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How to implement the New Operational Programmes succesfully

The new 2021-27 programming period has started and brings many innovations in terms of the shared management of ESI funds. There are new, more specific objectives for existing funds such as ERDF and ESF+, but there are also completely new funds in place. We asked Merike Niitepõld, Head of Managing Authority Central Baltic Programme, (Regional Council of South-West Finland): How do you prepare a needs-driven and results-orientated programme? And how do you negotiate with the EU Commission?

Ms Niitepõld, in the “New Operational Programmes” European seminar you share your expertise and experience in preparing and negotiating programmes within the framework of the ESI funds. What experience can you pass on to the participants?

Merike Niitepõld: I have been involved in three rounds of negotiations. The first one was for the period 2007-2013. Each period has been different. In my presentation I’m going through some of the lessons learned maybe in this wider perspective, but focusing on the most recent experience.

I have learned at least that the programming should focus on what really matters and drafting the programme based on the needs of the participating regions. We have also worked a lot with simplifications, which has helped us focus from details to the big picture.

But maybe the biggest experience is to just understand the meaning of the programming. It sets the basis for all the future work and the potential for what results we can expect to achieve. That’s why it’s really important to do this ground work very well.

From the programme to project: Which steps need to be taken?

Here I reflect on three crucial steps. The work of course starts with drafting the programme document and setting the strategy. After that, the assessment of projects should follow the approved strategy and the quality threshold should be high enough. And finally, of course, there is the implementation of projects. It is important to monitor and support the projects well, so that they can really lead to the results we had expected. I like to say that we are very much in the same boat. The projects need the programme and the programme needs the projects.

What is your advice: How can you develop a roadmap for transforming an OP into a good quality project?

I think the roadmap builds on the steps above: setting the strategy, having a solid assessment methodology and then supporting ongoing projects. Each programme probably needs to do their own roadmap, one that suits their programme culture and regional specificities. But I would suggest that the main advice is to keep the quality threshold high at all stages. There are so many steps of decision-making and some loss of quality can happen at each of them. If you’re not careful, and if there’s loss at each stage, the project can end up much worse than you had anticipated.

And then I think support to the projects is important. We should listen to what kind of support they need, what are their questions – and try to guide them in the right direction.

Thank you for the interview!

Merike Niitepõld is Head of Managing Authority Central Baltic Programme, Regional Council of South-West Finland. Since 2011 she has been working at the Managing Authority of the Central Baltic Interreg Programme. Before that Merike Niitepõld had both worked in the Joint Secretariat of the Central Baltic programme and been involved in the programming for the periods 2007-2013 and 2014-2020. In the years 2001-2008 Merike Niitepõld worked in the management of Interreg projects and other environmental projects.

Are you interested in this topic? Get the latest information in our seminar New Operational Programmes 2021-27