Published: 10:32, 18 July 2008
Kent's push into mainland Europe over the past 21 years has netted an estimated £250 million for the county, with a further £100 million expected by 2013, according to council chiefs.
Kent County Council celebrated the 21st anniversary of its Brussels operation with a reception and conference in International House, its latest base in the Belgian capital.
Representatives from Kent-based organisations that contribute to the cost of the £300,000-a-year organisation joined KCC chiefs, MEPs, French delegates, students from Highsted Grammar School, Sitingbourne, and other VIPs at the event.
KCC's decision in 1987 to promote a European policy ahead of the opening of the Channel Tunnel was hailed as pioneering and visionary, and one that had brought huge economic and social benefits to the county.
Euro cash has helped small businesses, regeneration, job creation, tourism, economic and rural development, and the environment.
Paul Sabin was KCC chief executive in 1987. He was at the event, recalling that the decision had followed a discussion with the then council leader Tony Hart.
The council agreed to pay £100,000 for a pilot programme but ordered Mr Sabin and his team to repay it within three years "with a nought on the end". "I think we did just a little bit better than that," he told an audience of nearly 100.
"It was all about risk-taking and Kent is still about risk-taking. It’s measured risk but you don’t make progress without taking risks. With the growth of the European Union, it’s not just something to do, it’s a necessity."
Cllr Alex King, deputy KCC leader, has been close to the policy since its start. He told the audience: "Tony Hart was a real visionary. He saw an opportunity and grabbed it hard despite the opposition from some members of the county council from all parties.
"These 21 years have proved the county was right, is still right and we expect to make a bigger pitch not just in Europe but across the world."
Cllr Alan Marsh, KCC’s international lead member, said the latest bid for programmes could bring at least 100 million euros to the county over the next five years.
It was essential to forge links with European neighbours, he said. "The Channel is not water, it is more a glue."
He warned that since the European Union was enlarged to 27 members, influence would begin to shift to the east.