Macro-regions and macro-regional strategies

Macro-regional strategies are policy frameworks for cooperation for a given transnational geographical area including several countries. They aim to address common challenges, support growth and maximise common assets. The strategies aim to support achieving social, economic and territorial cohesion through strengthened cooperation.

To put it simply: Cooperating in a macro-region means that EU Member States and third States that share a common space create a vision for their joint path in the future in form of a strategy. Countries and regions agree on joint set of thematic priorities for common actions. These thematic priorities and the implementation activities result from an inter-regional continuous dialogue, offering a political support to projects and activities that contribute to these common goals. In general, one can say that macro-regional cooperation brought a new mindset into regional cooperation moving alongside other arenas of cooperation and combining political,operational and administrative elements.

The idea of a macro-regional cooperation arose first in the Baltic Sea Region. In mid-2007, the development of the first macro-regional strategy for the Baltic Sea region was launched by the European Council. The four MRS developed to date are the EU Baltic Sea Region Strategy (EUSBRS endorsed in 2009), the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR, endorsed in 2011), the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR, endorsed in 2014) and the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP, endorsed in 2015). In 2019 the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region had its tenth anniversary completing a decade of macro-regional cooperation in the EU.

Initiated by Member States the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy at the European Commission is responsible for coordinating the development of a macro-regional strategy after formal request of the European Council. However, for the implementation of a macro-region the Member States are core, and the European Commission remains with a management and coordinating role. Three of the four macro-regions (EUSDR, EUSAIR, EUSALP) include third states, with the macro-regonal collaboration building on the principle of a level-playing field.

The cooperation is based on non-binding strategy documents setting out joint strategic goals, which are accompanied by so-called Action Plans. Action Plans are rolling documents that are being updated and present the focus areas and exemplary projects. Based on the principle to build on existing EU budgets, EU institutions and EU regulations, macro-regional strategies are characterized by a flexible set-up, bottom-up elements, and a sector centred governance in thematic areas. In practice this means, that each macro-region differs in their set-up, the topics addressed and the number of countries involved.

The EMTM tools shows the variety of thematic areas and implementation activities in macro-regions. While macro-regions can touch upon any policy fields of need, all the strategies address environmental policies, such as climate change and biodiversity, transport policies and connectivity as well as economic developments or institutional cooperation. Implementation activities and projects can be financed through EU funds, such as the European territorial cooperation programmes or EU sector policies such as Trans-European Network, as well as through national or regional initiatives.

Governing Macro-regions

Each macro-region has developed their own governance structure, leading to a complex set of macro-regional vocabulary. Yet, the general idea remains comparable: Macro-regions have an overall intergouvernemental coordination through National Coordinators and the European Commission and a thematic oriented intergouvernemental coordination level. These thematic areas (Policy Areas in the Baltic Region, Priority Areas in the Danube Region, Topics in the Adriatic and Ionian Region and Action Groups in the Alpine Region) are led by a coordinator/leader. These coordinators are responsible for the day to day coordination, whereas the decision-making within each thematic area takes place jointly by representatives of relevant ministries in the Steering Groups, and in the case of the EUSALP in Action Groups.

Varying terminology and governance in the different macro-regions

Governance and Stakeholders

High-level Group of macro-regional strategies





Highest strategic body

National Coordinators Group

National Coordinators Meeting

Governing Board

General Assembly (high level political representatives of States and Regions involved in the Strategy, the EC and the Alpine Convention as observer)

Executive Board (by States and regional representatives)

Implementation support


Danube Strategy Point

Facility Point


Annual Forums

Annual Forum of the EUSBSR

EUSDR Annual Forum


Annual Forum of the EUSALP

National representation

National Coordinator

National Coordinator

National Coordinator

National Coordinator

Objects and pillar implementation



Pillar Coordinator

Objective Coordinators

Thematic field implementation

Policy Area Coordinator and Policy Area Focal Points

Priority Area Coordinator

Pillar Coordinator/


Action Group Leader

National thematic field representation

Policy Area Steering Group

Priority Area Steering Groups

Thematic Steering Groups

Action Groups

Horizontal Actions

Horizontal Action Coordinator, Horizontal Focal Points, Horizontal Steering Group





Overarching thematic structure

3 Objectives and Sub-objectives

4 Pillars

3 Pillars

3 Objectives

Action fields

Policy area

Priority Areas

Topics (per pillar)


Horizontal activities

Horizontal Actions

No Horizontal Actions as such (but PA 10 using TAF funds as seed grants)

Cross-cutting issues + Horizontal Principles

No Horizontal Actions, but objective 4 to develop a sound governance.



Indicative actions with examples of projects,

Indicative actions with examples of projects

Indicative actions with examples of projects

(Source: Sielker 2017 based on a comparative glossary published by Interact 2015)

Each macro-region builds on the cooperation of other existing cooperation frameworks and networks. In general relevant thematic stakeholders cooperate in macro-regions directly through the thematic areas, where representatives can for example become members or observers in the Steering Groups.

In the Baltic Sea Region close cooperation and coordination of macro-regional activities with VASAB and HELCOM are central. VASAB is intergovernmental multilateral co-operation of 10 countries of the Baltic Sea Region in spatial planning and development, guided by the Conference of Ministers responsible for spatial planning and development, steered by the Committee on Spatial Planning and Development of the Baltic Sea Region (CSPD/BSR) composed of representatives of respective ministries and regional authorities (Germany, Russia). The cooperation with VASAB is of particular relevance for the Horizontal Action “Spatial Planning”. Further the goals and activities of HELCOM provide important reference and input to the EUSBSR. Further cooperation partners are for example the Northern Dimension.

In the Danube Region, cooperation partners are manifold. Exemplary to be named are the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) or the Danube Chambers of Commerce. In the EUSAIR Region the Adriatic and Ionian Chambers of Commerce, UniAdrion, Adriatic-Ionian Initiative or the Forum of Adriatic and Ionian Cities are examples of cooperation partners. In the EUSALP the Alpine Convention or CIPRA are examples of relevant cooperation partners.

Common Abbreviations

  • MRS (macro-regional strategies)
  • EUSBRS (EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region)
  • EUSDR (EU Strategy for the Danube Region)
  • EUSAIR (EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region)
  • EUSALP (EU Strategy for the Alpine Region)
  • VASAB (Visions and Strategies around the Baltic Sea)
  • NC (National Coordinator)
  • PA (Priority Area or Policy Area)
  • PAC (Priority or Policy Area Coordinator)
  • AG (Action Group)
  • AGL (Action Group Leader)
  • HA (Horizontal Action)
  • HAL (Horizontal Action Leader)
  • DSP (Danube Strategy Point)
  • SG (Steering Group)