Macro-region strategies to promote cooperation between regions

30 october 2019

The spatial development strategy is being fleshed out through the development of full fledged macro-region development strategies,which by 2020 are supposed to have replaced the current development strategies for federal districts.

Discussions are still on-going about the subject matter and contents of these documents, their function in the strategic governance system, mechanisms and formats of inter-regional cooperation and mechanisms for their implementation.

The Analytical Center organized a discussion at the strategists forum in Saint Petersburg to talk about the contents of the macro-region development strategies, the principles for including investment projects in them as well as ways to monitor the implementation of the documents.

The discussion was moderated by Deputy Head of the Analytical Center Mikhail Pryadilnikov, who reminded those present that this past May the Analytical Center had already hosted a discussion about the problems related to the strategies. "There are problems with how the subject matter of the strategies is rather loosely defined and with how their goals and targets overlap with those of federal and regional strategies. which renders these new documents somewhat irrelevant. There is also quite a bit of disagreement over how to go about implementing them and there is still no mechanism for selecting investment projects. A system of monitoring needs to be developed that clearly defines the functions and roles of the federal and regional authorities in this process," he enumerated.

The most important task now is to bring the macro-region development strategies into alignment with other documents that regulate the socio-economic development of territories, believes the deputy head of the department for territorial development planning of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation Oleg Bulekov. "The strategy has a very simple structure: it identifies key inter-regional problems and then defines mechanisms that should help solve them," he believes. The strategy may also include inter-regional projects as well as major regional projects and comprehensive investment programs, the most important thing is that they all help the development of the macro-region and that there is a clear link with national projects and the economic specialization of each region is taken into account.

The specific features of each region are a key factor in the development of each strategy while regional economic specialization is a key development driver, according to the head of the department for economic and social policy issues of the administration of the presidential representative of the North-western federal district Svetlana Lebedeva. "The North Western Federal District comprises 2 macro-regions: the northern one and the north-western one plus the Arctic zone and large territories along the border and these features must be taken into account, " she believes.

Effective implementation of the strategy depends on cooperation between all the participants but it is not yet clear what the mechanism for such cooperation will be, Ms Lebedeva believes. Furthermore, very often regional governments themselves treat the job as a mere formality, showing little interest and submitting half baked proposals to the federal ministries (specifically the Ministry for Economic Development) which makes this work even harder.

Macro-region strategies won't save the world, but they can help solve a lot of problems, according to Dmitry Zemlyansky, Head of SOPS VAVT of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation "There are interrelated areas. Like healthcare and public transport: often a major hospital will be built in one region and new public transport services will be offered in another region to get there," he explained.

Mr Zemlyansky is convinced it won't be possible to completely move away from the industry based approach and to the territory based approach. But within every industry there are points of intersection of interests and capabilities: for tourism that is public transport services, for the agriculture sector that is logistics. The expert sees prospects for cooperation in professional education and environmental protection.

As for investment projects, Mr Zemlyansky pointed out the selection mechanism for them is too complicated. "It's important that only projects with cross-regional impacts get included that affect the inter-regional labor market, but it's very hard to estimate such impacts," he concluded.

The implementation plans for the strategies must be backed by appropriate tools, according to Anton Steshenko, the head of the Strategic Development, State Governance and Regional Policy Department of the Analytical Center. "We need monitoring and feedback mechanisms. Furthermore, some kind of arbiter is needed to help sort out controversies, especially when it comes to financing," he believes. As for the results of the implementation of the strategies, these must be tangible improvements in the quality of life in the regions rather than reports for the federal government about local accomplishments.

In the near future, regional governments need to find a solution for the problems that have been identified and draft strategies that take into account the specific features of each macro-region while fixing the errors of previous stages. The time is running out: the macro region development strategies must be ready by mid-2020.