The towns were chosen because they have already formed local self-help action groups and worked together in an Inner Moray Firth Town Partnership to promote their areas.
It is hoped that the towns will be among those to benefit at the end of the study, if further funding is made available to act on the recommendations emerging from the research.
The key concepts that will be developed in the research will involve looking at sustaining clusters of towns rather than individual settlements, and explicitly dealing with economic development, service delivery patterns, integrated town centre management and accessibility.
Iain 'Dubh' Macdonald, chairman of The Highland Council's economic development committee, said he was delighted the council had attracted funding from the European Northern Periphery Programme which would enable the partnership to be at the forefront of developing European experience in the regeneration of small towns.
He said: 'This is an issue of strategic importance to the council and to many other authorities throughout northern Europe. The Highland towns are helping shape European policy. In the short-term they will benefit from the collaboration with groups of small towns in sparsely-populated Scandanavia and in the longer term they might benefit from funding for specific enhancement projects.'
The council has appointed WS Atkins Scotland to manage the programme over the next two years and to conduct the required research. Additional support on transport issues will be provided by Peter Rickaby Consultants. The first formal working seminar/conference will be held in March next year, in the Highlands. That meeting will enable both local groups and the European partners to exchange the lessons learned from their recent experience in the use of other regeneration techniques.