Events Ascame/ January 29, 2024/ Ascame projects, Featured

Making cooperation happen in the Mediterranean. This is the main objective of Interreg NEXT MED Programme, the largest EU-funded external cooperation programme in the Mediterranean Sea Basin. The vision of this programme is to contribute to a smart, sustainable and fair development for all across the Mediterranean Basin by supporting a balanced, long-lasting and far-reaching cooperation as well as multilevel governance. In the following interview, Vincent Ernoux, Coordinator of the Western Mediterranean at the Interreg NEXT MED Programme, shares some insights on how to foster cooperation among all the countries by fostering public and private partnerships and by empowering women entrepreneurs and the youth. According to Mr. Ernoux, cooperation is key to face current challenges in the Mediterranean, such as sustainable transition, digital transformation & innovation ecosystem or the new geopolitical scenario.


We would like to start knowing a bit more about the Interreg NEXT MED Programme. What are the main objectives of the programme and who can be beneficiated from it?

We like to say that Interreg is the biggest territorial cooperation programme in the Mediterranean but also the most beautiful one and we’re quite convinced of it. Our goal is to address the biggest Mediterranean challenges (like water scarcity or the creation of jobs by SMEs) through joint projects using the biggest tool at our disposal with is cooperation. Any legal organization based in the Mediterranean since at least 2 years and interested in addressing the challenges of the region can apply and benefit from our funds.

This is a European cooperation programme that brings together public administrations, private sector, universities, research centers and civil society. In what sense cooperation is key to advance towards a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable Mediterranean? 

Cooperation means everything to our programme. For more than 12 years we have been demonstrating that problems can be solved, and relevant innovations brought by empowering multidisciplinary and balanced partnerships. The power of cooperation is that it creates real, solid, integrated and long-lasting alliances between Mediterranean organizations that share a common goal. Organizations from the two shores want to cooperate and are stronger together. Interreg NEXT MED Programme has just to set the right framework for it.

What is the role of the Mediterranean chambers of commerce in shaping the future of the Mediterranean?

It is massive. Without entering in the battle of statistics, we can affirm that MSMEs are the backbone of the Mediterranean economies and so we consider them in Interreg NEXT MED. There is no future of the Mediterranean without stronger MSMEs. Unlike multinational companies, MSMEs need the crucial help of chambers of commerce to increase their potential. I guess Mediterranean chambers of commerce can be especially relevant in helping them addressing national and international markets and become economically viable. The chambers are natural multipliers of talent, and they should worry about all the brilliant business ideas that are born dead in the region because of a lack of support. This is not the fault of the chambers of course, we’re all responsible for it and we all have to contribute to an ever-better business ecosystem. Interreg NEXT MED is committed to that idea.

There is no future of the Mediterranean without stronger MSMEs. All of them need the crucial help of chambers of commerce to increase their potential, address national and international markets and become economically viable

Do you agree with the sentence “Mediterranean countries have more things in common than those that separate them”? What is the key to stay more united and connected?
I fully agree though of course we can’t deny that differences exist. But if we think of our main challenges like adapting to climate change, create jobs and fight structural unemployment, there is little doubt that the situation of Spain or Greece is more similar to the one of Tunisia than to the one of Germany. We see it everyday in our programme through our projects. Our climate, our geography and our natural heritage all lead us to common goals. Think of agriculture, we have everything in common and in fact, that is why we’re natural competitors. But our programme goes beyond competition and opens the eyes of the Mediterranean regions and they realize that they can also benefit from one another and that the common interest of the Mediterranean brand is more important than internal rivalries.

You have also been involved in the INTECMED Programme, which aims to develop an integrated innovation ecosystem at a local level to support technological transfer and commercialization of research results. What is the role of the young entrepreneurs in the future of the Mediterranean? 

At Interreg NEXT MED we think that the role of the youth in shaping the future of the Mediterranean is paramount. The young people of today are the leaders of tomorrow, they will be the ones that will take decisions and the ones that will have the capacity to enforce sustainable change. In the meantime, we need the innovative ideas of the youth because they renew our perspective, and they provide us a different and updated vision of being an entrepreneur. Without that, we would be turning around forever. The programme has understood this and for the first time ever for an Interreg Programme, we will have a part of the first call for proposals that will be implemented by the youth and for the youth.

Within the framework of MedaWeek, panelists talked about empowering women entrepreneurs in the Mediterranean. What is the solution to face this challenge and to reduce discrimination and address gender inequality?

There is still a deficit of women entrepreneurs in the region and a programme like ours must be aware of this. We have had projects in the past that have dealt with this question and have provided solutions to women entrepreneurs. It is not enough, and we must continue in that way. Women are among the main target groups of our programme and as such, projects are free to address their needs and to propose new solutions to reduce any type of gender inequality. In my opinion, what should be done is to increase the level of support to any group of people that are more vulnerable than average and if women, in some countries, in some sectors, are in that situation, the challenge is clear. Any type of tool is welcome, the point is to tear town obstacles.

Another great challenge in the region is accelerating the green transition in all the sectors and countries. The Mediterranean suffers 20% more than other regions from the consequences of climate change. What are your main recommendations to move towards the sustainable transition in the region?
We have included four specific objectives on climate change and the environment in our programme, and we plan to have a specific call for proposals on green transition this 2024, so we have fully embraced the need to respond quicky to the climate threat that is looming more in the Mediterranean than anywhere else in the planet. We have identified four major challenges for our projects to work on: increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies, making a sustainable use of water, adopting specific actions to fight against climate change and building a Mediterranean circular economy. Our projects will decide how to address these challenges but among the actions that we recommend, you will find the implementation of pilot actions to test and scale-up tools that have already been identified as promising, the use of the results of the research that are too frequently over underrated, awareness raising campaigns, maybe especially targeting the youth, for a deeper impact, and, finally, actions to improve the policies and public services.

We identified 4 major challenges for our projects to work on sustainable transition: increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies, making a sustainable use of water, adopting actions to fight against climate change impact and building a Mediterranean circular economy

How can a traditional sector enter the green era by applying the principles of circular economy?
Well, we’re happy to receive that question because we’ve been financing actions in that sense. Specifically, a project called RE-MED with a French lead beneficiary (CEREMA) proved that innovation could be used to create a circular economy where nobody believed it could happen, in the construction sector. A prototype road has been built with circular economy wastes in Tunisia and it is absolutely fantastic because our project has been the game-changer that has made this massive change possible. I would say that we need the right people, compelling and inspiring people to lead the transition and to convince the other sectors to follow them. Of course, then, we have to show that circular economy solutions are economically viable.

Finally, could you share with us the next European calls addressed to the chambers of commerce?
We have launched our first call for proposals in December 2023 and it will stay open at least until the 28th March 2024. We plan to launch a second call for proposals in late 2024 to select projects that will propose actions focused on producing green results. You can follow us our new website and our social networks.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *