The main task of Horizontal Action Neighbours is to bring stakeholders in the European Union member states and neighbouring countries, North Western territories of the Russian Federation as well as Norway, Belarus and Iceland together in a constructive, mutually advantageous manner. However “bring together” in this context implies not only putting people in the same room but also finding out how they could work together.  Before we can make any suggestions how things should be we have to have a clear picture of what cooperation in the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea  looks like today. To achieve this HA Neighbours began recently to implement its stakeholder study.

The Baltic Sea region has roughly 90 million people living in 8 EU countries and 4 four non-EU countries when defined both by drainage basin and economical inter-connections. But it is not particularly revealing to just look at cooperation based on countries. The different stakeholders for cooperation in these countries are varied and their input to the EUSBSR is different and that might result in varied participation based on the type of organization. Organization can be defined in many ways but luckily we can use the classifications made by funding programmes for example.

And what kind of cooperation should we look at? Cooperation can be many things and in order to study it we need to define it more clearly. In this case we are looking at cooperation based on projects. Projects are the basis from which the EUSBSR pushes towards processes and more impact.

We have the EUSBSR the goals of which are extensively agreed upon. In this setting the goals of the EUSBSR sets not only the goals of cooperation but the framework within which to cooperate. Unfortunately the EUSBSR does not have an extensive follow-up mechanism from which we could simply look at what the cooperation looks like. This is a problem which has often been stressed during the revision of the Action Plan. Updating such a database would require an institution and constant funding which is not possible for us. Fortunately there are institutions who already do that even though they do not do it exactly for the EUSBSR.

The institutions are already doing extensive follow-up on project level are of course the funding programmes. The funding programmes are also the gates for project level cooperation. This is why HA Neighbours began the process of the stakeholder study by collecting as much as relevant project information from the most relevant funding programmes.

We have a number of programmes in the Baltic Sea region and put together they cover the whole strategy geographically and thematically. The problem is that the coverage is not even. Some areas can participate in other programmes while others not. For some areas there is funding available for a certain theme but not others. And in some cases there are restrictions what kind of organizations can participate from which countries in that programme. So basically we have lots of tools for all kinds of jobs but we are not all allowed to use them the best we can.

The funding programmes are then a major source of information for us as coordinators and they are the tools the projects need. However we must keep in mind that the funding programmes are not there solely for the EUSBSR. They have their own priorities and rules. The process we call the alignment of funding is in motion and in time it is expected to alleviate these problems by making some of our tools more versatile. But in the meantime we have to deal with what we have. How then can achieve the most with tools that are meant for something a little or a lot different than what we need to do with them?

By figuring out to ourselves what the cooperation in the region actually looks like we can begin to assess which tools work for which tasks best. Luckily the EUSBSR was not born yesterday nor were the funding programmes. The programmes collect massive amounts of data from the projects and from this massive source of data we in HA Neighbours are trying to figure out what kind of cooperation there is in which areas between which countries. We are trying to see who are using which tools for what when working towards the goals of the EUSBSR.

The data itself cannot tell us much why things are as they are. It will provide us a base from which to start but with a multi-goal strategy such as the EUSBSR and multi-prioritized funding programmes there are a huge number of reason why some form of cooperation is more difficult than others or infact impossible in a given system. This is why HA Neighbours will also conduct interviews with key stakeholders and programmes. The interviews with experts in their respective fields will give us more insight why the cooperation looks like it does based on the project data. Here we will hopefully begin to see which tools can be best used by whom and for what.

From this insight HA Neighbours will plan its actions towards not only bringing people together but also putting them together with the right people. Some areas might benefit more from continuing in its current trajectory, others might want to try something new, but all would do well to learn from each other.  The study is also part of our response to the need expressed by many to be better able to follow the outputs of the strategy. It will allow us to follow the developments of country participation in the EUSBSR quantitatively and qualitatively. This is the first time HA Neighbours conducts such a procedure and it will be a learning experience for HA Neighbours. Based on the results of the activity HA Neighbours will develop the method further in order to make the activity easier to replicate annually and add it to our set of actions towards the goals of HA Neighbours and therefore the Strategy.