As part of European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) in October, North Sweden, together with the Brussels offices of the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network and Scotland Highlands and Islands organized a workshop about EU's twin (green and digital) transition. The key speaker from the European Commission who participated said that the NSPA are leading regions and should take a more prominent role on EU level.
On October 21, North Sweden European Office together with colleagues from the Brussels offices of East North Finland and North Norway in the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) network and Scotland Highlands and Islands organized the digital workshop Arctic green, digital transition: solutions for recovery through cross-border cooperation. The event, which had qualified for the European Commission's official program during European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC), focused on the role of the regions in the green and digital twin transition in the European Arctic and the sub-European Arctic. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss challenges and opportunities for the regions to develop in the green and digital transition based on EU policy and to discuss the way forward together with the participants in the event and the politicians that attended.
Participating speakers was; Elain Macare, head for energy strategy at Scotland Highlands & Islands Enterprises who moderated and Ilias Iakovidis, Adviser to the European Commission's Directorate – General (DG) Connect, who presented the Commission's work on a green and digital transition. The panel debate was also attended by Henna Virkkunen, Finnish Member of the European Parliament, Åsa Ågren Wikstöm, Deputy Regional Councilor in the Region of Västerbotten and a member of the European Committee of the Regions, and Mikael Janson, director of North Sweden European Office.
Positive feedback from the European Commission but with an encouragement to be more visible
Ilias Lakovidis, from European Commission's DG Connect, started off by stating that it was not too long ago that the EU saw the green and digital transition as two completely separate issues. The change came in 2020 when the European Green Deal was presented, where it was made clear that the European Commission has changed its approach to looking at the issues as interconnected. The green transition is about making digitalisation more sustainable, according to Lakovidis who also emphasized that greater digitalisation is needed in the EU to cope with the green transition and that it is the regions that constitute EU's muscles in the process. Not least the regions in northern Europe which are world leaders, thanks to the regions' solid knowledge and research and natural resources that can generate geoenergy, hydropower, solar, and wind power, according to Ladovidis. He urged the regions to participate in digital EU programs in order to teach other regions and member states but also to influence the European Commission's policies and influence EU strategies more effectively.
NSPA gave concrete examples of the green and digital transition
To set the stage for a discussion between the participants and the political panel, film clips from each of the regions were shown with examples of green and digital development projects.
- Eastern and Northern Finland presented LUMI, one of Europe's leading supercomputers.
- Northern Sweden presented H2 Green Steel, where the goal is to eliminate all CO₂ emissions from steel production.
- The islands and highlands of Scotland presented highlighted ReFLEX, a project that enables the storage of renewable energy.
- Northern Norway presented GIFT, a project which aims to reduce CO₂ emissions on more than 1,600 islands in Europe.
Panel discussion with focus on the twin transition in the European Arctic
Opportunities and challenges for a green and digital transition in the Arctic regions were then discussed. Some common positions that were highlighted was:
- The importance of cross-border cooperation and the need for investments to continue developing digitalisation in line with the EU's green deal.
- The importance of support from national and EU level, investments in infrastructure, access to education, labour and research support to enable this.
- The concrete measures to live up to the EU's climate goals will take place locally and regionally, so we must bring development close to the citizens. We have many smart people and a lot of innovation, but infrastructure is the basis for this to happen, said Åsa Ågren Wikstöm, Deputy Regional Councilor in the Region of Västerbotten and a member of the European Committee of the Regions.
- We have special challenges due to long distances and therefore need to cooperate more, thats when we can reach our full potential. We must take a step forward so that the rest of the EU learns from the EU's northern regions in the green and digital transition, said Henna Virkkunen, Finnish Member of the European Parliament.
- We have special conditions in our remote areas and need to be even smarter due to long distances. We are few people, we have to work together, help each other, and find platforms where we can interact, Mikael Janson, Director of North Sweden European Office agreed.
Ilias Iakovidis finally returned to the importance for the northern regions in the NSPA to take a step forward on the EU arena:
- My message to you is that you should stop being shy and instead start teaching others. You must continue to inspire at EU level, which can influence EU policy and push other EU countries to increase their ambitions. You have unique opportunities, and you can be the leading regions in the EU at the Brussels Arena. Through the EU's structural, cohesion and specialization funds, you can showcase your projects, inspire others and make your voices heard in the EU, thus influencing EU policy.
Read more about the projects which were showcasted:
Watch the workshop on the EWRC website here:
/Maria Boström and Julia Hanson