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Step-by-step overview of partnership projects

Partnerships between organisations in the donor and beneficiary countries are widely encouraged. On this page, we break down the process of finding a project partner and developing a project partnership into a few steps.

Guide to potential project partners from Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein

1. Who can become a project partner?

2. Determine your own interest

3. Relevance of partnerships

4. How to search for a partner?

5. Financial support for partner search (seed money)

6. How to prepare a partnership project?

7. Partnership agreement

8. What to do in case you receive an invitation to become a partner?

9. Legal obstacles (procurement/state aid)

10. How and when to submit a partnership project proposal? (timing the open call)

11. Not able to be a partner? Here's how you may still be involved

Why become a project partner?

Strengthening ties between European countries brings mutual benefits for institutions and organisations in both the donor and beneficiary countries. To enhance cooperation, partnerships between organisations in the donor and beneficiary countries are widely encouraged. In some programmes, project partnerships are mandatory, in others this is voluntary.

Organisations from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway do not apply directly for funds, but enter into a partnership agreement with a lead applicant from one of the beneficiary countries. 

The partnerships provide an opportunity for international cooperation that should be of benefit to both sides. The projects should achieve the dual goal of contributing to the objectives of the programme as well as strengthening the relations between the donor and beneficiary country.

1. Who can become a donor project partner

As a basic rule, donor project partners are public or private entities, commercial or non-commercial, as well as non-governmental organisations, registered as legal entities in Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. Some programmes may further limit who can participate in the programme.

Projects partners from one of the donor countries can only access funding through their partner in the beneficiary country.

The local partner will take on the role as the project promoter, while the partner from one of the donor countries is the donor project partner.

A project may have more than one partner. Inter-governmental organisations may be either partners or project promoters if they are operating in the beneficiary country.

More information about the legal definition of partners is available in the Guideline for strengthened bilateral relations (see Chapter 5).  

2. Determine your own interest

Any future partnership project will have to fit under a given programme in a given beneficiary country and contribute to the stated objectives of that programme.

Before starting the search for a partner, the questions to consider are:

  • What programme area is of interest to you? 
  • In what beneficiary country would you like to be involved and cooperate with a partner?

All supported projects need to contribute to achieving a set of clearly defined development results. To see if your project idea may be funded you need to check the defined outcomes of the programme in question and of the relevant open call for project proposals. You find this information on the programme area pages, which are accessible from this programme overview where you may also use the search to quickly see what is supported where. 

When you have identified a programme area of interest, your next step is to check the beneficiary country pages to see if the programme area is supported in that country (or opposite if the country is your point of departure).

3. Relevance of partnerships

Your next step is to look at the content of the relevant programme in order to find out:

  • Is the thematic focus of the programme relevant for your desired area of cooperation?
  • Will you be able to contribute to the defined outputs of the programme?
  • Will there be a call (or several calls) for project proposals under the programme?
  • Will you have enough time to prepare a project before the call is launched?
  • Are partnership projects particularly relevant under the programme?
  • Does the programme have a donor programme partner?

Each programme is developed and managed by a national programme operator. The programme operators are mostly public institutions in the beneficiary countries who are tasked with awarding funding to projects according to agreed criteria and monitoring their implementation.

Each programme operator will have a designated website for the programme, with information on the content of the programme, eligible applicants and calls for project proposals. These websites will be operational shortly after the donor countries have approved the programme operators’ proposals for how to manage the programmes. Links to the programme websites, as well as key facts and summaries of the programmes (the ones already approved) are accessible via the individual country pages and the programme area pages.

More than half of the programmes involve cooperation with donor programme partners. These public bodies from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway develop the programme together with the programme operator. They also give advice during the implementation of the programmes. One of the key roles of the donor programme partner is to facilitate project partnerships. If the programme you are interested in involves a donor programme partner, we would encourage you to contact this institution directly for help and advice on how to get involved.

4. How to find a partner in one of the beneficiary countries

Now – when you have determined whether partnership projects are relevant for your programme of interest and you have understood the objectives of the programme you can start the search for a local partner that could present a project for funding together with you.

The project promoter can be a public or private entity, commercial or non-commercial, as well as non-governmental organisation, registered as a legal entity in the relevant beneficiary country. Exceptions exist for international organisations and for certain programmes.

Who to contact?
Your main sources of information on potential partners are:

Programme operators

  • Will publish information on their website about partnership opportunities. Links to the programme websites are made available as they are established (once the programme has been approved). Check the programme pages accessible via the individual country pages to see if the websites are operational and to find the contact details of the programme operators.  
  • Will receive requests from local potential partners who are interested in finding a donor country partner (may provide a list of interested local partners)
  • Will in some cases provide a partnership search / database on their website where you can register your interest
  • Will in some cases organise matchmaking events
  • Will provide information on seed money opportunities

Donor programme partners

  • Will provide guidance on the relevance of partnerships under the programme
  • Will in some cases be able to provide a list of local potential partners (from the beneficiary countries) who are interested in finding a donor country partner
  • Will in some cases organise matchmaking events
  • Will be able to point you in the right direction in order to obtain more information on partnership possibilities
  • Will provide information on seed money opportunities

Norwegian Helsinki Committee (only NGO programmes)

  • Will provide guidance on the relevance of partnerships under the NGO programmes and upcoming match-making events
  • Maintains the partnership database www.ngonorway.org where you can register your interest for participating in a project partners

Norwegian Embassies in the beneficiary countries

  • Will receive requests from local partners who are searching for donor country partners
  • May help you get in contact with local partners

Financial Mechanism Office (the donor countries' secretariat for the EEA and Norway Grants)

  • Will be able to point you in the right direction in order to obtain more information on partnership possibilities

5. Financial support for partner search (seed money)

Funding to support partner search is available within most programmes in a bilateral fund. Both beneficiary and donor country partners can in principle apply for seed money to search for partners and develop partnership projects, but the specificities will vary from programme to programme.

Examples of activities supported under the bilateral funds at programme level are:

  • Partner seminars / match making events
  • Travel and meeting costs for cooperating partners
  • Promotion activities organised by the donor programme partner prior to project applications
  • Costs up to a set ceiling of developing partnership projects

Please note: The availability of seed money and whether a donor country partner is eligible to apply or not will vary from programme to programme. The programme operator - who is in charge of handling the seed money fund - and/or the donor programme partner will be able to provide more information on available seed money or match making events.

General information about seed money is provided in the Guidelines for strengthened bilateral relations Chapter 3, section 3.2.1), while programme specific information will be available on the programme website.   

6. How to prepare a partnership project?

Once you have established contact with a local partner, the next step will be to develop a project proposal together.

Funding for projects is made available through calls for project proposals. The programme operators are responsible for announcing these, and information about available calls can be found on the relevant programme websites and in the call overview on www.eeagrants.org.

The text of the call sets out the available budget, the scale of the projects, eligible applicants, required co-financing, the objective the project should contribute to and criteria that will be used to select projects. The project proposal needs to be designed in accordance with the criteria described in the call for proposal.

The programme operator will in many cases provide training and guidance through additional guidelines or outreach seminars. There may also be arranged match-making seminars, where potential project promoters and potential partners may discuss ideas for partnership projects.

Both the donor country partner and the beneficiary country partner may initiate the project idea.  In case you have an idea for a project, you may well approach your potential partner with this idea that then serves as the basis for developing a future project together.

The most important task at this stage is for both parties to agree on their role in the proposed project, the contribution to the project (deliverables) and the division of the budget between the partners, as all costs of both parties are covered by the project budget. (As mentioned above, seed money may be available to cover expenses related to the preparation of a partnership project).

These elements are then to be drawn up in a partnership agreement which in legal terms regulates the future cooperation between the partners. Any project partnership proposal must include a partnership agreement.

More details on the partnership agreement are described in the Regulation (Article 6.8 of the Regulation).

There is no standard template for partnership agreements. But, the relevant programme operator may provide you with further guidance on how to draw up a partnership agreement.

7. Partnership agreement and reimbursement of costs

The most important task at this stage is for both parties to agree on their role in the proposed project, the contribution to the project (deliverables) and the related budget. Make sure to include the eligible costs of both parties in the project budget. While costs related to the preparation of a project proposal is not eligible as part of the project budget, some of these expenses may be covered with seed money.

The next step is to create your partnership agreement. As part of the project proposal, you and your partner need to draw up a contract that explicitly details each partner’s individual obligations and contributions to the project and what expenses of each partner that is to be covered under the project budget. Your partnership agreement should also specify how the donor project partner will get their incurred costs reimbursed.

The partnership agreement, which will regulate your future cooperation, needs to be in English. Before the project contract is signed, you will be asked to submit this contract to the relevant programme operator.

Please note: There is no standard template for partnership agreements. But, the relevant programme operator may provide you with further guidance on how to draw up such an agreement.

What costs may be covered?

In principle, costs that are eligible for the project promoter (the partner in the beneficiary country) are also eligible for the donor country partner.

Examples of eligible expenses for donor country partners:

  • Costs of staff assigned to the project, comprising actual salaries plus social security charges and other statutory costs included in the remuneration, provided that this corresponds to the project partner’s usual policy on remuneration. The corresponding salary costs of staff of national administrations are eligible to the extent that they relate to the cost of activities that the relevant public authority would not carry out if the project was not taking place;
  • travel and subsistence allowances for staff taking part in the project, given that these costs are in line with the project partner’s usual practices on travel costs and do not exceed the relevant national scales;

Make sure to clearly identify the costs

You will need to clearly identify the direct expenses you have related to your project participation in accordance with your institution’s accounting principles and internal rules. The costs you would like to have reimbursed need to be in accordance with the project budget and your partnership agreement, i.e. directly linked to the implementation of the project.

