It is already more than a year since EU is implementing large scale cooperation program in the region. Eastern Territorial Cooperation Program aims at sustainable territorial cooperation between border regions of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine to benefit their social and economic development. Why European Union currently facing its tough times may be investing resources into cross-border cooperation of non-eu-member countries? By the present moments the EU contribution to the Armenia – Georgia territorial cooperation is 1.35 million EUR.
One of the directions of the program is Armenia-Georgia transboundary cooperation consortium. Last month government representatives and the NGOs have held special promotional events in Tbilisi and Yerevan to share what have been done and to facilitate communication and future cooperation between different organizations involved in the effort. EaPTC programmes address issues of local\regional development in the eligible areas. The main stakeholders are state and non-state institutions with a capacity to develop and implement territorial cooperation programmes. We are speaking with Eastern Territorial Cooperation Program Team leader, Dr. Alexei Sekarev.
Why European Union cares about Armenia and Georgia partnerships development? What are more behind the support of such regional cooperation – security, economy, European values expansion?
At a first glance, indeed, one would find it strange that the EU invests into a partnership of two non-EU countries. All the more so as Georgia pursues political association with the EU and integration into European market, while Armenia has entered Russia-led Eurasian economic space. However, both Armenia and Georgia are Eastern partner countries of the EU, and in this capacity receive targeted support both through bilateral and regional EU assistance programmes. Regarding territorial, or cross-border, cooperation this instrument has long been in place within the EU itself as well as on its external borders to address local development issues. Since 2013, this cooperation is being funded also in the border regions of EU Eastern partner countries. The rationale boils down to two major issues. Firstly, if neighbours cooperate, they contribute to peace and stability among each other. And regional stability is one of the top priorities for the EU. Secondly, border regions are typically less developed than capitals, hence linking neighbors to each other by grant projects fosters local development and raising living standards in the regions. All this makes sense for the EU to invest money into such cooperation.
How project is going on? What particular successes you would like to focus our attention and what unexpected challenges teams were faced off?
One success story is strong interest and commitment of programme beneficiaries to jointly develop project ideas and apply for grants. In Armenia-Georgia programme we have altogether 9 joint projects at the stage of implementation. These projects are extraordinarily to the point: how to reduce the use of wood for heating by equipping houses with energy-saving isolation materials and technology (Akhaltsikhe-Stepanavan), how to foster economic development at local level (Rustavi-Noyemberyan), how schoolchildren can learn fairy tales of the neighbors (Bolnisi-Gyumri) and so on. What matters is the tangibility of the results of joint projects. On the other hand, challenges stem mainly from the novelty of the whole operation for those, who won the grants. Monitoring of project’s progress, adherence to EU standards of reporting, communication smoothness between partners and campaigning – those are the typical challenges faced at the beginning of project implementation. However, we can say that partners are learning quickly to the benefit of the overall programme.
How do you see the future of the partnerships established during the project?
This programme has created new potential of engagement for local governments and civil society organizations, through a strengthened capacity to operate EU grants. Through visibility campaign, other society actors and broader public become aware of the usefulness of the programme. On the one hand, project partners already develop ideas for future, even though their projects are still on the run. On the other, successful projects have strong spill-over effects and make possible future programmes attractive for other organisations. Taken together, these developments create a good basis for continuation and even expansion of cross-border programs in the near future. The projects implemented by the cross border cooperation teams were selected through competition and are focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies; improvement of solid waste management; development of innovative cross-border touristic routes; natural resources conservation; civic education and youth employment.