Love your neighbour, it might pay off

Written by Riikka Holster, Programme Manager of Kolarctic CBC.

It is natural for people to communicate with their neighbours. We want to say hello to our neighbours and invite them for coffee. There is often an unspoken cooperation agreement between neighbours, and for example, yard care equipment can be owned together. Getting along and communicating with neighbours also across national borders has been vital throughout the ages: people have exchanged or bought across the border goods that could not be found in one’s own country. Wife or husband has often been found on the other side of the border.

The cross-border cooperation programmes supported by the EU have been created to serve the desire and need for cooperation on a larger scale than the individual level, to enable cooperation between countries and regions, and to support joint development activities.

30 Years of programme-based cooperation

Cooperation and joint development projects between the North-Calotte and northern regions of Northwest Russia, have been supported within the framework of the Kolarctic CBC Programme and the preceding cooperation programmes for about thirty years. The central idea of the programmes has been to support and develop the ancient cross-border cooperation that has been practiced in this area throughout history, and in this way to take care of the vitality of the northern regions. Arctic regions are challenged and united by e.g. demanding climate and vulnerable nature, sparse population, long distances, and nowadays to the greatest extent also climate change. Therefore, it’s vitally important for organisations in the area to join forces, to improve living conditions and increase earning opportunities. Thanks to the joint development work, the area has high level cold climate know-how related to e.g. technology, construction, and transport. This know-how is of interest to other countries as well, which offers new business opportunities.

An increase of cooperation was predicted

The first projects within the Kolarctic CBC 2014-2020 programme started in the autumn of 2018. At that time, the change that had occurred in the operating environment after the programme preparation was immediately visible.  The period of programme preparation, around the years 2012-2013, was a time of growth, which could be seen i.a. as an increase in trade between Europe and Russia, an increase in the number of tourists and, of course, an increase in the number of border crossings. The Programme was naturally designed for these purposes, and the most central themes of the Programme’s strategy were, in addition to environmental themes and commercial cooperation, development of transport links and the capacity of border crossing points. When the first projects started, the direction had turned the other way, and trade and the number of passengers had started to decline. The imbalance was corrected by transferring funds from priorities for the development of connections and border crossings to better implemented priorities, i.e. environmental development and adaptation to climate change, and development of business in various sectors, which remained relevant.


Kolarctic CBC 2014-2020 Programme has supported, for example, development of energy efficiency and facility management of buildings in the Arctic area, re-using and recycling of concrete wastes, and biotechnological methods for rehabilitating coastal areas contaminated by oil spills. Further, the financed projects have restored arctic rivers, studied growing threats faced by fish populations due to climate change, cage culture industry and diseases, as well as created new practices for conservation of freshwater pearl mussel populations in the river ecosystems. The problem of meeting the demand  and supply of professionally qualified labour, which can be seen in the employment of graduates, has been mitigated by joint projects with involvement of companies and university and vocational students. And finally, traffic connections have been improved, e.g. making roads and transport channels safer, more fluent, and more comfortable for passengers and cargo – to mention just a few topics.

These all are great and important achievements and results, which with no doubt have benefited the sparsely populated northern regions and created new exportable Arctic innovations. All project partners from all four participating countries have played an important role in achieving the results.

The programme period 2014-2020 was challenging

The programme period 2014-2020 was challenging for all the northern EU external border programmes. In the Kolarctic CBC Programme, the first call for project proposals was implemented at the beginning of 2017, and the first decisions on financing the projects were made in June of the same year. However, the projects could start not earlier than in October 2018, after the Financing Agreement between the European Union and the Russian Federation had entered into force. This meant a gap of 16 months between the decisions on financing and the start of the projects.

After this, projects and the Programme could be carried out normally for 14 months until February 2020, when the COVID-19 restrictions hit. The restrictions significantly hampered the project implementation, when field work, trainings, events, etc. could not be carried out as planned. All meetings and events had to be edited into online versions, and field work could be carried out separately in each country only. Big part of trainings had to be cancelled. Numerous changes had to be made to project plans, budgets, schedules, and project administration.

And then finally, in early 2022, it felt like the COVID-19 restrictions were left behind, and everybody expected the normalization of the cooperation and project implementation. Joint meetings and events, and border crossings were highly expected. However, due to the Russian military aggression in Ukraine, the European Commission suspended in March 2022 the Financing Agreement between the European Union and the Russian Federation and at the same time the participation of the Russian Federation and Russian project partners in the Programme and project implementation. Since then, the projects were completed by the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian partners, which again required a lot of changes to project plans, budgets, schedules, and project and Programme administration in general. Due to the absence of the Russian partners and their expertise, a lot of goals set to the projects were not achieved. The preparation of the new programme for the programme period 2021-2027 was also suspended.

As a result of decades of cooperation, the programmes had managed to create truly joint structures, which both the European Commission and the participating countries and regions had wanted. Representatives of all participating countries were involved in the Programme administration, and project selection and other decision-making took place jointly. Even the national funding of Finland and Russia was pooled in such a way that the measures in both countries could be cross-supported with the funding of both countries. The difficulty of suspending the participation of the Russian Federation and Russian partners showed how joint everything in fact was: cutting off one participating country required huge administrative and practical efforts. Returning to cooperation, everything must be started from the very beginning.


The project partner organisations have shown excellent commitment, resilience and flexibility in challenging conditions, and respectable creativity in adapting their project plans as required by the circumstances, to complete the projects. They deserve a lot of thanks for that. The Programme’s Managing Authority has also been able to stick to the schedule for finalising and closing the Programme. So, all in all, the Programme has been successful, it has achieved significant results and met the goals that were reasonably possible to meet. It has been a great pleasure and honour to take part in the work.