues of common concern.
Annual assemblies are held on a rotating basis in each of the member countries. It is Scotland’s turn on 2006. As Aberdeen City and Aberdeen hosted the event last time, the 2006 conference was offered to Highland.
Interregg North Sea Programme
The Interreg III programmes are a European Community Initiative to stimulate transnational cooperation in the EU between 2000 and 2006. The 7 countries around the North Sea are working together in the INTERREG North Sea Programme to solve shared problems related to spatial development such as protecting the environment, improving transport, creating new opportunities for rural areas, dealing with the risk of natural disasters.
The 7 North Sea countries are Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, The Flemish Region of Belgium, UK and Norway. The North Sea Programme covers 58 projects in these areas. Project partnerships get EU money through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The areas in the region share many of the same problems and challenges and by working together and sharing knowledge and experiences it is hoped that a sustainable and balanced future will be secured for the whole region.