Inspiring non-EU countries

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    On 13 October 2020, the IUC team co-organised the webinar "International cooperation for innovation in urban development policy and practice: results and perspectives from EU – Asia Cooperation". The event - which involved over 60 experts from Europe and Asia - was held within the European Week of Regions and Cities, the EU Commission's flagship annual event on urban and regional development. At the event, selected results of the city-to-city cooperation were discussed, especially with regard to the added value for the public authorities and the private sector. Speakers from Asia and Europe participated in two thematic discussions on Smart Cities and the Green Deal, and made recommendations for the future. A special emphasis was placed on the effects of the Covid19-crisis to the respective cities’ actions as well as to the international cooperation capacity. The session was complemented with a presentation by the IUC Methodology Taskforce (MTF) on lessons learned and recommendations for future city-to-city cooperation.

    In his opening speech, Rudolf Niessler - Principal Advisor at DG REGIO - said that that 37 cities from China, India, Japan and Malaysia have been involved in IUC phase 1 and remarkable achievements have been achieved in areas like circular economy, connectivity, smart city, silver economy, renewable energy and urban planning. With regard to the COVID crisis, he said "(...) the IUC project offers a very good framework to deal with complex issues such as the COVID crisis at local level. Since the outbreak of the pandemics, the IUC regional teams have implemented several online exchange sessions between European and non-European pilot cities. It was inspiring to witness the great willingness and commitment of cities to stand together, help each other and act as real friends and partners".

    Nelson Jorge, Team Leader at the Partnership Instrument of the European Union’s Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) stated that - from 2021 onwards - the IUC project will evolve to the IURC - a programme with a stronger focus on city thematic networks and region-to-region cooperation in the field of innovation. Mr. Jorge invited cities from Europe and Asia to engage in the new programme and referred to some results achieved within the 80+ city pairings. He also referred to the added value of cross-regional, cross-national learning and the timely lessons learned from cities that have implemented measures to combat the effects of the COVID pandemic.

    One of the most interesting new projects discussed was the concrete Barcelona-Liuzhou cooperation project on strategic planning for Liudong New Area. Here, urban planning experts from Barcelona have been invited to support the conceptual development of two plots with over 100 hectares. Barcelona City Council - led by Municipal Urban Planning Institute (IMU) - is involving the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Barcelona School of Architecture - ETSAB) as well as GINA Barcelona Architects, the global brand grouping the most prestigious architectural firms from Barcelona. Bettina Stollar from the Barcelona Asia-Pacific Programme at Barcelona City Council said "The Chinese cities have optimised construction development making this process faster and more agile. Their experience could serve as a testbed to apply innovative urban solutions in the future development of the 22@Liudong New Area". She also stated that the IUC offers an exceptional chance for European and Asian cities to meet, engage, exchange and form partnerships accompanied by institutional and expert backing. Ms. Stollar added that - as a global programme - during the IUC annual events, Barcelona was able to interact with peers from other world regions. In the next phase (IURC) a stronger focus on thematic global / cross-regional networks - with flagship projects - would offer unique chances to achieve a global impact on urban sustainability issues, she said.

    Dominique LI and Fanic ZENG from Guangzhou Development District (GDD) explained engagement activities deployed since November 2013, as it was recognized by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) & the European Commission as the first pilot area for EU-China Regional Policy Cooperation. GDD has participated in 20 EU-China cooperation & exchange activities, including 6 visits to Europe. Within the IUC, GDD is now focusing on industrial design cooperation as well as on biotechnology and smart city. Mr. LI stated that the GDD will actively participate in the new IURC programme, planning to set up offshore incubation centers/offices as well as to strive for concrete cooperation on technological innovation and technical talent exchange. He recommended to jointly define the new IURC's objectives, working schedule and contents. GDD wishes to establish a communication platform to meet - online and onsite - more regularly. Ms. ZENG proposed IURC to issue an official certificate or plaque to each city partner to achieve better visibility.

    Representatives from Chengdu explained the energy transition happening in Sichuan province, especially in the Luxizhigu Area of Chengdu, which is currently developing the world's first "Park City". Here, energy consumption per unit of GDP is reduced by 25% compared to 2020 and renewable energy accounts for the proportion of terminal energy consumption ≥35%. The park city's greening target reaches the urban area ≥50% and the proportion of blue-green space ≥75%.  Mr Yi LIU - Deputy Director at Sichuan's Energy Internet Research Institute (EIRI) - referred to the MoU to be signed with Rome Sapienza University and Manchester Metropolitan University, which would launch joint research and academic exchange programmes, as well as incubation activities for start-ups and students. He invited further European cities to engage with EIRI at the upcoming 2020 Energy Internet International Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summit starting on 16 October 2020.

    The EU-India cooperation was showcased by Sanjit Rodrigues, Municipal Commissioner of the Corporation Panaji in Goa. Mr. Rodrigues referred to the smart parking pilot project under implementation with support from Dubrovnik (Croatia). The project has included several phases including the review of the current parking status in Panaji, the assessment of key technologies in India/EU, and the review of potential funding sources for smart city technologies. Mr. Rodrigues reflected on the importance of best practices exchanges on mobility/smart city with Dubrovnik and other European cities. He asked the IUC team to provide updated information on funding opportunities for developing practical smart parking solutions. Panaji looks forward to participation in the follow-up IURC from 2021 onwards, he said.

