On the 12th of May, the NSPA network held a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament. The aim was to brief the Finnish and Swedish MEPs and their staff members about the OECD Territorial Review process and other topical issues for the northern sparsely populated areas.
The Director of East and North Finland EU Office, Kari Aalto, underlined in his introductory speech that EU's future Cohesion Policy has a significant role for the growth and development of the NSPA. "The NSPA regions are the periphery of an island which Norway, Sweden and Finland form on the map as they are separated by water from the continental Europe", noted Mr. Aalto when describing the permanent geographical handicaps to the parliamentarians. Through the OECD study, the areas wish not only to strengthen their collaboration with regards the common challenges and possibilities, but also to use it as a tool for communication and profiling of the NSPA in the EU context.
The regions are highly committed to the review process which will include in addition to desk research and data gathering also study missions during which the OECD experts will visit each of the 14 NSPA regions in all three countries. "We have great expectations but we also acknowledge that the hardest work is only starting", said Mikael Janson, Director of North Sweden European Office. Nevertheless, the regions have a strong motivation to show that all parts of Europe have the potential to contribute to the common growth.
The limited resources and the lack of critical mass in the NSPA means that the regions cannot afford to put all the eggs in the same basket. On the strategy level, the regions have a long tradition of smart specialization and developing complementary strategies which support several local industries. It is important to turn the challenges into opportunities; in North Sweden, for example, the interest of the automotive industry to use the region for cold testing has enabled better flight connections and thus given a boost to the local tourism sector as well.
The hosts of the meeting, MEPs Liisa Jaakonsaari and Jens Nilsson, congratulated the NSPA of the initiative which gives global visibility to the northern regions. "Everybody is looking", highlighted MEP Nilsson the added value which collaboration with the OECD brings to the northern sparsely populated areas. This scale Territorial Review covering 14 regions in three countries is unique even for the OECD: although the process is only beginning, the NSPA Review has raised interest worldwide in countries such as Canada, Australia and Japan which have regions alike.
In their concluding remarks the parliamentarians expressed their interest to be involved in the process and will to continue the dialogue between the European Parliament and the NSPA: "We hope this meeting is the first of many to come."