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Eco-innovation, Europe in the regions

06/05/2009

  • Experts interviews
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Hélène Blanchard is vice-president of the Rhône-Alpes region with responsibility for the environment and risk prevention. She is working especially on the development of eco-technologies in the eight départements in her Region. At the European level, she is involved in the European Clusters and Regions for Eco-Innovation and Eco-Investments Network (ECREIN) project.

In your view, what role do the Regions play in the process of implementing European and national policies that promote eco-technologies?

The region is the level best suited to the implementation of national and European policies. In France, this is due not only to their specific characteristics in the areas of research and industry but also to their history. The French regions have known how, in their own way, to rise to past, present and future challenges.

Eco-technology is a fully-fledged example of this regional capacity to adapt to policies and global challenges. In effect, the development of environmentally-friendly technologies is bringing together the local players around the issues and the projects that interest them and for which they have a suitable terrain and knowledge.

In Rhône-Alpes more particularly, the industrial and research fabric has allowed us to identify a particular issue in the eight départements. In addition, our Region has an environment much suited to the development of clean technologies with, for example, its five research clusters and its three competitiveness clusters: Axelera, LUTB and Tenerrdis.

Competition and cooperation amongst French regions

The Rhône-Alpes region works in co-operation with the other French regions on the issue of eco-technologies. The Île-de-France is one of its European partners in the ECREIN project – see Box – whilst in Picardy the issue is emerging fast.

The ECREIN programme and the activities carried out in parallel have been widely copied. It has given an eco-technology boost to all regional and national policies. In addition, the French government is now planning a competitiveness cluster specifically dedicated to eco-innovation.

We hope to obtain this cluster in which the existing synergy between the companies and the local authorities will be able to expand further. The economy needs this precious link with research, and it will only be strengthened by the creation of the competitiveness cluster.

Following the work achieved in the framework of the ECREIN project, what actions have been carried out by your Region?

The partner regions first of all worked on a definition of eco-technologies. Then, we researched what was already in existence in this area via regional platforms – usually consisting of players from the worlds of politics, research, industry, finance and government. This assessment was aimed, among other things, at updating the existing tools and the available resources as well as at a definition and an analysis of the obstacles to the deployment of eco-technologies. A striking example was the lack of transparency in the processes that support eco-innovation enterprises, especially as regards funding.

In Rhône-Alpes, as in other regions, the ‘one-stop shop’ is one of the solutions that have been brought to bear on this problem. This makes it easier for enterprises to find their way to the various sources of available funding. A round table of experts examines each project. Some may then receive a repayable grant from Oséo for up to €100 000 a month or they may be directed towards other financial partners prepared to take a risk.

Has the financial crisis acted as a brake for you or as an opportunity to deploy more efficient, environmentally-friendly but frequently more expensive technologies?

Eco-technologies generate borrowing, research and jobs. Today, the delay in the regions must be overcome by financial investment, which would result in greater risk-taking by the private partners. It is certainly a different, more expensive form of production, with a slightly longer return on investment time. It is up to the public authorities to take responsibility for the difference. In Rhône-Alpes this study has led, especially, to a competitiveness cluster – Axelera – for chemicals and the environment.

Despite the financial crisis, all of the stakeholders are bearing in mind that the dangers for the environment are also very serious. One crisis cannot be resolved without managing the other.

Eco-innovation, a new speculative bubble?

Today, pragmatism and effectiveness are of the essence. The big industrial groups are no longer into mere environmental marketing. There is a real political and strategic will to move towards more environmentally-friendly technologies. This is real work, not mere speculation.

On the basis of these good results, the regions that historically have been partners in ECREIN wish to continue the work of sharing good practices. A new proposal has been submitted in the framework of the INTERREG IVc programme in order, among other things, to support the spread of eco-technology throughout the European regions.

The ECREIN project

The ECREIN project has received financial support from the European Commission in the framework of the ETAP action plan. This objective of this project was to offer appropriate regional financial instruments to facilitate the development of eco-innovation. It finished at the end of 2007.

For more information:

ECREIN: http://www.ecreinetwork.eu/

Supporting innovation and growth for SMEs

Oséo is a French public body that supports SMEs by reducing market imperfections, by supporting innovation and by financing investments in partnership with the banks. Oséo also guarantees bank funding and investments with its own funds.

For more information:

Oséo: http://www.oseo.fr/ français