    Cooperation on urban development between the EU and Japan was presented by Yohei Watanabe, Chief of the Business Creation Division of Koriyama City. He explained the cooperation with Essen (Germany) on urban resilience, energy transition & open innovation. Areas of cooperation include knowledge transfer on renewable energy as one of the main drivers for the Green Deal and water management (climate resilience, rainwater and sewer management). He said that there is an impending need to enhance resilience & disaster-preparedness. Also, possibilities to collaborate on clean energy resources, e.g. the utilization of hydrogen, should be explored. He mentioned that one of the key takeaways from the study tour to Essen (Stadtwerke) in Aug. 2019 was the attempt to maximize the utilization of local renewable energy sources and to realize a ‘circulating and ecological economy’. This has inspired Koriyama to establish new local power producers and suppliers' structure. With regard to the COVID-pandemics, children in Koriyama joined the ‘Symbol of cross-national solidarity’ project to share a sense of unity, empathy and encouragement against COVID-19 with Essen in May 2020.

    Patrick Maurelli from Rome's CITERA Centre at Sapienza University referred to the cooperation with China and Malaysia in three areas: 1) smart energy districts, 2) circular economy of buildings, and 3) urban agriculture and collective gardens. Along with the Municipality of Rome and the Renewable Energy Association FREE, CITERA pilot projects with Asian cities include the development of energy management and deep retrofitting solutions, the development of Near Zero Energy Buildings and Positive Energy Districts models as well as Digital Twins (GIS/BIM) for innovative design and planning workflow. CITERA is also working with the Chinese cities of Yantai and Liuzhou on the age-friendly building design & certification guidelines, as well as on cultural heritage restoration models through digital tools. Alike Barcelona and Bologna, Rome will participate at Yangzhou's Horticultural Exhibition 2021 with an own garden pavilion already designed.   

    Sandra Marín from the IUC Methodolofgy Taskforce introduced the thematic networking approach proposed for the upcoming IURC programme. She said that it is proposed for all IURC regions to organise thematic networking events & webinars with relevant cities and stakeholders involving new cities & current IUC cities. According to the EU, the next period will capitalise on existing regional experiences to create a global impact.

    The session was moderated by the IUC regional team leaders Hidefumi Imura (IUC Japan), Panagiotis Karamanos (IUC India) and Pablo Gándara (IUC Asia). They referred to the results/potentials of city-to-city cooperation in the Smart City and Green Deal areas. They also showed resources provided by the different regional teams as well as by the Brussels-based project support unit, including an overview publication of city-to-city achievements published in June 2020.


    Programme International Workshop 2020_Asia_final


    01 IUC India_Intro Smart City

    02 Guangzhou (China)

    03 Panaji (India)

    04_Barcelona (Spain)

    05_IUC Japan_Intro Green Deal

    06_Koriyama (Japan)

    07_Chengdu (China)

    08_Rome (Sapienza)

    09_Methodolgy Taskforce

    For further information, please visit

    (external website of the EU Project)


    On 13 Oct. 2020, around 50 participants joined the workshop on regional innovation organised by DG REGIO. The event focused on the concept of smart specialisation as a means of improving investment in regional development. Dr. Rudolf Niessler – Principal Advisor at DG REGIO – stated that over the past years and building on a series of success stories at EU level, more than 120 Smart Specialisation Strategies (RIS3) have been developed in EU regions and Member States. Moreover, over 30 interregional partnerships on agri-food, industrial modernisation and energy have boosted and localised innovation policies.

    Professor Robert Hassink from the University of Kiel in Germany assessed the smart specialisation approach, focusing on the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP) that enables entrepreneurial actors to explore innovative activities leading to a transformation of the regional economy. Mr Hassink posted few critical questions to the absorption capacities of smart specialisation by regions with weak institutional capabilities and lacking strong horizontal measures. Here, endogenous potentials might be too weak to be integrated into the global value-chains. He also referred to the deglobalization process partly occurring since the COVID-19 crisis and trade tensions. Presentation 

    Professor Liu Lun from the School of Government and Management at Peking University introduced the EU China Regional Policy Study currently under elaboration. She introduced few achievements of China’s regional innovation policies, including the high number of patent grants and citations in peer reviewed papers. Shew also assessed few challenges including the regional disparity and the marketisation rate of invention patents by universities. Prof. Liu introduced the classification of regions in China, including provinces, macro-regions and city-clusters. She explained the stakeholders’ engagement during the innovation policy making at provincial and local level, focusing on the quadruple helix cooperation. Although there are national development policies, there is no one-size-fits-all policy in Chinese regions and cities, since these ultimately decide which areas to focus on. Prof. Liu provided few examples from Shandong, Jiangsu and Chengdu-Chongqing. She recommended European and Chinese regions to exchange experiences on stakeholders’ engagement (EDP) and identify businesses opportunities. Presentation 

