On December 2, Northern Sparsely Populated Areas (NSPA) met for the last steering committee meeting of the year. The network adopted a position on the final negotiations of Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 and one on the EU initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas. The meeting was also the last for Nils-Olof Lindfors as a chairman before the presidency goes over to North Norway in 2021. North Sweden’s interns got to change a few words about his two past years as the chairman of the NSPA
Safeguard the special allocation to NSPA regions in Cohesion Policy 2021-2027
The final negotiations on the next long-term budget (MFF) have been one of the big topics this autumn, after an initial budget agreement was reached by the Council in July 2020. Regarding the negotiations on the cohesion policy, NSPA has especially followed the negotiations of a newly established capping mechanism, which will limit Finland and Sweden's national envelopes to 80% and 90% of the 20214-2020 total allocation. Although this mechanism should not affect the special allocation to the NSPA regions (as regulated in the 1994 Act of Accession), the NSPA calls for the EU to clarify the regional exemption from the national capping mechanism. Accounting for a significant part of both northern Sweden and Finland's structural fund allocation, it is of great importance that the EU safeguard this special allocation to sparsely populated areas and the legal status of the European Arctic.
Integration of investment instruments for coordinated action towards climate neutrality
NSPA welcomes the increased climate and environmental ambitions within the EU, including the climate objectives in the recovery fund Next Generation EU. Although, the NSPA stresses the importance that the actions for resilience and sustainable development through different funds and programmes interlink in coordination with each other to avoid financial crowding and parallel policy structures. Regional coordination is a key resource in this, and NSPA especially underlines the role of strategies for Smart Specialisation (S3) as they constitute both an analytical basis and strategic coordination of efforts for sustainable regional development. It is also important that the funds can be used for the specific needs of each region, such as infrastructure and broadband, which are topics up for discussion in the final negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament.
NSPA's views on the long-term vision for rural areas
European Commission has launched an initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas and had a public consultation open until the 30th of November to collect views on current opportunities and challenges in rural areas across Europe. The meeting adopted a position on the matter, in which NSPA questioned that the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) has been proposed to not be part of the common framework for the cohesion policy in the next programme period. NSPA argues that the EARFD should not be exclusive for rural areas with traditional agricultural businesses but also be designed as a continued development tool for remote less densely populated areas with a harsh climate to truly link local rural, regional and urban development for more effective sustainable growth efforts. NSPA also pushes for that northernmost Europe must be part of the EU ambitions to contribute to rural development, which in turn is linked to the OECD study launched by NSPA and presented in Brussels in 2017.
Thank you Nils-Olov for your time as chairman of the NSPA!
The NSPA's presidency and secretariat rotate between the countries where the Brussels offices and the political representatives take turns leading the work of the NSPA. North Sweden and Nils-Olof Lindfors, regional councillor in Norrbotten, has had the position since 2018. North Norway and Tomas Norvoll, chairman of the Nordland county, will take over the work of leading the NSPA in 2021 and for the following two years.
After his first time as chairman of the NSPA network, Nils-Olov has many good memories and experiences to share. Nils-Olof believes that the NSPA network is a great way to support cooperation between the northernmost parts of Sweden, Norway and Finland. With common challenges and opportunities can the 13 NSPA regions advocate for similar needs in the EU arena. One common ground is their important contribution to the EU in the coming years:
-EU has on several occasions drawn attention to the role of the NSPA regions in the green transition. With both expertise and big natural resources, we have an important role to contribute to the climate and renewable energy goals in the EU. This was especially evident when the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted Sweden's work on 'steel without coal' as a successful example of innovative climate initiatives.
At the same time, Nils-Olov points out that it is a challenge to get the same response from the national levels. Nils-Olof stresses the importance of consistent advocacy work on the national level, for instance by arranging discussion forums or external events, in order to demonstrate what important role northern Sweden has in the green transition.
Nils-Olof has created many fond memories during his two years as chairman of the NSPA. One of the things he has appreciated the most is to get to see the many good examples of how cross-border cooperation leads to great results in the EU arena.
-My feeling for the NSPA is that it is not only a lot of 'sweet talks' but also a lot of work that leads to real results.
Read NSPA's position on the final negotiations of Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 here
Read NSPA's position on EU's initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas here