The regional program and the operating system of the NUTS II region

Another reflection by Professor António Covas

One of the most complex implementation problems for the next decade is the preparation of the operational, political and technical-administrative system, programming, planning, execution and control, of the numerous investment commitments contained in the recovery and resilience program (PRR), in the multiannual financial framework (MFF), in the various European initiative programmes, in the framework of loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB), in the context of our annual budgets, beyond, of course, loans granted by the banks and the shareholders' equity of the applicants beneficiaries of all these funds.

In this universe, regulations and the labyrinth of procedures, slippages and inefficiencies, execution arrhythmias, European conditionality, budget restrictions and captivations, the heavy sequels of Covid-19, bad debt and lack of equity capital of our investors, will be some of the most frequent episodes in this context. It is a good pretext for a brief reflection on the subject. Let's look at some possible and likely approaches.

1. A bureaucratic-administrative approach from the user's perspective

In this first approach, we are simple users and users, the operating system is essentially made up of protocols, processes and procedures (PPP) on a digital platform for competitions and applications where the European and national algorithm master reigns. In the end, it all comes down to general and global commitment, contracting, fulfillment and payment fees.

2. An articulated multilevel approach to investment programs

In this second approach, the local, regional and national investment agendas are articulated with each other in time and space, so that this entire exercise does not become a patchwork of public and private expenditure, without any coherence and consistency. Over a decade's horizon, it seems smart and very sensible to reconcile the calendars of six investment agendas: the territory's digital infrastructure (1), the digital literacy master plan (2), the digitization of public administration (3), smart cities and creative (4) the digitization of the business universe of SMEs (5), the digitization of the collaborative society and economy (6). The regional operational program is the appropriate framework for regionalization and realization of these investments.

3. An articulated approach to the various financial instruments

In this third approach, European and national support programs open the door to numerous financial instruments with very different vocations and many investments will seek a contribution according to their nature and purpose. I am talking about European and national (budgetary) funds, venture capital companies, investment funds, loans from the new Banco de Fomento and the European Investment Bank, investment banking, credits from commercial banks, State-guaranteed loans, participatory financing, among the most important. I think it would be wise to have an articulated operational vision of this financial engineering and a lot of technical advice in this regard.

4. A “regional-based digital ecosystem” approach

The NUTS II region is a privileged center of territorial rationality. In addition to the transversal investments applied in the region, the regionally-based digital ecosystem would be composed of the following instruments:
– A Regional Innovation Hub that will function as a data center, start-up incubator and coworking space,
– A digital program of citizen shops in municipalities, but also to introduce teleservices, in various areas,
– A regional program to digitize the green economy and the circular economy,
– A regional support program for SMEs and start-ups in the areas of the blue economy, green economy and circular economy and respective collaborative platforms.

This “regional-based digital ecosystem” approach will have its central core in the respective CCDR and will demand a new architecture of regional services, in particular the organization of the back office front office of all regional public services, which will also include a regional office for digital advice and urban analytics.


Final Notes

It would be a deep disappointment that a “profuse, confused and disordered combination” of these four approaches were, in practice, the preferred option, for some arrangement of convenience. Admittedly, the next decade will be a very complex period where many imponderable factors intersect. I am referring to objectives that, at this moment, it is not possible to sequence: stabilization and emergence, mitigation and recovery, modernization and transformation of the Portuguese economy and society. However, given the great uncertainty of this period, it is not credible that the country does not have a solid and consistent guide and arguments in terms of planning and carrying out investments.

In particular, it is not believable that the prevailing approach turns into a bureaucratic-administrative labyrinth: at the micro level, very varied competitions that open and close unevenly according to the procedures of the European and national algorithm, at the macro level, a national investment plan which follows the rhythm of deficits, debt and captivations due to the conditionality of European policy, at the meso-territorial level, regional operational programs without sufficient autonomy to differentiate and consolidate its rural and regional development investment program.

In the end, no one would understand that so much public and private investments only served to return to the old normality of average and monotony in terms of economic growth. We are at the end of 2020. After the first public presentations, I do not see, in the programs already announced, political-administrative innovations and sufficient guarantees at the regional level that what is coming will be very different from what is already there. The indirect election of the president of the CCDR is not enough, a new architecture for regional services and a strong regionalization of the operational program and the corresponding investment plan are essential.

Finally, I leave a proposal for an operating system for the readers' appreciation, in particular, thinking specifically about the approach of the “regional-based digital ecosystem”:

– Create the Ministry of Planning and Territorial Administration, replacing the planning and cohesion ministries, as well as an independent monitoring and monitoring structure,

– Form a Regional Executive Council chaired by the president of the CCDR and materialize a new architecture of regional services based on a digital “territorial analytical platform” based at the CCDR,

– Based on the planning and planning policy guidelines and the Regional Operational Programme, formalize a “delegation of powers contract” from the central and local administration to the sub-regional capitals of the CIMs under the framework law nº 50/2018;

- This delegation of powers opens the door to a Territorial Development Contract in each CIM and to a "level of CIM subsidies", with a view to complying with the framework law on transfer of powers and DL No. 102/2018 of 29th November and appointing, to that end, a dedicated mission or administration structure in each CIM;

– Create in each NUTS II an “school of arts and technologies” with the mission of supporting the digital transformation of society, promoting the digital literacy of citizens and training a generation of young entrepreneurs in the digital age,

– As part of the European, national and regional programmes, implement an ambitious program of cross-border cooperation for the Euroregions and Eurocities on the Iberian coast.

So let's wait for the next chapters.


Author António Covas is a Retired Full Professor at the University of Algarve



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