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Still no EU funds for Russian project partners at the horizon
Discouraging news for project applicants to the Baltic Sea Region programme intending to cooperate closely with partners from Russia. Ms Ines von Behr, the European Commission's representative of DG AidCo (the Commission's authority to co-ordinate EU programmes for cooperation with non EU countries) informed the Monitoring Committee that at this time, there are no concrete plans to resume official talks between the Commission and the Russian Federation about releasing financing from the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) for the Baltic Sea Region programme. Negotiations on the Baltic Sea Region programme had failed early this year after it became clear that the Russian Federation had not signed the Financing Agreement for ENPI by the deadline. In contrast to Russia, the second beneficiary country of ENPI funds, Belarus, managed to put a signature on the Financing Agreement on the last possible date of 31 December 2008. Subsequently, project owners can apply for EU funding for cooperation with Belarusian organisations but not with Russian institutions.
The Baltic Sea Region programme's implementation is proceeding at steady pace, but regarding cooperation with Russian organisations, projects seem to end up in a worse situation ever before. In earlier periods, the EU Tacis programme provided co-funding for cooperation with Russian partners. Different application schedules and administrative rules had made this a cumbersome exercise. Since 2005, under the EU Neighbourhood programme, project partners could apply in parallel for EU funds from two different instruments which had considerably facilitated cooperation. High hopes were raised for the present Structural Funds period 2007-2013: one single application to the Baltic Sea Region programme for both EU and Russian partners would have represented a real step forward towards equal participation in joint cooperation. Now it seems that the Baltic Sea Region programme was set back to point zero.
Of the over 20 Million Euros of ENPI funds originally allocated to the Baltic Sea Region programme for cooperation with Russia and Belarus there are still more than 18 Million Euros left after the second application round. Despite all endeavours to secure a large share of it for Belarusian organisations it is likely that most of the funds will be left unused, and might be returned to the European Commission.
It is worth mentioning that despite dull prospects, many project owners have shown good will, and undertake a lot of efforts to continue cooperation with Russian organisations even without EU co-financing.
For the Russian cross-border cooperation programmes (CBC) with Finland and also with Estonia-Latvia, the situation looks brighter. Finland's representatives hope to have the Financing Agreements on the three Finnish ENPI CBC programmes with Russia signed in the coming weeks. Also the Latvian delegation was more optimistic about the ENPI CBC programme between Latvia-Estonia and Russia. After the failure on the Baltic Sea Region programme, priority was now on bringing the negotiations on the cross-border programmes to a successful end, explained Ms von Behr.