To include overhead costs in the project budget and the partnership agreement, you need to first check the formula for calculating these costs with the relevant programme operator.

As mentioned above, the partnership agreement should include information about how the donor project partner will get its incurred costs reimbursed.

To keep track of the donor partner’s expenses within the project, the donor project partner needs to provide its local partner with proof of the incurred expenditures. This may be in the form of receipted invoices or by a report by an independent and certified auditor. If you opt for an audit report, this needs to certify that the claimed costs are incurred in accordance with the Regulation of the Grants, and the national law and accounting practices of the project partner’s country. The costs of such audit reports may be covered under the project budget.

More details on the partnership agreement are described in the Regulation (Article 6.8).

8. What to do in case you receive an invitation to become a partner?

It is likely that you are introduced to the EEA and Norway Grants after having been approached by an organisation from one of the beneficiary countries who is searching for a partner from Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. The local partner may already, to some extent, have developed a project concept; in other cases the request to become their partner may simply be based on a general interest /wish to start cooperation.  

If you are approached with a more general question of starting a partnership, the first step would be to find out under which programme in your partner’s country you could possibly submit a proposal together. It is also crucial to find out whether there is enough time to develop the partnership in time for the closing of a call for proposals.  Information sharing and good communication are important from day one.

If the local partner has a clear idea about which programme they are targeting, you should analyse this programme in order to quickly establish whether the thematic focus is interesting for you. If the local partner already has a clear project idea in mind, you should ascertain that the project would be eligible and of relevance to the programme, before investing time and effort on further discussions. Be aware that some programmes will give extra points to partnership projects in the selection process, which might trigger partnership requests that are not always well founded.

It is important to keep in mind that you will be held responsible for your contribution to the project, and that a partnership project pre-supposes that the project can only successfully reach its goals through the contribution of both partners. Therefore, you should from the beginning consider what you can contribute with to the project, what you can offer, and what you can expect to receive back. In many cases this will require a certain amount of negotiation with the local partner, which is a normal process when entering into cooperation. The key is to have acquired enough information about your possibilities, options and rights before you start negotiating. Whatever cumbersome steps this process may entail, it will save you considerable trouble at a later stage, and avoid that you engage in a cooperation based on the wrong terms. This is also why it is mandatory to establish a partnership agreement in order to regulate the cooperation with the local partner.

In this process, you may be able to obtain valuable guidance and advice from a relevant donor programme partner, even if the institution is not involved in your specific country of interest. Another helpful contact point will be the local Norwegian Embassy in your country of interest.

9. Legal obstacles (procurement / state aid)

The establishment and implementation of partnerships has to respect European and national regulations on procurement and state aid rules.

It is difficult to estimate up front which partnerships will give rise to public procurement obligations. EU rules on public procurement apply, in general terms, to public contracts for the supply of goods, services or works with a value above certain thresholds. National rules generally follow the EU rules but may well vary, or set different thresholds.

The programme operator and the project promoter are responsible for evaluating whether a partnership raises any procurement orstate aid issues. This will depend on the precise nature of the activities to be performed by the donor project partner and the value of any services provided.

In the case of partnerships based on equal risk-sharing and responsibility for the implementation of a project, where the activities of the donor project partner within the project fall within the partner’s public goals, then procurement may well not be an issue.

Partnerships based solely on the supply of services / goods / works for compensation on the other hand, are likely to be highly problematic in this regard. For example, if you as a potential partner are involved in preparing a project, and then find you cannot be a partner but need to tender, you may find yourself technically barred from participating in the procurement.

In case you (and your local partner) are unsure about the relevance of public procurement and state aid issues, you should contact the relevant programme operator for further information.

10. How and when to submit a partnership project proposal? Timing the open call

It is the project promoter (your local partner) who is responsible for submitting your common project proposal.  A project proposal can only be submitted under acall for proposalsunder a specific programme.

It is the relevant programme operator who organises the call for proposals as well as the evaluation and selection of the projects that will receive funding. Thus the moment of submitting proposals will vary from programme to programme according to when programme implementation started and when calls for proposals are announced.

It is therefore crucial to find out when the deadline is for submitting project proposals under the call for the programme you are aiming at. This is especially important because the call for proposals under the programmes sometimes have quite short deadlines.

The calls for proposals are published in the calls overview and on the websites of the programme operators.

11. Not able to be a partner? Here's how you may still be involved

If you are interested in a lighter form of cooperation, and do not have the capacity to engage as a project partner, all programmes will also have funds for networking, exchange, sharing and transfer of knowledge, technology, experience and best practice between project promoters and entities in the donor countries.

This can be limited to a one off event, such as a study tour, a seminar, or a specific input to an on-going project.  The bilateral fund will be managed by the programme operator who can give more information about the purpose and procedures of the fund within each programme.