As former director “EU Programme & project management” at VLAIO (Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship), he was in charge of the Interreg portfolio and team at VLAIO. Part of his role was also to connect Interreg with other EU funding programmes managed or followed up directly by VLAIO or other entities of the Flemish government (Regional ERD, ESF, CAP, Horizon, CEF, Digital Europe…).
Since 2003 David has also actively participated in the preparation, development and evaluation of several EU policies esp. in the fields of Interreg, Cohesion, regional development, state aid, smart specialisation and public procurement.
Being from mixed origins David is a true European, “citizen of the world” and fluent in five EU languages (Dutch, French, English, Italian, German).
What motivated you to join Interreg NWE?
Interreg NWE has been one of my entrance doors into the Interreg world. NWE is also the place where I have spent nearly all of my life and which I know very well. Being in charge of Interreg at my previous employer, NWE has somehow always been part of my day-to-day professional horizon.
A second element was the European and international context of the job in combination with the opportunity to make Europe and the many advantages of the Union tangible in the NWE area.
You can say that I am driven by a rock solid belief in the power of relationships and cooperation between individuals and organisations, averse to any conventions, mental or institutional barriers.
Another element for me is the fact that a Joint Secretariat is primarily occupied with concrete projects. The core business of the Joint Secretariat is to operationalize the NWE Cooperation Programme and the policies upon which it was based into concrete action and projects. The beauty of this is that you can experience the direct influence and impact of your actions and activities.
Finally, the job content and tasks are very diverse, intellectually challenging but rewarding and rich on the human level. A lot about my role is about working with, connecting and inspiring citizens, organisations, stakeholders and Members States towards a common goal.
Our cooperation programme is focused on challenges and evolutions that affect at once the everyday life and long term development of our NWE territory and its citizens. Think for example about access to affordable and clean energy, clean and resilient living environments in cities and in rural areas, access to the best possible health care.
In my view, our role is to inspire, influence and initiate cooperation action(s) that lead to better, more sustainable and cost-efficient solutions in the long run around such crucial developments.
By bringing together like-minded persons, organisations and projects we also act as broker on behalf of the EU and Member States that are ready to invest money in initiatives that serve and pursue the long terms goals of the Union.
Last but not least, we also act as a broker towards other EU and/or national or regional funding programmes. We direct for example initiatives that fall outside our own scope towards other programmes. In other scenarios we provide upstream, downstream and even parallel funding to initiatives that are at the interface of several EU funds at once or that are at different levels of development.
You were involved in the process dedicated to shaping the current NWE Programme, which has strong green and social aspects. What challenges and opportunities do you see for the current Interreg NWE Programme ?
I definitely believe in the momentum that a new funding period with freshly available funds creates to generate new and innovative projects.
We also have much to capitalise upon: a programme brand that is well-known since Interreg IIIB, a rich diversity and vast number of previously funded projects and experiences, a considerable amount of co-funding means for an Interreg programme and a pre-existing community of NWE beneficiaries and stakeholders with a strong track record and having attracted many rewards and prizes in the past.
Furthermore “cooperation” and also the “smart-green-just transition” topics we deal with are high on the agenda all over Europe with a greater than ever alignment of policies from the local over the regional towards EU level. I see in this many opportunities to co-create and co-fund projects and solutions of common benefit with other levels of governance and funding programmes in order to optimise the leverage of our combined funding.
Finally, the technological means we have at our disposal to fulfil our role as programme, i.e. influence behaviour, disseminate knowledge, connect people and organisations have never been greater and as accessible as today.
In terms of challenges and a backdrop of the policy alignment I hinted to is the complex funding landscape beneficiaries are faced with. As such, it is often hard for beneficiaries to choose which programme is the best fit for them.
Our territory is also quite broad with a large number and high diversity of challenges. Challenges also materialise themselves quite differently depending on the location. Therefore, many of them require a tailor-made approach depending on their location. This last bit is not always easy to accommodate or re-concile with the approach in terms of joint transnational development that we stand for.
Where would you like to see Interreg North-West Europe by the end of the programming period in 2027?
For me a programme is not only a collection of funded projects but a living organism encompassing all the levels of programming. However, allow me to limit my reply for this first interview to the “governance” aspects of the programme.
First and for all, my aim is to create and sustain a programme governance where all entities and organisations involved (from the very EU level until the very local project result or beneficiary level) work and move together towards the realisation of our programme objectives. The NWE programme governance for me will be cohesive, self-critical, agile and entrepreneurial and strongly connected to the outside world.
We will also have a clear NWE programme identity or brand in which we distinguish ourselves not in opposition to but in relation to other programmes in the bigger EU funding landscape. Ultimately, beneficiaries and programmes in our ecosystem will have a clear and joint understanding of the overall funding picture and synergies will happen very naturally between our projects and programmes.
To that end, I will want us to invest in community building with like-minded programmes, outside and inside of Interreg. To better use and tap into already existing networks and eco-systems of Member States, other Interreg and EU programmes, beneficiaries and stakeholders, 3rd parties…
As a programme, I also want us to lead on proving the added value and benefits of cooperation in general but also the type of cooperation we stand for as a transnational programme. We should therefore pursue the current attention for capturing results but increase our attention to what happens after our funding ends and disseminate this knowledge.
Last but not least: I want us to be a programme that is considered and acknowledged at all levels of our execution chain (local, regional, EU…) as fair, attractive and easy to run projects with.