Perceptions on the Implementation of the Integrated Territorial Investment Mechanism (ITI) and Its Impact on Sustainable Development and Resilience of Danube Delta.

AuthorProfiroiu, Alina Georgiana
  1. Introduction

    The territorial dimension was one of the Cohesion Policy's priorities in the 2014-2020 programming period (Szilard and Lazar, 2012). In this respect, the policy supported measures for stimulating employment, social inclusion, education, competitiveness and institutional capacity development, using new tools such as integrated strategies (the Integrated Territorial Investment--ITI--mechanism). The purpose of using integrated approaches was to support sustainable local development, to strengthen cities' resilience and to improve the use of the European funds (Kogut-Jaworska, 2019).

    In Romania, the ITI mechanism is implemented in the Danube Delta territory. The focus of ITI is linked to the thematic objectives as stated in the operational programmes. Besides the specific issues regarding the urban areas within the ITI territory, ITI Danube Delta tries to solve the problems of the rural areas within the same territory. Therefore, the ITI targets mainly issues such as: innovation and competitiveness, environmental protection, renewable energy and low carbon economy, regional disparities and employment, maritime challenges, IT&C, being considered a main factor of territorial governance. The reason for introducing the ITI mechanism is that the cohesion policy should focus more on the territorial or place-based dimension and should consider more the specificities of each territory. Because the cohesion policy aims to enhance territorial governance, the ITI mechanism was created in order to approach all the problems encountered within a single territory using only one programme.

    This approach promotes the cooperation between administrative units and the implementation of common projects, facilitating the absorption of non-reimbursable EU funds.

    In this respect, the main objective of the present research is to analyze the process of implementation of the ITI mechanism in the ITI Danube Delta territory and the main problems encountered by the responsible authorities for managing this programme and the beneficiaries of these funds so as to determine if there is an impact of this programme on the development and resilience of this area.

    The article is structured in four main sections: introduction, followed by the second section which presents the literature review regarding the development of the Integrated Territorial Instruments in the European Union, followed by the description of the research methodology (section 3) and the main findings of the study related to the perception of the beneficiaries and employees responsible from the management authorities regarding the implementation of ITI mechanism and its impact on the Danube Delta territory (section 4). In the last section, there are conclusions and recommendations.

  2. The development of Integrated Territorial Instruments in the European Union

    By the end of the 1990s, OECD (2001) proposed a new approach of the regional policy where competitiveness and economic cohesion could be better achieved using regions' endogenous potential based on three principles: 'endogenous development (aimed at enhancing territorial units' own opportunities for expansion); sustainable development (aimed at reconciling the objectives of economic efficiency, social cohesion and ecological balance) and more accountable governance' (OECD, 2001, p. 27). This represents the place-based approach where the administrative boundaries of a region are less important, the attention being focused on the regions' potential, development barriers and main challenges (Barca, 2009; OECD, 2009). Studies in the field suggested that the cohesion policy's interventions would be more effective if the sectoral and solidarity approaches would be replaced with interventions aiming to stimulate regional potential. Using regions' endogenous potential means to introduce the territorial dimension, to create intersectoral interventions and develop a multi-level governance system as to achieve competitive advantage at regional and national levels (Musa and Petak, 2015; Kaczmarek and Kociuba, 2017; Muksin and Avianto, 2021).

    The implementation of the Cohesion Policy did not have the expected results in the 2007-2013 programming period and its interventions did not generate permanent economic growth (Rodriguez-Pose and Fratesi, 2004; Gorzelak, 2014; Nyikos and Kondor, 2019). Consequently, in the 2014-2020 programming period, the most important elements of the Cohesion Policy were the place-based approach and the multi-level governance (Szlachta and Zaucha, 2012; Mendez, 2011; Van der Zwet, Miller and Gross, 2014; Smekalova, 2018). The policy introduced new tools in order to support the endogenous potential of regions and countries (Camagni and Capello, 2015) and the place-based approach was introduced in the Europe 2020 Strategy (European Commission, 2010). The cohesion policy aimed to focus on results and maximize the impact of EU funding instruments using thematic concentration and a strategic and integrated approach.

