1.1 Aim of the programme
The Interreg North-West Europe (NWE) Programme is one of the fifteen transnational cooperation programmes1 financed by the European Union. These programmes encourage public, scientific, private and civil society organisations to cooperate with a view to improving the economic, environmental, territorial and social development of Europe’s regions. The programme co-finances these organisations to work together in transnational projects on specific themes.
In contrast to programmes that target specific sectors (e.g. energy, transport, or research related programmes) or a single region, this programme focuses on cooperation across borders in a large European area; specifically, North-West Europe. Transnational cooperation is therefore fundamental for the programme and will be crucial in reaching stronger cohesion between its regions.
As the map shows, the programme targets all or parts of 8 participating countries, including 7 EU Member States (Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Luxembourg, France and Germany) and the Non-Member State Switzerland.
The Member States of the NWE Programme analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the area and designed a strategy to address the challenges identified. The area’s characteristics and challenges are presented in the Cooperation Programme document.
The analysis identifies significant disparities in the economic, environmental and social performance of NWE’s regions. The aim of the NWE Programme is, therefore, to both reduce these disparities and raise the overall level of performance across the whole NWE area.
By doing this, the Member States aim to achieve the following overall ambition for NWE:
“To become a key economic player in the world and create an attractive place to work and live, with high levels of innovation, sustainability and cohesion”
To deliver this ambition, the programme has identified three thematic priorities, each of which is sub-divided
into specific objectives. These priorities and specific objectives (SO) are:
Specific objective 1:
To enhance innovation performance of enterprises throughout NWE regions
Specific objective 2:
To facilitate the implementation of low-carbon, energy and climate protection strategies to reduce GHG emissions in NWE
Specific objective 3:
To facilitate the uptake of low carbon technologies, products, processes and services in sectors with high energy saving potential, to reduce GHG emissions in NWE
Specific objective 4:
To facilitate the implementation of transnational low-carbon solutions in transport systems to reduce GHG-emissions in NWE.
Resource and materials efficiency
Specific objective 5:
To optimise (re)use of material and natural resources in NWE
More details on the programme’s priorities and the types of actions it supports can be found in the Cooperation Programme document.
The programme has a budget of €372 million ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) available for projects. The maximum applicable co-financing rate for projects is 60% (ERDF). The programme will seek project applications through “calls for proposals”, which are usually organised biannually. More details on how to submit an application form can be found in chapters 3 and 4.
Projects should in the first instance identify and quantify as far as is possible the change and result they want to achieve and make sure these fit with the programme’s ambitions. Projects should bring together partners from at least three different countries, of which two need to be from within the NWE area. Every project that the programme finances will need to demonstrate high transnational cooperation intensity throughout its lifetime; this means that partners must work together to deliver, evaluate, disseminate and roll-out the results of their project. More details on how to develop a good project are given in chapter 2.
The Programme Manual is essential reading for any organisation wishing to participate in a NWE project. In addition, tailored support will be offered to all potential applicants (section 2.4).
2.1 What makes a good project?
A project is an undertaking that must be structured according to a particular intervention logic. The NWE Programme uses the project intervention logic that is shown below. This is not a rigid NWE structure, but is intended to achieve a common understanding of the relations between the different requirements. The different components are explained in the following text.
A good project starts with defining its need
From the outset, each project must specify precisely WHY it is needed, what common issue or challenge it will address, and what change it aims to bring about (known as the project ‘result’), including who is going to benefit from it in the long term.
A good project is not a stand-alone initiative but is embedded in an overall strategic framework (known as ‘external coherence’). This means that projects should be consistent with the trends, developments and the objectives of relevant European, national or regional strategies or policies in the specific field being addressed (for example regional or national energy plans or smart specialisation strategies). Projects must therefore demonstrate both the need and its strategic relevance to qualify for public funding.
A good project contributes to achieving the programme’s objectives
Each project needs to contribute to achieving one of the NWE Programme’s specific objectives (SO’s) as outlined in the Cooperation Programme document. The Cooperation Programme document provides examples of types of actions and guiding principles for each specific objective. Reference to these will be helpful in identifying whether the project idea is in line with the programme’s objectives.
