Concerning clusters our Transport Working Group held a practitioner event on 15 June to facilitate regional project consortia for the next Regions of Knowledge Call. ROK is one of the programmes that is very important for us as it is very strategic. It supports triple-helix interaction at regional level, helps setting regional agendas to support research-intensive clusters and helps connecting those clusters internationally.
Clusters are at the core of ROK, but they also receive support through other EU programmes, such as the CIP and the Structural Funds (the INTERREG programme family).
To explore the different angles and definitions used for cluster activities of different EU programmes and to discuss how to align EU support for world-class clusters with the need to support regional clusters to drive smart specialisation our Innovation Funding group had organised a seminar on 24 June, with Tea Petrin the chair of the EU’s high level group on clusters and with representatives of DG RTD, DG ENT and DG REGIO and managers of 3 cluster projects funded by CIP, ROK and INTERREG.
One of the points made at the discussion was that framework conditions are more important than government support to drive clusters. Therefore, MS and EU need to improve first and foremost the framework conditions clusters operate in, creating a true innovation-friendly Union, so we should think twice before creating every more comprehensive subsidy systems, particularly at regional level. However, international cooperation is important since knowledge is not locked in a certain region.
A regards the future of related EU programmes, there was a call for fewer, larger and clearer initiatives. Another important point made was that clusters have a role in nurturing and calling in the managerial talent needed to make great products and conquer markets. There seems to be too much emphasis on R&D in the EU, while what we really seem to be lagging is entrepreneurial talent. So the skills dimension should be integrated more strongly in future cluster projects/programmes. See the conclusions paper for more info. We will take account of these and other issues in our development of future cluster projects.
P.S. In this context: A grouping called “European Intercluster” has recently published an interesting “White Paper” (the term is slightly confusing as it is nothing official) on emerging European world-class clusters presenting some interesting policy proposals such as an integrated programme for regional innovation.
To prepare for the ERRIN Regions of Knowledge practitioner meeting held on 15 June, our Transport WG had organised two briefings earlier in spring, one on logistics and one on green cars, which I found very useful and inspiring. Green Cars and greening road transport, in particular logistics, is currently on top of the EU agenda. Automotive is the biggest sector in terms of R&D in Europe. What is the role of regions in this? Regions are important for setting incentives and for putting the support infrastructure in place. They can make a difference with their fleets and through public procurement. Electric cars need lot of support infrastructure, which needs to be available cross-border, so talking to the energy providers is important, as is cooperation at regional level, also on clusters to strengthen relevant industries, as it is rare to have all the competences in-house and the industry supply chains are anyway global. This is where RoK becomes interesting as a scheme to charge your clusters with new energy.
Apropos, charging. There is still no European battery, which is why the EU invests heavily in related R&D (e.g. the joint call for electrochemical storage). Range, safety and recycling are important issues. As for all areas of innovation, working cross-sectoral and involving clients and consumers is key also in transport. PPPs such as the EU’s Green Cars Initiative get the main industries and players around the table to prioritise the most significant research topics
Lightweight structures will play an important role in the automobile of the future, as batteries are heavy. The new materials departments have their work cut out on this. And there is lots of need for large-scale pilots and testing, where regions can support their industries. Regions could team up with industry and consumers for mobility living labs. By the way European Technology Platforms provide great opportunities for SMES to get involved and market their technologies. Membership is free, so get the message out.
While the investments in developing Green Car technology, infrastructure and business models are thriving, and were also part of the EU’s recovery package (1bn plus 7 bn EIB loans contracted), one wonders sometimes what this is all good for, if there is no strong demand-pull. Regions and municipalities can and have to make a difference here with their fleets and some have already done so.
But the important signals have to be set at Member State level in tax regimes, for instance, where the EU has no competence. Take Germany for example. In the country that has pioneered green tech and renewable energies those who drive big gas-guzzlers to work can apparently still get a bigger tax discount as the ones driving on low emission vehicles, when they live in the suburbs and commute to work. That’s not exactly supporting sustainable lifestyles. On the other hand, companies that are the incarnation of fossil-driven motorculture in autobahn land such as BMW and Daimler are going full throttle to bring attractive battery-driven vehicles to the market, realizing there is a big market out there, so the landscape is about to change for good.
While electrification may be the way forward for the automotive sector, this is not the case for heavy duty, so we also have to look at logistics, to better organise the delivery of the goods on which our economic well-being depends so much. Our ERRIN transport group is working on this at the moment and we have joined a consortium for greening city logistics that has submitted an IEE project.
There would be more to tell you about what we are doing at ERRIN. For instance on our Biotech/Food group that has held a practitioner event on FP7 KBBE and has just started a Linked-In Group to reach out to the wider research and innovation community. Apropos Linked-in. For those, who do not know it yet, check out the Innovation Policy Group on Linked-in. It counts over 500 subscribers and gets some useful exchanges going.