A ferry crosses the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria (© Giannis Papanikos/Shutterstock)
In recent years the EU has supported over 1500 different cross-border and regional development projects (“Interreg”) in south-eastern Europe, implemented under cohesion policy. Where and on what were these investments concentrated? An overview
In recent years, the European Union has spent over 8.3 billion euros on cross-border and regional cooperation projects as part of its cohesion policy. More than 6,700 different projects have benefited from it, according to data extracted from the European platform cohesion and referring to projects approved between 2014 and 2020 (cohesion policy follows seven-year cycles, the current cycle opened in 2021).
On average, the EU contributed 1.2 million euros to each of these cross-border or regional projects, to which were added some resources – generally around 25% of the total – allocated by states, regions or other entities . 98% of the projects implemented received less than 5 million euros from the EU; only 26 projects have received European funds worth over 10 million euros.
EU member states in south-east Europe took part in 1,547 cross-border or regional projects: each country was involved in hundreds of different cross-border and regional projects, from 144 projects for Cyprus to 600 for Slovenia.
In particular, the countries of the region participated in 820 projects carried out under cross-border programmes, for a total value of 1.04 billion euros in EU funding. Cross-border programs (in technical jargon “Interreg A”) are implemented by pairs of countries, which together develop and implement projects of common interest. A cross-border cooperation program exists between any pair of south-eastern European member states that share a land border, but such programs also exist between Italy and Croatia, Italy and Greece, and Greece and Cyprus .
Where the biggest investments go
If you look at the numbers, among the cross-border programs that benefited most from European funds between 2014 and 2020 in south-eastern Europe are those that link Romania and Bulgaria on the one hand and Romania and Hungary on the other.
Il the Romania-Bulgaria program received 231 million euros from the EU, the highest absolute value within the region. All the major projects carried out thanks to these funds aimed at improving transport, particularly in the region crossed by the Danube. The road network has been modernized and developed in several places in the Romanian districts of Mehedinti, Dolj, Giurgiu and Costanza and in the Bulgarian provinces of Pleven and Dobrich; in addition to local traffic, long-distance connections also benefit from these works, which have contributed to creating the European connection network TEN-T .
Il Romania-Hungary program received 173 million euros from the EU, i.e. the equivalent of €391,000 for each kilometer of the border between the two countries: proportionally, this is the highest value in the region. Indeed, the largest cross-border projects involving Romania were those with Hungary, and vice versa. Four of these projects received over 10 million euros from the EU: one aimed to develop road links between the Arad district in Romania and the Bekes county in Hungary; another aimed to improve obstetric, gynecological and neonatal health services in Timisoara and Szeged; two other projects contributed to hospital infrastructure and the promotion of tourism in the Romanian district of Satu Mare and in the Hungarian county of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg.
Also the Greece-Bulgaria programme obtained rather substantial funding, which allowed it to carry out 132 different projects – even if 37% of the resources were concentrated on just three initiatives. The project stands out above all CrossBo , which with almost 33 million euros was the one that received the most European funds among the cross-border and regional projects approved in the EU between 2014 and 2020. The project financed the construction of 3.3 kilometers of road in proximity to the Greek-Bulgarian border, along the axis that will connect Xanthi with Plovdiv; crossing the Rhodope Mountains at that point involves the construction of six viaducts and a tunnel. The initiative is part of the opening of three new road links across the Greek-Bulgarian border, a commitment agreed upon by the two governments for some time. The other Greek-Bulgarian projects financed with significant European resources were dedicated to flood prevention and protection in the border regions, in particular in the Evros and Struma basins.
The projects between Italy, Croatia and Slovenia
Italy was involved in 1,174 cross-border or regional projects approved between 2014 and 2020, of which 605 were implemented within the bilateral programs that link it with each of the countries with which it borders, plus Croatia, Greece and Malta.
With over 188 million euros, the Italy-Croatia cross-border program it is by far the one that has received the most EU resources after the Romania-Bulgaria programme. In fact, among the Interreg projects that involved Italy, 6 of the top 8 in terms of size concerned cooperation between Italy and Croatia, and even for Croatia the largest projects were those with Italy.
In particular, the project FOUR GAMES received 14 million euros from the EU. It has helped Italy and Croatia reduce the damage caused by natural disasters thanks to procedures and tools for more effective management of emergencies, including those affecting both sides of the Adriatic. The other two major Italian-Croatian projects also concerned the prevention and management of natural disasters: STREAM he dealt with floods, AdriaClim of climate adaptation in coastal regions. Other large-scale Italian-Croatian projects have focused on transport systems: cross-border connections for passenger traffic, environmental sustainability of ports and development of small ports.
With approximately €317,000 of EU funds for each kilometer of border, the Italy-Slovenia cross-border program it was among those that benefited from relatively more resources among those that touch south-eastern Europe. The largest projects, with over €3 million each, aimed to develop cross-border healthcare collaborations and improve rail links and sustainable mobility across the border.
While the cooperation between Italy on the one hand and Slovenia and Croatia on the other has been notable both in absolute and relative terms, relatively few European resources have been spent on the program Interreg which links Slovenia with Croatia. As was also the case elsewhere in south-eastern Europe, the main efforts were concentrated on flood risk prevention.
In addition to bilateral cooperation programs, member states from South-East Europe have been involved in a number of projects implemented under regional programs (“Interreg B”) in which they participate, in particular those covering Central Europe, Mediterranean Europe and the region crossed by the Danube – but also to a lesser extent the programs dedicated to the Alpine region, the Adriatic-Ionian region and the Balkans-Mediterranean program (BalkanMed).
As part of these programs, Kohesio reports 600 projects involving one or more countries in Southeast Europe between 2014 and 2020; However, from the data available on the platform it is not possible to reconstruct how many of those resources actually went to the region and how many were instead allocated to other countries involved in the same initiatives. The single project of this type that received the most resources was the one aimed at supporting the EU strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian region (EUSAIR ) with 9.8 million euros, which benefited individuals in Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.
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