In addition to this ‘thematic fit’, the territorial dimension is also crucial. The Cooperation Programme sets out which types of territories (such as urban, rural or socially deprived areas) are primarily addressed by each specific objective. Each project should therefore define – in precise terms – both the specific issue or challenge it intends to address and the territory where it will be addressed.
A good project quantifies as much as possible
With the help of the programme indicator system, each project will be able to demonstrate its achievements towards the project and programme objectives both in terms of its outputs (how much and how well did the project do?) and results (is anyone better off and has anything improved?). At the same time projects will want to define additional indicators, which measure more specifically the project deliverables, outputs and results.
Projects are also asked to adequately quantify their inputs, activities and outputs in the application form, see chapters 3 and 4.
More information on the programme indicator system can be found in section 5.9. A good project delivers value for money
Since public money is a precious commodity, projects need to continuously monitor value for money. In other words, the project budget must be used in accordance with the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness.
The principle of economy concerns minimising the costs of resources. The resources used by the project’s partnership for its activities should be made available in due time, in appropriate quantity and quality and at the best price.
The principle of efficiency concerns getting the most from the available resources. It is concerned with the relationship between resources employed and outputs delivered in terms of quantity, quality and timing.
The principle of effectiveness concerns meeting the objectives and achieving the intended results.
A good project shows a high level of cooperation
It is pivotal that projects are genuinely based on a transnational approach to achieving a translational goal (i.e. a need must exist). Cooperation will therefore be at the heart of all projects, which must deliver joint activities, and explain the additionality of the transnational approach compared to, for example, regional, national or cross-border approaches. Stand-alone activities or investments serving local aims alone cannot be part of a transnational project. This means that in order to achieve the project’s planned result, there is an intrinsic need for partners to work cooperatively.
NWE projects are therefore expected to work transnationally throughout each phase of the project (joint design and development, decision-making, implementation, evaluation and dissemination). Clear areas of cooperation need to be identified at the start when setting up the partnership and allocating roles.
A good project makes a lasting change
The NWE Programme will finance projects that generate tangible and lasting results; in other words, projects that have a demonstrable impact on the performance of cities, regions and territories. The programme funds projects that implement tangible strategies, solutions and concepts. Paper-based deliverables such as studies and concepts are considered only as a means to obtaining the output, but not the main project output itself. Projects should be geared towards a specific product, service, process or transnational solution. They should test it on the ground and advocate its roll-out during and after the project’s lifetime.
Applicants must therefore be clear on what change they want to achieve via the project, who they will target and who will benefit from the project’s activities. Projects must explain the current trends in their field, determine baselines and set clear objectives and realistic targets at the start in the application form.
A good project evaluates and learns
Projects need to continuously monitor their results (e.g. answering questions such as whether anyone is better off or whether anything has improved because of the project’s activities). Evaluations (either internal or external, as part of project management) must be integrated into the action plan in such a way that lessons learnt and recommendations can be acted on during the project’s lifetime.
A good project manages the risks
Projects should understand the implementation risks they face from the outset (e.g. potential modifications to the project plan, partners dropping out, delays in delivery due to e.g. external factors influencing the project’s implementation, difficulties with decision-making, a need for additional expertise, etc.). To be able to mitigate any risks to successful delivery, projects should incorporate risk management into their project management practice. In the application form, projects need to provide an assessment of the main potential risks they envisage (see section 5.10 for more information).
A good project is innovative
Innovation is a cross-cutting theme but also a specific objective of the programme. A project idea must satisfy the innovation criteria as defined in the Cooperation Programme – i.e. “something original, new, and important – in whatever field – that breaks into (or obtains a foothold in) a market or society” and predominantly focuses on ’test‘ or ’development’ phases. Innovation can cover for example, technological, social, process or eco- innovation.
In the innovation chain, from fundamental research to the commercialisation of a product or service or the application of a new process, Interreg plays a role in the ‘intermediate’ stages. Interreg projects should focus on applied research and should include a testing or implementation phase, while commercialisation is to be left to the market. Interreg’s public funds therefore aim to fast track innovations in the sometimes long and difficult path from the brilliant idea to a market ready solution.
A good project builds on previous work
Experience shows that projects do not start from scratch, but take into account lessons learnt or research from previous projects at regional/national or European levels.
