In this interview, Ruut Louwers goes over the 13 years he served as Director of Interreg NWE and gives an overview of the Programme's main achievements, his legacy and his vision for the future before passing on the baton to Mathieu Mori in September.
Farewell NWE! by Ruut Louwers, Programme Director in the last 13 years
Which achievements are you most proud of in your 13 years as Programme Director?
I like to think of my time at Interreg North-West Europe as 20 years - 7 as one of the Programme representatives for the Netherlands and 13 in my role of Programme manager. These 20 years of cooperation gave life to more than 300 projects implemented over 3 programming periods which made a real difference on the ground thanks to measurable results. These projects all contributed to the positive image of the NWE Programme, and even more so those which won important EU prizes in the last few years. Bio Base NWE and CAN won REGIOSTARS Awards and E=0 and cVPP both were EU sustainable energy week winners.
The big cluster of projects in the earlier programmes that largely contributed to the reduction of vulnerability of the catchment areas of Rhine and Meuse is also remarkable. Currently, our groups on hydrogen and ocean energy particularly stand out in my view.
I am especially proud of the fact that WE – as in all people from all Programme bodies together – have managed to support our projects to achieve results. Collaboration between all programme stakeholders is the most important asset of NWE and I believe I have helped getting everyone’s interest in a shared direction. Something else I take pride in is staff members making the job their own, taking it as a starting point to build their responsibilities, interests and specific expert roles further up. I saw this happen both within the Secretariat and in the network of Contact Points and I trust I facilitated people from all Programme bodies to grow into their roles.
Has the Interreg NWE programme reached its objectives?
I would have to say that the question of the aim of Interreg has never been answered completely and satisfactorily - which can make work harder for the staff when it comes to providing advice on project ideas. I pointed out many times that we should have one unique definition of the aim of Cohesion Policy and the specific role that Interreg should fulfil in this framework. There are many interpretations of programme objectives and even though the Treaty  seems clear, books are filled with different approaches to Cohesion Policy, Territorial Cohesion and the role of Interreg. Some approaches focus on economic growth and competitiveness, others on balanced growth, some on territorial disparities and some – with which I disagree – even state that the aim of Interreg is cooperation.
NWE is known for opening debates on the fundamentals of our work, feeding an attitude of continuous (self)-reflection on the European level, on the Programme level and most importantly, on the project level always with the intention of improving the impact of EU territorial cooperation.
Looking at the two narratives agreed by NWE’s participating countries, increased competitiveness and balanced territorial development, I think the current portfolio of projects is really contributing to them both while addressing societal challenges such as the reduction of materials use and of GHG emissions across the North-West territory.
 (TEU art 3.3 “[…] It shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among Member States. […]” and TFEU art 174 “[…] In particular, the Union shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions. […]”)
What can you wish for the future Interreg North-West Europe programme (2021-2027)?
It comes as no surprise I hope the new Programme finds its identity and develops a strong narrative as a basis, not only for all the work ahead with the new projects, but also for NWE to distinguish itself from the vast array of other funding sources in Europe and its participating countries, so as to make life for applicants easier when deciding whether to turn to NWE or elsewhere for funding.
It is a pity the NWE area will be altered after the UK and Switzerland leave the programme - which is thus moving away from the territorial challenges of the so-called Blue Banana (from Manchester to Genoa) our projects tackled. It would be good if Interreg NWE managed to have projects with British and Swiss partners in the future, therefore expanding cooperation to where it has an added value and proving in practice that we don’t limit our thinking to the Programme map. This could perhaps be done in cooperation with other Interreg programmes.
I wish to my successor, together with the team of the Joint Secretariat and the network of Contact Points, to have an enjoyable time implementing the Programme in a spirit of respectful cooperation with the Member States, the Managing Authority (Region Hauts-de-France), the other three Programmes based in Lille through the GECOTTI, the European Commission, the Certifying Authority, the Audit Authority, the service providers and consultants, the project partners and all other stakeholders, as I myself did, so that NWE remains a highly respected Interreg Programme.
>>> As of 1st September 2020, Mathieu Mori will be the new Programme Director for Interreg NWE. Mathieu has been Secretary General of the Assembly of European Regions for six years. He holds a MSc in European Public Policy (University College London) and a PgCert in historical studies (Oxford University). Mathieu is fluent in English and French. Fond of history, he is a retired pipe-organ player and goes rowing twice a week <<<