    Dr. Silke Haarich from Spatial Foresight referred to the EU-CELAC INNOVACT Platform currently under implementation. The project aims to facilitate inter-continental learning and territorial cohesion specially to diffuse the EU regional policy experience and good practices in Latin America. Work focuses on innovation policy makers in border regions. Dr. Haarich referred to cross-border cooperation among seven border regions in ten Latin American countries, which have led to cross-border action plans. In total, over 1.800 have been involved in INNOVACT activities, she said.  Examples of actions implemented included IT solutions for regional value-chains and measures to promote cross-border tourism. Presentation

    Dr. Jaime del Castillo from INFYDE introduced the INNOV-AL Platform, which is supporting regional innovation and decentralisation in six Latin American countries. Dr. del Castillo referred to few policy analysis, capacity building and training measures, including internships of Latin American experts in Europe. He introduced key takeaways to consolidate innovation systems at the regional level in Latin America, including multilevel governance models, increasing considerably the R&D investment and strengthen decentralisation backed with stabile financial resources. Collaboration with the European Union and European regions accelerates the smart regional specialization process, he said. He gave an overview of current innovation policy developments in Latin America and the effects of the COVID19 pandemics in the exchange activities with Europe. Virtual measures implemented in collaboration with EURADA have enabled regions from both sides to continue cooperation. Presentation

    Dr. Vitarque Coelho from the Ministry of Regional Development in Brazil presented the new national policy for regional development (NPRD) launched in May 2019. The policy is based in a territorial approach for several government levels, i.e. macro-regions, sub-regions and special subregions. Dr Coelho introduced the four objectives of the NPRD, namely regional convergence, polycentric development, boosting regional competitiveness and achieving economic diversification.  He provided several examples of adding value to the strategic value chains for commodities like coffee and cacao. The NPRD encouraging entrepreneurship and productive inclusion by strengthening networks of productive and innovative local systems, existing or potential, in order to integrate them with regional, national or global systems – he said. Presentation 

    Discussion focused on the lack of innovation absorption capabilities in less favoured region, the need to create local knowledge to unlock the potential of the RIS3 approach, the importance of the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP) to sustain innovation in the regions and the benefits of international cooperation for European regions.

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International Affairs

In the international relations arena, the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy acts in support of, and in cooperation with the European External Actions Service (EEAS) and the external relations family of Directorates General (DEVCO and DG TRADE). There is a growing interest in different parts of world in the process of European integration, not just from an institutional point of view but also in terms of the policies that promote European economic and social development and territorial cohesion. Foremost among the latter is European regional policy which seeks to ensure that the benefits of the Single Market in Europe based on the free movement of goods and services, labour and capital, are as widely spread as possible.

Principal among the features of EU regional policy that are of interest to third countries such as China, Russia and Brazil, as well as to international organisations such as CARICOM, SACU, MERCOSUR and ASEAN, are issues such as the geographical targeting of resources between Member States and regions; the organization of multi-level governance systems; sustainable urban development policy; cross-border development; regional innovation systems and their implementation. So far as cooperation with countries in the European Neighbourhood are concerned, the EU seeks to promote key concepts of EU regional policy such as open markets, respect for the environment, participative democracy and partnership in the conception and implementation of development policy.

This interest comes at a time when the policy has undergone substantial changes. In effect, EU regional policy today is a means of delivering the Union's policy priorities across its territory. It does so by co-financing integrated, national or regional investment programmes, where the Union's contribution to the programmes is greatest in the least prosperous areas.

Today therefore, EU regional policy is an integral part of economic policy, but with the unique feature that it is delivered with the consent and involvement of the grassroots through a multi-level governance system where each level - European, national, regional and local - has a role to play. The involvement of the grassroots, for example, in devising regional and local strategies and selecting projects creates a sense of ownership of European policy and in that way contributes to territorial integration. It is these features that have inspired interest in large countries with major territorial imbalances that are seeking to combine the pursuit of a more even pattern of growth with governance systems that contribute to transparent public policies and that help to further integration through decentralisation.

As well as projecting notions of inter-regional solidarity and good governance, cooperation in the field of regional policy also provides the opportunity to project other values such as respect for the free market through competition, state aid and public procurement rules, for environmental rules and policies and for equal opportunities and minority rights. These create the framework conditions under which EU financial support is granted and provide positive incentives to achieving high standards in public policy.

Regional Policy Dialogues

The Commission, DG REGIO, has concluded formal agreements on regional policy cooperation with China PDF EN zh, Russia PDF EN EN, Brazil PDF EN EN, and Ukraine PDF EN Ukrainian, Georgia PDF EN, Moldova PDF EN, Chile PDF EN es, Peru PDF EN es, Argentina PDF en es, Japan PDF EN, Mexico PDF EN es, Sistema de Integracion de Centro-America (SICA) PDF EN es, Colombia PDF EN es, India PDF EN. These countries are confronted with wide regional disparities as well as major challenges in terms of coordinating the different levels of government, and ensuring that decentralization can be achieved without compromising efficiency.

Brochure : European Regional Policy, an inspiration for Countries outside the EU?

November 2009 - PDF en es fr hy ka mo pt Russian Ukrainian Chinese

Posters: PDF en