For the NWE Programme, projects will not be asked to reinvent the wheel but instead to build on previous work. For several Specific Objectives in the Cooperation Programme, the aim is indeed to implement or apply existing solutions by optimising, adapting or improving them.
At the same time, a project needs to ensure there is no duplication of activities carried out by other projects, and must clearly explain the added value.
In short: a good project is aware of recent developments and results achieved in the sector or field concerned and builds on these. It explains why transnational cooperation is needed to take the sector or field forward and to achieve the change that is needed.
A good project has a strong partnership
The partnership reflects the needs of the project and therefore a thorough territorial analysis needs to be conducted to select the most relevant partners either in advanced or less advanced regions.
The partnership should involve the right types of organisations. This would normally be a diverse mix of stakeholders, representing different levels of governance (regional, national, European) or sectors (e.g. public, private, academic or end users). A strong partnership combines a different mix of experiences and skills to achieve the best result possible. All partners must be meaningfully and actively involved in the project.
See section 2.3 for more details on the different types of partners and who may participate. The Guiding Principles for each specific objective in the Cooperation Programme also give more details on the types of partners who may be involved.
► The key features of a good project are listed above but this list is by no means exhaustive. More detailed information on the programme’s requirements is given in the rest of this chap- ter, as well as in chapters 3 and 4 on eligibility and quality assessment criteria.
2.2. How should a project be structured?
This section provides practical guidance on the key organisational components of an Interreg NWE project. This does not mean that every project should follow this approach to the letter; rather, this guidance is intended to ensure that all projects are on a stable footing and that their organisational arrangements are tailored to the results they are seeking to achieve.
How should a partnership be structured?
Each project is run by a lead partner, who manages and coordinates the project partners as well as the overall implementation of the project. The lead partner is responsible for submitting the application form and will be the single point of contact for the Joint Secretariat once the project has been approved.
More information on the partnership structure and types of partners can be found under section 2.3.
What is the right size for a partnership?
This depends on what a project’s aims are. In the previous Interreg NWE Programme (2007-2013), the average partnership size was 9 partners, although this number varied greatly.
Project managers should seek the right balance: the size of the partnership has a direct impact on the efficiency of project implementation particularly in terms of reporting and financial management where large amounts of information will need to be collected (delays from some partners are almost inevitable).
In short: quantity does not mean quality. The programme will encourage strong and focused partnerships where each partner has a specific role to play.
It is important to note that not all Member States need to be represented in each project.
How should a work plan be organised?
Project implementation follows a work plan that consists of a set of work packages. Each work package is broken down into identified activities linked to deliverables, i.e. a side-product or service that contributes to the development of the project’s main output. The main outputs must clearly contribute to the programme’s output indicators, which the project must select in the application form.
A project may have up to 6 work packages.
3 are compulsory: long-term effects, communication and project management. 3 work packages are dedicated to implementation. They should ideally be organised thematically and correspond to each sub-objective defined by the partners. If the project plans a voucher scheme it needs to be described in a separate work package. In case there is a voucher scheme, the total number of work packages would then be 7.
For each work package, one of the project partners will be responsible for coordinating the delivery of the related activities.
The work plan may include investments, where these are necessary as pilot or demonstration actions to deliver the project’s objectives. Since Interreg NWE is not an infrastructure programme, investments should be proportionate to the work plan and budget, and should therefore represent good value for money. They should be the result of joint development and decision-making.
More details on the application form and the work packages can be found in chapters 3 and 4. PAGE 24
How much should the project budget be?
Project budgets can vary significantly depending on the planned result, the size of the partnership, the duration of the project, and whether the project plans to make significant investments or not. In the previous Interreg NWE Programme (2007-2013), projects’ total budgets varied greatly, with the average being €6.8 million (approximately 50% of which was financed by the ERDF). In this programme ‘value for money’ will be an important criterion for assessing the quality of the proposals. Resources allocated (such as staff time and other costs, e.g. for tangible outputs) need to be proportionate to the objective and planned result.
More information on the project budget can be found in sections 4.2 and 5.2. How long should a project run for?
