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Speaker bios

Check out who is speaking at the North Sea Conference 2023!

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Headshot of Caroline De Gruyter

Caroline de Gruyter

Caroline de Gruyter is a Europe correspondent and columnist for the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Currently based in Brussels, she is also a columnist for Foreign Policy and EUobserver, and a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Caroline has covered European politics for over twenty years, both from the ‘bubble’ in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe. Her voice and expertise about Europe are well-known. She was previously based in the Gaza strip, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva, Vienna and Oslo. Her latest book, published in March 2021, is a best-selling comparison between the Habsburg Empire and the European Union. It has been translated into German, Swedish, French and Hungarian.


Portrait photo of Nathalie Verschelde holding a microphone.

Nathalie Verschelde

Nathalie Verschelde joined the transnational cooperation and macro-regional strategies unit in DG REGIO as Deputy Head of Unit on 1 January 2023, after seven years in the cross-border cooperation unit, and a previous spell in the Interreg unit from 2006 to 2011.

She is very keen to engage about the added-value of territorial cooperation in all its shape for European citizens and our European integration project. Nathalie is passionate about border life, and how diversity makes us all better and stronger wherever we are located in the EU and its neighbourhood.

Headshot of Irene McMaster

Irene McMaster

Dr Irene McMaster is a Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow in the European Policies Research Centre (EPRC). She specialises in cross-national research on INTERREG and transnational cooperation. She has led evaluations of the Interact, NPA, and North Sea Region programmes. She has conducted research and provided expert advice on territorial cooperation across Europe, particularly in relation to cooperation in the high North, around the North Sea Region, and post Brexit. She also works on regional development policy in Norway and Ireland.

Based at EPRC for 23 years, Irene has worked extensively on Cohesion Policy planning, management, implementation and reform.  

Headshot of regional minister Marietta van Leuwen

Mariëtte van Leeuwen

Since July 2023 Mariëtte van Leeuwen is Regional Minister for European and international affairs at the province of Zuid-Holland.

She was an alderman of the municipality of Zoetermeer from 2010 to 2017. She was also a member of the board of the Association of Dutch Municipalities, where she chaired the Health and Welfare Committee.

Subsequently, Mariëtte opted for a board position at youth care and special education provider iHUB where she advocated for a better appreciation of teachers in Special education. Later, she joined LESCO (a sectoral council that advocates for special education) as vice chairman.

In 2021, Mariëtte decided to advance youth care as a partner in the consultancy company BMC.

Headshot of Elisabeth Babic

Elisabet Babic

Councillor Elisabet Babic, the newly appointed President of the North Sea Commission, comes from the Swedish coastal region of Halland. With a background of working both on the municipal level and as part of the county council, Elisabet is passionate about harnessing cross-border collaboration in order to strengthen the capabilities and the voice of North Sea Regions through cooperation on every level. 

Having been a part of the North Sea Commission for just over five years, Elisabet has held multiple roles: Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Working Group, Vice-President and, now, President. 

Headshot of Shanne Bouma

Shanne Bouma

Meet Shanne Bouma, the project coordinator of WaterWarmth from the Province of Fryslân. WaterWarmth is an Interreg North Sea project that puts energy communities at the heart of the energy transition that is now happening all across Europe.

Through innovative cooperative aquathermal solutions rooted in the local context of the participating regions, WaterWarmth ensures that citizens profit from the energy transition. In her talk, Shanne will tell you about this approach and why it matters for Europe.

Headshot of Poul-Erik Mortensen

Poul E. Mortensen

Poul Erik Mortensen is a Business Development Manager at Center for Industry, Business Viborg in Denmark. He is a visionary entrepreneur with five decades of global leadership in high-end water industry, renewable energy such as wind and solar, and cutting-edge 3D technology. Through global network and collaborations, he has helped trailblaze sustainable practices, contributing to advancements in water solutions, renewable energy, and digital innovation including 3D technology.

Poul Erik leads the North Sea project SUSTAIN-3D that equips SMEs for innovation using 3D technology.  


Headshot of Christian Byrith

Christian Byrith

Mr Christian Byrith is Head of Secretariat for the Interreg VIB North Sea Programme. He has been involved in EU-funded regional development projects and programmes since 1997 and has been with the North Sea Programme since 2000. He has been in charge of the North Sea Programme since 2007. Prior to that, he served as finance officer and finance manager. In total he has 25 years of work experience from the world of Interreg.

Christian holds a Master's degree in Business Administration from the University of Roskilde (Denmark) and an MBA from University of Durham (UK).

A close-up photo of Sarah Holsen.

Sarah Holsen

Sarah Holsen is the Programme & Project Coordinator for the Interreg VIB North Sea Programme. Sarah has worked in public administration for most of her professional life, both from a research angle and in practice. Prior to moving to Denmark, she worked on the topic of government transparency in the UK and Switzerland, completing a PhD on the subject in 2012.

After a short stint as a consultant with Aalborg Municipality, she shifted focus in 2016 to transnational cooperation when she began working for the Interreg North Sea Programme. She believes this is where she belongs - contributing to strengthening cooperation efforts in the North Sea Region.

Top Image by kasto from Canva