DG REGIO: ERNACT, a story from the birth of interregional cooperation

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The ERNACT project offered a significant promise in promoting economic and social cohesion to increase cross-border and interregional cooperation
10 March 2021 - ERNACT  project
An ERNACT meeting in early 90s.

ERNACT turns 30 this year and, to commemorate this big achievement, we would like to share with you the highlights of the network and what have we learnt in this cooperation journey since DG Regio (Directorate General - Regional and Urban Policy department, responsible for EU policy on regions and cities) supported our creation

Our story commenced three decades ago, in 1991, when representatives from Donegal County Council (Ireland) and Derry City Council (Northern Ireland) met at County House in the town of Lifford (County Donegal) to start planning ERNACT’s strategy and focus. 

At the very beginning, ERNACT was not the consistent international network that nowadays works with over 50 partner regions in Europe and Canada. ERNACT (“European Regions’ Network for the Application of Communications Technology”) was born as an interregional pilot project aiming at integrating and applying modern technologies to fulfill the needs of local and regional authorities. It became one of the first twelve interregional projects that were approved in December 1990 by DG Regio. These twelve projects were part of a European Commission’s programme to promote engagement and cooperation between regional and local authorities across Europe. ERNACT General Manager, Colm Mc Colgan, remembers that it was part of the reference to improve the European economic and social cohesion: “the thinking behind it was that, in general, if you could get peripheral parts of Europe to cooperate with more central parts, then, that would increase economic and social conversions and cohesion”. 

Since the early stages, ERNACT has always realised about how important was to get regions involved, bringing Councillors together to encourage a listening process and build a common framework of action. The first partnership brought together a number of peripheral and central local and regional authorities to undertake the work together in applying modern telecommunications to enhance the performance of their functions and, during the process, to establish interregional collaboration between them. The first participating authorities in the ERNACT ‘project’ were: Aalborg Kommune (Denmark), Derry City Council (Northern Ireland), Donegal County Council and Galway County Council (Ireland), Leiedal Intercommunale (Belgium) and Provincie Zeeland (Netherlands).  

In order to give a legal status to their role and the big work that it was about to commence, Derry and Donegal established a European Economic Interest Grouping that soon started receiving strategic direction and assistance by technologists and public representatives from each participating authorities. “A preliminary assessment indicated that there were major deficiencies in the way communications technology was applied by the partners”, explains Colm. Some factors were identified at that time, among them, a narrowly defined information technology, failure to keep pace with the advancement in communications technology and lack of adequate finance to improve technology. The ERNACT pilot project sought to address these deficiencies. The need to communicate and disseminate information was central to the work, by sharing experience and expertise they were going to create efficiency. 

According to ERNACT’s General Manager, the cost of saving opportunities which the technology offered, the greater efficiencies which it could create and its potential for development of new local services were, to a large extent, untested or unexplored at this level at the beginning of 90s. “The increasing integration of Europe had created an awareness that local and regional authorities should collaborate with each other”, he adds. As a consequence of the joint work and interregional cooperation, some results were achieved. The partnership created a number of new interregional public information systems and services and they made possible a real transfer of know-how and technology.

The ERNACT project offered a significant promise in promoting economic and social cohesion to increase cross-border and interregional communication and cooperation, a changing relationship between local and regional authorities and all those communities whom they have been serving during the last 30 years. 

And so, ERNACT’s long story of cooperation and exchange of experience began.
Stay tuned for more!

Click here to email  Ianire Renobales at ERNACT for further information

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