Projects should optimise their duration and this will be part of the assessment of the work plan carried out by the Joint Secretariat. The recommended duration is 30 to 36 months. This can vary of course depending on the work plan, the complexity of investments, etc. However, the duration should be as short as possible to ensure that results are achieved quickly and that the project is efficient and effective. The duration of a project should therefore be proportionate to the action plan and to the result envisaged.
What types of investments are possible?
Investments are considered as an infrastructure that is jointly developed by the partners that will last beyond the lifetime of the project. Many types of infrastructure development are possible, such as: demonstration plants, renovations on buildings to increase energy efficiency, enhancement of bicycle paths, logistics hubs, transnational living labs, renewable energy demonstration facilities etc.
The following types of investments are possible:
One investment for the whole project
► A single investment concept designed to achieve the project’s objective (the change aimed for) and delivered by each of the partners. It is possible for several partners to contribute financially to one investment. For example, this could be one large transnational living lab in which all partners invest, and which can be used by all the partners for testing their products, services or solutions.
’Network/spider web’ investments
► Several investments in different partner territories constitute one overall investment. This means the partnership develops a joint concept and implements the different components in a decentralised way (in different partner territories). The components are interdependent and require partner interaction and use. The investment only works when all decentralised components are implemented, jointly evaluated and used by other partners.
► An investment concept is developed jointly and then implemented in different partner territories. The results in each territory are compared (e.g. creating a benchmark) in order to identify the importance of specific contextual factors. This type of investment particularly concerns projects with a specific territorial dimension.
Sufficient time should be planned between the delivery of an investment and the end of a project so as to allow the latter’s evaluation, dissemination and roll-out (the minimum should be 6 months).
For physical investments, the land on which an investment is located should be owned by a partner or sub-partner. Other scenarios need to be discussed during step 2 development and should be approved by the Programme.
More information on durability-related obligations for partners with infrastructure investments can be found in chapter 6. More information on ownership and IPR can be found in section 5.7.
2.3. Who can participate?
Types of partner and their roles
2.3.1 Types of partners
Participating project partners can be any public or private organisation that is a legal entity, as listed in the table below. Partner organisations can be categorised according to the following classification, which is also used in the application form:
Classification of type of partners
The project should involve a variety of partner types in-line with the Guiding Principles specified in the Cooperation Programme for the respective specific objective (SO):
SO1: Partnerships must involve a diversified mix of innovation stakeholders
(e.g. enterprises, researchers, education institutions, training organisations, policy-makers, and private investors).
SO2: Partnerships should involve all key stakeholders from the field in question and ensure an integrated approach. The involvement of local and/or regional public authorities
is a basic prerequisite.
SO3: Partnerships should involve all key stakeholders from the field in question, particularly from territories and sectors with high energy saving potential.
SO4: Partnerships must involve a diversified mix of innovation stakeholders active in the transport sector (e.g. enterprises, researchers, education institutions, training organisations,
policy-makers, and private investors).
SO5: Partnerships must involve a diversified mix of innovation stakeholders active in the field of resource efficiency, waste management, industrial production or any other water and/or land-intensive sectors.
It is important to note that private and public entities whose activities consist of project management related tasks (such as consultants) will not be eligible as project partners.
Private partners, including profit-making partners (e.g. SMEs) can participate in the NWE Programme. However, only not-for-profit private partners (this means that the entire business is not-for-profit and not only the aspect relating to the project delivery) can be lead partners. The economic activities performed by the partners influence the relevance of State aid for the project. If the project’s activities are regarded as State aid relevant, additional restrictions (lower co-financing rate, ceiling of ERDF contribution etc.) might be applied.
More detailed information on State aid can be found in section 5.6.
Private project partners should also be aware that:
They might have to follow public procurement principles depending on national rules, but will have to follow the NWE Programme rules on public procurement. See section 5.5.
There may be some restrictions on retaining intellectual property rights. See section 5.7.
In order to be reimbursed, costs will need to comply with the eligibility rules set out in sections 5.1, 5.2
Participating partners cannot act as external experts to other partners in the same project.
The payment procedures may be prolonged due to possible controls, audits, legal proceedings etc. In such
cases, partners should consider higher liquidity levels.
They will undergo a solvency check before the approval of the application in step 2. Potential (lead) partners
are asked to inform the Joint Secretariat as soon as it becomes clear that a non-public partner might join the partnership. See section 4.2.7. for more details.
