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April 2001

The quarterly magazine of the actors of regional development

4 / 9

Putting it plainly
Using the latest methods to spread innovation

Innovative Actions Information Day, a sell-out
Michel Barnier's four priorities
The innovation strand of the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) is intended to provide support in specialised spheres of activity where the use of traditional Structural Fund instruments is not viable, and to achieve the broad goals of regional policy by helping the least competitive regions develop their ability to innovate and adapt to technological and economic change.

Innovative Actions Information Day Ill-prepared for the economic changes and technological advances of recent times, the EU's poorest regions are struggling to come to terms with the new economy, with its emphasis on information, knowledge and innovation. However, once mastered by workers, these new technologies can provide the tools needed to catch up.

The innovation strand of the ERDF was tailored specifically for regions by-passed by the latest developments in IT and telecommunications. It provides the funding essential for the experimentation needed to progressively improve the quality of the Objective 1, 2 and 3 programmes by increasing the emphasis on the knowledge dimension of regional competitiveness: networking, public-private partnership, technology transfers, entrepreunership, etc.

The 2000-2006 Guidelines for ERDF innovation funding were formally adopted on 31 January last by the European Commission.

They set three priorities for regions with a development deficit and those undergoing structural adjustment:

  • knowledge and technological innovation;
  • the information society;
  • regional identity and sustainable development.
Specifically this means that regions eligible for innovation funding can apply for ERDF support by submitting draft programmes to the Commission in one or more of the three key sectors. Such programmes must take the form of a strategy or action plan involving a broad partnership of regional interests, both public and private. Once approved (for a period no longer than two years), these programmes form a springboard from which individual pilot projects can be launched. The successes of these pilot projects can then be taken and built on by the main economic and social development programmes.

Initiatives of this type, called RIS (Regional Innovation Strategy) or RISI (Regional IT Initiative) have in the past chalked up a string of notable successes, from helping enterprising rural areas sell speciality cheeses over the Internet and giving small firms in Limburg (Holland) access to research carried out by larger companies, to providing businesses in Wales (United Kingdom) with access to extra financing and know-how through a network of private investors and setting up public networks of on-line databases with comprehensive economic, social and cultural information in Galicia (Spain) and North region (Portugal), to name but a few.

The 2000-2006 budget for these schemes is EUR 400 million. Each regional programme selected for financing will be eligible for a sum between EUR 300 000 and 3 million. They will be selected by the Directorate-General for Regional Policy on the basis of ten criteria, such as the intrinsic quality of the proposal (clarity of the strategy, innovative goals, etc.); the potential multiplier effect (on ERDF programmes and other Community policies); the quality of the partnership established between the public, private and cooperative sectors; with a balance between the set objectives and the ressources allocated.

The process of devising and implementing innovative strategies will be aided by the networks the Commission intends to set up to facilitate collaboration and information-sharing between regions, and by the two competitions it will hold to identify and develop best practice.

For more information:


Innovative Actions Information Day, a sell-out

Any lingering doubts one might have harboured about the depth of interest in innovation across the EU were dispelled by the sell-out attendance of more than 500 representatives of regional organisations at the Commission's Innovative Actions Information Day in Brussels on 19 February 2001.
National, regional and local managers from every corner of the Community answered the call from the European Commission.

Although the day was an occasion for debates, ideas and questions on a wide range of issues, speakers and participants were united on one issue - innovation is vital for European competitiveness and job-creationWhile the new technologies can boost productivity, expand the supply of services and improve management and marketing techniques, its list of merits does not stop there. Today it underpins the information-sharing and knowledge-transfer systems so essential for the dissemination of best practice and experience sharing. Commission's Innovative Actions Information Day

Reaching a wider audience through specific programmes

The Information Day began with a general presentation of the Commission Guidelines on innovative schemes, after which participants were free to attend any of the wide range of workshops to gain a more in-depth insight into matters such as the submission of regional innovation programmes, their evaluation by the Commission, the special role of innovative projects in regional policy and the implementation and management of programmes. One session was given over to back-up networks and support measures.

Michel Barnier's four priorities

Closing the day's debates, the Commissioner for regional policy, Michel Barnier, outlined what the Commission would like to see in the programmes submitted by the regions.

1. Truly innovative projects

"I would like to see programmes incorporating strategies based on needs identified by grass-roots regional development organisations. I am looking for truly innovative proposals, even ones containing an element of risk. With innovation, we sometimes learn more from failure than success. What I do not want to see are old ideas, which could easily be funded under mainstream programmes1, being simply rehashed."

2. All players must be involved

"Drawing on the lessons of the past, I would like to see all regional and local players - from the public, private and non-profit sectors alike - getting actively involved as part of a grass-roots approach to both designing and implementing regional innovation programmes. Hence the importance of choosing a Steering Committee Chairman that has the necessary dynamism and networking ability."

3. Efficient monitoring and management

"With this new generation of innovation programmes, an effort has been made to simplify procedures and ensure maximum openness and financial control. Your task is to see to it that these programmes are monitored and managed efficiently."

4. Impact on key projects

"I hope those managers of "mainstream programmes1" in Objective 1 and 2 programmes who are also on the steering committees for regional innovation programmes will start thinking about how successful innovative projects might be transferred to main Objective 1 and 2 programmes, where they can be continued and expanded upon."

1 Mainstream programmes: ERDF operations leading to part-financing of operational programmes and single programming documents.


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