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Growing pains - 06/10/2008

The facade of the Committee of the Regions’ building in Brussels, with the slogan ‘Regions and cities in a challenging world’

Innovation and sustainable development key to regional growth.

Sustainable development – long a priority in Europe – has been given new relevance by the climate change crisis. But it remains a big challenge for towns and cities.

Sustainable development is one of the big issues at the EU's 2008 regional policy "open days". Some 6 500 policy-makers, experts, and industry representatives from 32 countries have signed up for four days of seminars, workshops, lectures and exhibits in Brussels on 6-9 October. Smaller events are taking place around Europe.

One of the largest events of its kind, the gathering in Brussels is an opportunity for regions and cities to swap success stories and ideas about how to boost growth and jobs. Examples include technology parks, innovative urban regeneration schemes and high-speed transport links. The event is also a chance for them to show how they are putting EU regional development funds – €347bn for 2007-13 – to work.

The centrepiece of this year’s conference will be the launch of a debate on the need to respect and utilise Europe’s territorial and cultural diversity ("territorial cohesion"). For years EU regional policy has focused on eliminating social and economic disparities. But there is growing support for more efforts to turn diversity into an asset for sustainable growth.

Innovation, another theme this year, is also important for growth. Prosperous regions tend to spend more on research and development, generating more wealth for themselves and leading to greater disparities with less wealthy regions.

The open days event isn’t limited to the EU. Turkey, Croatia, Norway, Switzerland and – for the first time – Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland will be represented this year. China, Russia, Brazil and Serbia are also contributing, along with international organisations.

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