Swiss organisations may participate in NWE projects but are not entitled to ERDF funding. They may receive funding from the Swiss federal government to co-finance their share in the project budget, and in some cases, may need to provide their own funding to cover their entire share of the project budget. Swiss partners must contact their contact point before submitting their project application in order to discuss the possibilities of co-financing. Swiss organisations may only be project partners; they may not act as the lead partner of a NWE project.
Partners from outside the NWE Programme area (assimilated project partners)
It is possible to include project partners from outside the NWE area provided that the contribution of this project partner is to the benefit of the project and the programme area.
There are two possible cases:
Partners located in a country that is part of the NWE area but the particular region is not (e.g. Munich, Germany): such partners can participate without further administrative requirements.
However, partners from outside the NWE eligible area cannot act as lead partners unless they are competent in their scope of action for certain parts of the eligible area, e.g. federal or regional ministries, federal agencies, national research bodies. More information can be found in sections 3.3.2 and 4.3.2 (eligibility criteria).
EGTC as a sole beneficiary
An EGTC which intends to be the sole beneficiary of a project must be composed of at least 3 participating partners from 3 different countries. At least 2 of these partners must be from a region within the NWE Programme area.
2.3.2 Partner roles
The programme applies the lead partner principle1, meaning that in each project, one partner will act as the ‘lead partner’ (LP). The lead partner, in cooperation with the other project partners, will be responsible for drafting the project application and submitting it to the Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat. Profit-making organisations can never be lead partners.
After the approval of their step 2 project, the lead partner will need to sign the subsidy contract with the Managing Authority and can then start the project. During the implementation phase, the lead partner’s main task is to coordinate the project and respect the principle of sound financial and project management. The lead partner must ensure the long-term effects of the project’s outputs and results. In addition, the lead partner should maintain effective communication within the partnership and ensure that there is sufficient exchange of information to guarantee the successful delivery of outputs. Internal communication and transferring messages to and from the programme level (Managing Authority/Joint Secretariat/contact points), as well as to and from project level (project partners and all stakeholders involved) is a pivotal responsibility of the lead partner.
In order to define partners’ mutual rights and obligations, the lead partner and project partners sign the partnership agreement. To summarise, the lead partner:
submits the application form and the partnership agreement;
signs the subsidy contract;
submits the progress reports (activities and expenditure);
ensures that the progress reports include only expenditure that has been incurred in implementing the
operation and that corresponds to the activities agreed;
ensures all included expenditure has been verified by a controller (see section 5.13, controls);
is responsible for financial and project management;
acts as the contact organisation for the Joint Secretariat (JS) in Lille.
Project partners have the following tasks:
delivering project outputs planned in the application form and agreed in the partnership agreement;
ensuring the durability of the main outputs and results (see section 6.2);
assuming responsibility for any irregularity in the expenditure claimed;
• contributing to the delivery of the progress reports (activities and expenditure);
carrying out information and communication activities in line with the communication plan and the programme’s publicity requirements.
The programme’s general principle is to work with full partners only, but organisations without the financial capacity to participate in a project or that only wish to participate to a limited degree in a project (e.g. in one or two activities) may participate as sub-partners.
In general, sub-partners are small in size, have specific expertise and should work in close cooperation with one particular partner. Their involvement in the project is often limited in time and content. Nevertheless, sub- partners can be regarded as an integral part of a project as they are directly involved in its implementation.
Sub-partners fall under the responsibility of another partner (the ‘responsible partner’) with which they are required to sign an agreement to ensure good working relations. The full partner acts as guarantor of their financial contribution to the project. The full partner submits the sub-partner expenditure together with his. Like full partners, sub-partners must keep a complete audit trail of all documents of probative value (in contrast to external experts or consultants, sub-partners can include staff costs). The first level controller of the full partner must control the expenditure of the sub-partner. When deemed necessary, he should also include on- the-spot checks (see section 5.13).
Sub-partners may only claim costs through their responsible partner and only if they are listed as a sub- partner in the application form. While, it is not necessary for them to sign the partnership agreement, a written agreement between the sub-partner and the partner should exist, clearly stating that the rules deriving from the subsidy contract are also applicable to them. Please note that actions should not take place at sub-partner level in order to avoid following those rules.
