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
||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:
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.
- knowledge and technological innovation;
- the information society;
- regional identity and sustainable development.
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
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.
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
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
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.