Through the European cluster excellence programme and other capacity-building activities, the European Commission supports the excellence of cluster organisations and the services that these small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) intermediaries provide to specialised groups of small businesses. We also continue to work with the European cluster excellence initiative that manages cluster benchmarking and labelling in Europe. These actions support professional cluster management to generate more world-class clusters across Europe.
The Commission launched the European cluster excellence programme under the COSME programme to strengthen cluster management excellence in 2014. It entered a new phase in 2019 with the publication of the third call for proposals, which led to 13 European cluster partnerships for cluster excellence with 69 European partners in 2020. These cluster partnerships are not only strengthening their cluster management skills, strategies and joint activities through benchmarking, training and mentoring, but they are also implementing a new tool to promote strategic interregional collaboration.
This tool, the ClusterXchange pilot scheme, supports short-term cross-border exchanges to explore growth opportunities and to better connect industrial ecosystems. The scheme will be available through the European Cluster Collaboration Platform from June 2020 onward and is open to all clusters across Europe. It will target cluster members that represent cluster organisations, SMEs and scale-up support organisations (i.e. technology centres, research institutes, fab labs, (digital) innovation hubs, creative hubs, resource-efficiency service providers, incubators and accelerators). The scheme provides participants with a lump sum to visit other clusters in Europe to promote cooperation between regional ecosystems and clusters in Europe.
The 11 projects selected under the first two calls in 2014 and 2015 helped 57 clusters organisations improve their management approaches. This included 83 cluster managers and benefited almost 11,000 SMEs.
We launched this initiative in 2009, developing a European cluster benchmarking methodology to improve cluster organisations’ management processes and the quality of services for their members. This resulted in the European cluster excellence labels (gold, silver and bronze). By 2020, 1383 cluster organisations in Europe and beyond had a European cluster excellence label: 1141 bronze labels in 46 countries, 132 silver labels in 20 countries and 110 gold labels in 18 countries.
A private operator running the European Secretariat for Cluster Analysis has been managing the European cluster excellence labels independently from the Commission since 2012. In 2017, we launched the second phase of the initiative to reinforce synergies with the European cluster excellence label scheme and grow its European dimension, focusing on improved transparency, fair pricing and efficiency. Key outcomes included a proposed change of governance through a new legal entity, revised quality indicators, training of assessors on new methodology and procedures, making aggregate data available, and yearly reporting to the Commission.
We also discussed the further development of the European cluster excellence initiative and the European cluster excellence labelling with governmental and private experts under the European cluster policy forum and the European expert group on clusters as well as with over 50 gold label clusters.