    In this respect, considering the need for strengthening the integrated approach in the EU, the Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) tool was created, by combining policies, sectors and funds. ITI introduced the urban dimension to the Cohesion Policy (European Commission, 2014), being considered a driving force for integrating activities that will lead to urban areas' sustainable development (Kociuba, 2018).

    The ITI mechanisms' purpose is to introduce the concept of thematic concentration by channeling the cohesion policy's interventions on strategic areas in order to determine regions' long-term competitiveness. The interventions are limited to particular categories of intersectoral activities which respond to urban areas' needs and problems (Kociuba, 2018).

    ITI mechanisms are implemented in 19 EU countries, using different thematic, geographic, financial and organizational approaches (Binek et al., 2016). 14 out of 19 countries use ITIs to achieve sustainable urban development. In Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia the mechanism supports functional urban areas while in Belgium and Germany it is only applied in some selected regions. Spain, Romania and Portugal implement the mechanism in their coastal areas while in Finland, ITI supports the development and implementation of the Six City Strategy. More than that, the number of established ITI territories varies among Member States. In Romania there is only one ITI territory--the Danube Delta, while the Czech Republic created seven ITI territories (Marin, 2017; Kociuba, 2018).

    The financial allocation of the Integrated Territorial Investments was 13.8 billion [euro] in the 2014-2020 period. The European Regional Development Fund financed 11.8 [euro] billion, the European Social Fund funded 1.7 billion [euro] and 0.3 billion [euro] were allocated through the Cohesion Fund. Almost 80% of this allocation was concentrated in nine Member States. Poland received the highest allocation (3.8 billion [euro]) and Romania received 1.11 billion [euro] (Marin, 2017).

    In Romania, the ITI instrument has been applied to the territory of ITI Danube Delta (presented in Figure 1) which brings together seven rural administrative units and one urban area in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, urban and rural administrative-territorial units partially located on the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve territory from Tulcea and Constanta counties, as well as one town and eight communes located in the vicinity of the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (Government of Romania, 2016).

    The introduction of this integrated approach in the Danube Delta territory might also have a positive impact on sustainable development and resilience within this area.

    Resilience refers either to a system's capacity to absorb disturbances or shocks and keep its basic functions and structures (Walker and Salt, 2006; Radu, 2018; Ticlau, Hintea and Andrianu, 2020) or the capacity to adopt and implement changes in order to evolve to a new state of equilibrium (Folke et al., 2010). Other authors (Carpenter et al., 2001, p. 765) considered that resilience of a system can be described following three characteristics: '(1) the amount of disturbance a system can absorb and still remain within the same state or domain of attraction, (2) the system's capacity of self-organization, and (3) the ability to build and increase the learning and adaptive capacities'. These characteristics lead to the idea of persistence, because in its efforts to surpass the shocks' impact, a system will try to maintain its main characteristics and functions. Persistence is the element that links resilience with sustainable development because the purpose is to develop prosperous systems for the future (Pisano, 2012). Financing measures which lead to a sustainable socio-economic development of the Danube Delta communities might help at strengthening their resilience in face of shocks. There is a gap in the literature referring to the impact of ITI mechanism on enhancing resilience or sustainable development of an area. Even if the implementation process of the ITI mechanism is not finished, if the mechanism positively influences aspects such as employment, migration or economic growth, through its contribution to the socio-economic development of the area, it will also influence the territory's resilience in face of shocks. This aspect is particularly important considering that strengthening the territory's resilience will help communities to be prepared for future shocks and will decrease the negative impact of the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on the socio-economic development of Danube Delta territory.

    Also, there are studies focused on the effectiveness of this particular instrument in different Member States that showed ITI's effectiveness as a tool of the cohesion policy. Most studies regarding the ITI mechanism implementation were conducted on ITI territories within Poland (Wyrwa...

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