The total budget of all sub-partners cannot exceed 50% of the responsible partner’s budget. If this condition is not fulfilled, then the proposed sub-partner(s) must become (an) official partner(s).
For example, alLead partner with a budget of EUR 500 000 has a sub-partner. The maximum budget of the sub-partner amounts to EUR 250 000. If the lead partner has two (or more) sub-partners, their maximum cumulative budget would be EUR 250 000.
Sub-partners must be located in the same country as their responsible partner (in the same region in the case of Belgium) and their grant rate and staff cost calculation option (A or B) cannot differ from the partner they are attached to (see section 5.2 for further information on staff costs).
Associated partners (observers)
Associated partners are partners who do not financially contribute to the project but who have an interest in its results. They effectively act as observers. The travel and accommodation costs may be covered by one of the project partners although associated partners do not need to fall under the responsibility of one project partner.
2.4. Getting started
This section describes when and how applicants can receive assistance from the programme to develop their projects.
During each call for proposals, projects follow a two-step application process. Only if a step 1 application form is approved can the full project application form (step 2) can be submitted. Project proposals are therefore assessed twice. More information on the application and assessment criteria can be found in chapters 3 (step 1) and 4 (step 2).
The two-step application process has been introduced in order to better guide applicants on the development of their project and to reduce the effort they would waste in the event their project is rejected. Applicants receive early feedback on their project’s strategic fit with the programme with the step 1 decision.
There will usually be two calls for proposals each year and each call has a fixed deadline. Calls will be published on the NWE website together with an applicant package (including the terms of reference of the call, the Programme Manual and a reference version of the application form in word format).
How to get help:
From project idea to application
Applicants must first ensure that their project idea respects the main features that make a ‘good project’ (see section 2.1).
Once project applicants start defining their project intervention logic, they should contact their contact point for support with the development of their project idea, which is provided right up to the submission of the application.
To facilitate communication with contact points, applicants are encouraged to post their project ideas on the Interreg NWE website. This can also help in finding new partners or match-funding opportunities The submission of project ideas is not to be confused with an official application and their publication on the site does not mean endorsement by the programme. For more details on the items that need to be covered in step 1 see chapter 3 on the application form.
Step 1 submission of the application form
Once the step 1 application form is completed it can be submitted online during the opening dates of the
Applications will be assessed against a set of eligibility and quality assessment criteria, see section 3.3. Although the Joint Secretariat assesses the application form, it is the programme Monitoring Committee (MC) that takes the final decision on approving (or not) projects. The Joint Secretariat will notify all projects of the decisions taken by the Monitoring Committee.
If the project receives step 1 approval by the Monitoring Committee, the notification will include a set of recommendations to further improve the project proposal. These should be taken into account by the projects when preparing the full application in step 2.
There will only be one unique opportunity for applicants to submit a specific project idea. If the project proposal is rejected, the applicants must come up with a new proposal (new scope, new objectives) in order to be able to re-apply at a later call (step 1).
In the event that a project is declared ineligible in step 1, it may resubmit under a subsequent call, provided that it addresses each of the eligibility issues.
Project development after step 1 approval
The period between step 1 and step 2 submission is crucial. Comprehensive support will be offered by the Joint Secretariat and the contact points to maximise the chances of approval (individual meetings, workshops etc.). This period will approximately last for 6 months.
Following step 1 approval, the applicant should contact the Joint Secretariat (JS) as soon as possible to meet, discuss the recommendations and agree on an action plan until the final submission of the full application.
Step 2 submission of the full application form The full application form must be submitted online by the deadline set by the programme.
Step 2 application forms will then be assessed against a second set of eligibility and quality assessment criteria; see section 4.3.
As for step 1, the Joint Secretariat will notify all projects of the outcome of the Monitoring Committee decisions.
The partnership shall submit a scanned version of the signed partnership agreement (in pdf format only) together with the step 2 application form in the eMS in order to avoid any delay to the start of the project. If the decision is positive and no signed partnership agreement has been submitted with the step 2 application form, the notification will contain a deadline for submission (within 2 months from the Monitoring Committee meeting). If the signed agreement has not been submitted by the set deadline, the subsidy contract will not be valid and the project will be rejected.
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