COVID-19 has radically changed the world in a matter of months - it has changed the way we interact with the environment and people, our daily routines, and our social and private spheres. This virus has tragically claimed over one million lives and has affected almost everyone, everywhere.
Territorial cooperation programmes, known as Interreg, exist to create new partnerships across international borders. Many Interreg programmes have worked for decades to make borders intangible; however, in early 2020 the coronavirus hit hard, and those borders became real again - very real.
Despite this, the value of Interreg emerged: in the middle of this pandemic, the partners of cross-border health projects were on the front line, responding to the crisis. In several Interreg projects, with no direct relationship to healthcare, they found a way to adapt their activities to support this joint response. They helped reduce the risk to medical staff as well as install the right equipment where it was needed.
Interact has supported efforts to show how even small actions from many Interreg programmes have helped to improve the Europe-wide response to the crisis. For instance, the RESCUE project, financed by ENI Poland-Belarus-Ukraine, had already purchased ambulances with respirators. The project 'Your health matters!', by Interreg Romania-Bulgaria, had delivered modernisation and life-saving equipment to two hospitals that were used to treat coronavirus patients.
Both inside and outside the EU, Interreg has many examples of where cooperation works. Projects with 3D printers, such as FILA, funded by IPA Italy-Albania-Montenegro, produce crucial medical equipment such as masks, visors and essential parts of ventilators. The TEX-MED alliances project, funded by the ENI CBC Med Programme, mapped a Mediterranean supply chain from Tunisia to Jordan in the south, and from Spain to Greece in the north, that was capable of sourcing scarce medical fabrics.
The examples are numerous and diverse. Interact has summarised a few examples in the publication 'Interreg supports healthcare: How we responded to COVID-19'. There are many more examples in the keep.eu database, which highlights over 100 projects in the fields of health, social services, emergency services and care of the elderly, but also in employment, support to SMEs, entrepreneurship and more.
"in the middle of this pandemic, the partners of cross-border health projects were on the front line, responding to the crisis."
In addition to current partners, projects from the previous cooperation period (2007?2013) have also had a positive impact on the crisis, because the partnerships created years ago have matured and new benefits have arisen from the experience of cooperating. The SHG-Kliniken Vöelklingen hospital, located just a few kilometres from Germany's border with France, is currently admitting COVID-19 patients from France who need critical support. The hospital is a beneficiary of the SANTRANSFOR and COSAN projects, which were both financed by the Interreg programme Grande Région during the period 2007-2013.
All these actions took place in a fast-changing environment with no notice. With more time to prepare for what is to come and new structures now in place to support the road to recovery, Interreg's contribution will be even more relevant in the months and years ahead.