Somewhere on the South East Europe Program's Web site is a list of 42 projects - the first batch under the initiative, which seeks to promote transnational cooperation in the region.
The SEE Program Monitoring Committee approved the projects during its third meeting, held March 10-11 in Vienna, Austria. The roster was from a longer list of initial proposals received - 821 - in response to the first call for proposals published early May 2008.
Launched in March 2008, the SEE Program comes with a mission to foster "balanced territorial development and territorial integration" or reduce territorial disparities. It is one of the 13 transnational cooperation programs created by the European Commission for the European Union's 2007-2013 fiscal period.
"What differentiates the South East Europe Programme is not only the number of countries participating in it, 16 countries, which makes it the program with the largest cooperation area, but also the diversity of the participating countries," the program's Web site stated.
The participating countries are Albania, Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and Moldova. Certain regions in Italy and Ukraine are also included in the program.
The SEE Program concentrates on four priority areas: innovation, environment, accessibility and sustainable growth areas. Each priority area has a corresponding "axis" and specific "areas of intervention" to help achieve the program's objectives.
With a budget of 228 million euros ($303 million) and an average 2 million euros per grant, the program could likely only fund around 140 to 150 projects through 2013, according to Ivan Curzolo, who heads the SEE Program's Project Management and Development Unit. The SEE Program can finance up to 85 percent of project costs; it expects project partners to provide the rest.
The "2 million [euro] average looks quite in line with the standard resources required for properly implementing a good transnational project with a life span of 36 months," Curzolo said.
The March meeting ended a two-step funding competition that lasted eight months. From 821, the group of applicants shrank to 95, which the program invited to submit a full application form. After a further evaluation, 71 of 90 received applications were deemed to have met eligibility criteria. Eligibility is extended to a wide range of organizations from the 16 countries under coverage, although the program is more oriented toward public bodies.
According to Curzolo, many of the projects targeted the fourth priority axis, which seeks the "development of transnational synergies for sustainable growth areas." He expected the trend because, he said, "this is a field tailored for small and medium organizations, such as municipalities and associations."
Another popular priority area, he said, is innovation and entrepreneurship, which pertains to the strongly innovation-based farm and biomedicine sectors. This component, Curzolo noted, "is not always easily related to the context of Southeast Europe."
A number of applicants also sought funding for environmental projects, primarily feasibility studies to create transnational structures or national park networks. Some research establishments proposed exchange of know-how on topics such as fire prevention or assessment of hydrological risk, Curzolo said.
The source of grant money differs depending on the location of applicants. The European Regional Development Fund backs projects by applicants from EU member states while the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance supports grantees from Balkan countries. This, therefore, has implications on the funding volume and number of projects awarded to EU and non-EU member countries. Projects from EU member states did not have a monetary ceiling in the first call for proposals but projects backed by IPA had to observe a maximum of 300,000 euros but not less than 50,000 euros. Also, the first call for proposals allowed the 2007 IPA funding to be used for projects but only 30 percent of ERDF funding for the same year.
But Curzolo said such policy could change.
"It would depend on the type of call the monitoring committee will use in the future [one vs. two steps] and what kind of projects the SEE Program would like to support, for example big strategic project or smaller locally focused actions," he said.
Because of the transnational nature of the program, projects involve many partners from different countries. According to Curzolo, the average partnership in the first round involved 12 partners.
"Partnerships should be as large as required to reach the projects objectives but as small as possible in order to remain manageable and flexible," he said, adding that "partnerships should not be artificially ‘inflated.'"
The SEE Program intends to issue four to five calls for proposals through 2013. The next will happen later in 2009. Curzolo provided hints on what prospective applicants should do to be competitive.
According to the program official, successful proposals had the following important elements: solid partnership; an ability to have an impact on the whole program area and, at the same time, allow for smooth management; a detailed work plan featuring activities with clear transnational relevance; a clear communication plan; concrete outputs and results; and a clear vision on what to do after public funding is over.
He also suggested that applicants make their expressions of interest as detailed as possible. Even during the first step, proposals should be able to identify partners, and include budgets and clearly elaborated activities.
The SEE Program, similar to other large EU funding mechanisms, comes with a long and complex list of regulations. Curzolo said this necessitates a careful study, especially of ERDF and IPA rules, and general experience with EU grant applications.
The SEE Program guidelines are specific when it comes to budgeting. Applicants are urged to "put extra care into writing out the budget allocation per work package, per budget line and per period allocation." Once the proposal makes it to the second stage, the budget cannot easily be changed. Projects are also expected to be ready to start after approval.
The guidelines also highly recommend that applicants get in touch with their respective national contact points well ahead of submission deadlines in order "to better focus the content of projects and to check the compliance with the relevant national and regional regulations."