Experience in introduction of cross-border cooperation programmes at Polish-Russian border in years 2014-2020

Krzysztof Żęgota
Ph.D., Assistant Professor
Institute of Political Science, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn

Cooperation between the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation and Poland’s northwestern voivodeships have always depended on foreign policy as well as endogenous factors. The development of cross-border cooperation was observed after collapse of Soviet Union and opening the Kaliningrad region for foreign partners. Important influential factor was also the international cooperation environment and the intergovernmental relations mechanisms that developed in the post-Soviet period in the Russian Federation and in Poland after collapse of Eastern Block. This led to opening new opportunities of introduction and development of the regional and local-level mechanisms of international cooperation. Considerable experience was accumulated in collaboration between the Kaliningrad region of Russian Federation (since 1991) and the northwestern voivodeships of Poland.

This experience can be divided into two distinctive periods. The first one covers the years 1991-2014 when the Kaliningrad region was opened to external contacts and created a new opportunities and tools of development of cross-border cooperation. Important factor was also enlargements of the European Union in 2004, which – apart from negative factors related to the emergence of procedural barriers at the external borders of the EU – brought new financing opportunities for implementation of joint cross-border initiatives with foreign partners. Naturally, entities form Poland’s border voivodeships became its principal partners. A crucial event was Poland’s accession to the EU, which created new institutional and program conditions for transboundary cooperation with Russia’s Kaliningrad region. After 2014, the program format of Polish-Russian border cooperation evolved into a major tool for analysing and assessing the region’s relations with Poland’s northeastern voivodeships despite the fact, that the political relations of the Russian Federation with the EU, including Poland, have deteriorated.

In budgetary perspective of the EU for years 2014-2020, financial resources were provided to support cross-border cooperation at the external borders of the EU. With regard to the Polish-Russian border, the Poland-Russia Cross-Border Cooperation Program 2014-2020 was the main program instrument for supporting cross-border cooperation. It was declared that, in a long-term perspective, the successful implementation of the Poland-Russia program for 2014-2020 will contribute to closer integration of the program territory on both sides of the Polish-Russian border. The program included Poland’s Pomeranian, Warmian-Masurian, and Podlaskie voivodeships and Russia’s Kaliningrad region. Its budget totals 62,3 million euro – 41,7 million provided from the EU funds and 20,6 million by the Russian Federation. Grants were allocated for projects aimed at promoting local culture and historical heritage, environmental protection as well as improving transport and communication infrastructure.

The main objective of the Poland-Russia CBC Program 2014-2020 was to support cross-border cooperation in the social, environmental, economic and institutional sphere. The main objective of the Program was development of cooperation in three selected areas (priorities): 1) promotion of local culture and preservation of historical heritage, 2) environmental protection, climate change mitigation and adaptation and improvement of accessibility to the regions, 3) development of sustainable and climate proof transport and communications networks and systems.

The individual priorities included various types of activities. Priority 1 “Cooperating on historical, natural and cultural heritage for their preservation and cross-border development” regarded to joint initiatives and events on promotion and preservation of local culture, history and natural heritage as well as joint projects concerning preparation and realization of investments in tourist infrastructure and services increasing the sustainable use of cultural and natural heritage in the tourism. Priority 2 “Cooperation for the clean natural environment in the cross-border area” included projects aimed at preservation and sustainable use of natural assets such as parks, water supplies, etc., development of CBC to protect valuable ecosystems and endangered species as well as water resources management in connection with climate changes (floods, droughts, water shortages). In turn, within the priority 3 “Accessible regions and sustainable cross-border transport and communication” projects related to joint investments in the quality and accessibility of the social and economic infrastructure, common development of multi-modal transport systems as well as projects aimed at developing and improving the quality and safety of existing communication links would be carried out.

The program supported the implementation of regular projects that were selected in an open competition procedure. Due to the significant delay in the implementation of the program, only one call for proposals within the framework of three priorities was announced: Heritage, Environment and Accessibility (priority „Border Security” is not implemented). Within the framework of the first priority twelve projects were carried out. The projects were connected, among others, with the development of cross-border tourism, joint actions to share the amber heritage, cooperation for the development of preservation of the historical, cultural and natural heritage of the cross-border area as well as the revival of the cultural and historical landscape of the small towns in Russian and Polish areas of the Program.

After 2014, the determinants of Russia’s political relations with the West changed significantly, including relations with the Kaliningrad region neighbours: Poland and Lithuania. The indicator of deterioration of relations was not only the suspension of meetings between the EU and Russian leaders, but also the suspension of local border traffic mechanism on the Polish-Russian border and the sanctions war between Russia and the West. In these difficult conditions, Poland-Russia CBC Program 2014-2020 was implemented. Amid a cooling of intergovernmental ties between Russia and the EU, the very fact of launching a new round of CBS programs was a great success. As a rule, joint projects do not have a political dimension but they directly influence the socioeconomic development of border regions.

Email: krzysztof.zegota@uwm.edu.pl

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