On September 22, representatives from Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA), met with the Deputy Head of Cabinet for Commissioner for Regional Policy, Marlene Madsen. The meeting enabled NSPA to put forward key messages for a continuation of regional development in the northernmost Europe. NSPA was commended for the strategic way the regions have used the structural funds in the current budget period. Madsen emphasized that the NSPA regions have both natural resources and technological skills important for a green transition.
Participants in the meeting
The network Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) represents the 13 northernmost regions in Sweden, Finland and Norway. With the lead by North Sweden, the network convened a digital meeting on September 22 with Marlene Madsen, Deputy Head of Cabinet for the Commissioner for Regional Policy Elisa Ferreria. Participating in the meeting was also Anna Wagner, policy expert at the European Commission's directorate-general for Regional and Urban policy (DG Regio). The NSPA was represented by the NSPA’s EU-offices for northern Sweden, Finland and Norway together with political representatives from NSPA steering committee.
Background of the meeting
The agenda for the meeting concerned the final negotiations on the European structural funds in the next long-term budget for 2021 - 2027, especially targeting policy on regional development in the NSPA regions. As a foundation for future dialogue with DG Regio and the European Commission, NSPA presented a position paper with experiences and viewpoints on the EU Cohesion policy important to consider for the next programme period. The meeting was moderated by Mikael Janson, North Sweden European Office, who started off to give a background on the purpose with NSPA and with a special note on what great importance EU-funding has for local and regional development in the NSPA area. Mikael also shared the OECD report on regional growth in the NSPA-regions, initiated by North Sweden and published in 2017, which highlight the unique geographical and economic characteristics many of the 14 NSPA regions have in common.
Discussion about NSPA in the coming budget period
Marlene Madsen expressed her appreciation for the NSPA position and congratulated the NSPA regions for realising long-term investments through the structural funds and not least the strategical work done by NSPA which the OECD-study exemplifies. With the background of the positive results in current budget period, the discussions continued with suggestions for improvements for the next period of 2021-2027.
NSPA highlighted the strategical importance of the extra allocation funds to the NSPA regions, but also stressed the challenge of reaching an agreement on a national level on how these funds should be allocated between the regions. Another important topic was the need of putting principles in place to enable multilevel governance and partnerships. Moreover, a continued support for cross-border cooperation is a key factor for regional development in both Sweden, Norway and Finland. NSPA also stressed the need of a regional dimension in the EU’s upcoming Artic Strategy.
NSPA has a key role in EU’s green transition
The chairperson of NSPA, Nils-Olof Lindfors, regional councillor of Norrbotten, also remined about the strong access to natural resources in terms of both forest and critical minerals in several of the NSPA regions. Together with the technological innovations within the sectors, the NSPA regions have a given role in EU’s green transition. The latter is exemplified by how President Ursula von der Leyen mentioned northern Sweden’s work with fossil-free steel production as a guiding example of meeting the objectives of the European Green Deal. This was something which also Madsen agreed upon, stated that the NSPA regions are key players for reaching the climate and environment goals within the EU. Madsen especially urged the NSPA to continue to promote climate smart innovations and further develop the high-tech industries and forestry, which the whole EU is of great need of. Moreover, Madsen urged the NSPA to investigate how the Just Transition Fund (JTF) can be used best and completement the budgets in the structural funds. Madsen concluded to emphasises that the NSPA regions have important assets and skills highly demanded on the EU-arena. At the same time, she acknowledged the place-specific challenges which gives NSPA a special role within EU’s regional politics, something she and Wagner meant is given more attention to in the next programme period.
Read NSPA’s “Position on EU budget propsal and Next Generation EU” here.
Read more about Ursula von der Leyens ‘State of the union’ speech here.
/Mikael Janson and Elin Johnson