The Vanguard Initiative is a network of 30 EU regions which are politically committed to revitalising European industrial growth by leading by example in boosting growth, competitiveness and innovation in their regions. This should be done by improving the alignment between regional areas of strength and enabling co-investment, on the basis of regional smart specialisation strategies. The political leadership in every partner region has undertaken this commitment by signing a joint declaration, known as the Milan Declaration.
The Initiative was founded in November 2013 by 10 regions. The VI is organised on three levels: the political leaders of the engaged regions, regional representatives in Brussels coordinating the activities of the network, and operational experts developing cross-regional industrial activities through the so-called ‘pilot projects’.
The VI aspires to serve as a forum to bring together regions engaged in the renaissance of EU industry and to transform regional clusters into world-class clusters, leading to a more sustainable economy in which new growth is a top priority, as agreed in the Milan Declaration.
The Initiative aims to exploit the network effect of cross-regional investments by developing and demonstrating joint pilots and innovative demonstration cases in order to foster competitiveness and to co-create growth markets.
The EU’s industrial development of new integrated value chains currently lacks common information and investment among its regions. For instance, an enterprise from one region could have significant potential to develop an innovative solution for a company in another European region, together with a third party from yet another region. However, they would first need to find out about each other and then be able to connect with one another. Subsequent joint demonstration cases would then benefit if the regions had a framework for co-investment and combined funding.
With the aim of facilitating shared and common information and investment in key industrial areas across the EU, VI regions use the bottom-up entrepreneurship approach and apply the methodology of ‘learn, connect, demonstrate and commercialise’. By so doing, they want to make the most of the synergies and complementarities among their corresponding regional smart specialisation strategies to strengthen Europe’s competitive capacity.
By collaborating, VI regions aim to create the necessary conditions for setting up an interregional network in European priority areas which can facilitate access to combined funding for co-investment projects as well as exploring solutions to leveraging public-private investments. The final goal is to lead new industries in the future and to offer innovative solutions to common challenges among the VI regions.
The VI’s activities focus on leading by example and implementing its proposals for a new approach. This new approach addresses interlinking the regional eco-systems and clusters into new innovation-driven cross-EU value chains. This could be the key to meeting global challenges and achieving balanced and sustainable growth. Central to this approach is to make use of regions’ smart specialisation strategies and, by so doing, strengthen participants’ global potential while simultaneously aiming to create world-class clusters in Europe.
In order to build critical mass and complementary specialisations in Europe within emerging industries, it is crucial to produce and align strategic roadmaps between regional, national and European levels in support of Europe’s priority areas.
Strategic roadmaps enable the alignment of the strategic investments needed to open new industrial pathways via flagship projects. VI regions are committed to combining their resources with European investments in the focus areas defined.
The VI functions as a valued and focused partnership to stimulate and support a strategic dialogue among its members and with the European Commission in order to create jobs, growth and investment. Its activities can be divided into two main groups: operational activities and those directly related to the objectives. Task groups have been set up to deal with the different activities. The task group on communication deals with the communication materials like the website, presentations, etc.
The Future of the Vanguard task group is designing the future structure of the VI as an organisation. The policy influencing working group is tasked with developing a strategy to influence the policies of the different European institutions and other relevant players (e.g. Committee of the Regions - CoR). The Vanguard pilot monitoring task group is in charge of monitoring the pilot projects. These pilot projects are the VI’s main activities related to the objectives of interregional cooperation based on smart specialisation.
The financial instruments task group is exploring possible financial instruments for funding interregional ecosystems and related activities.
The Pilot Projects
The Initiative has developed a methodology for setting up joint activities in Europe’s priority domains, based on the smart specialisation agenda at the centre of the EU’s drive for new growth. The learn-connect-demonstrate-commercialise methodology is currently being implemented through five different pilot projects. These pilot projects are focusing on the joint development of networks of demonstrators and pilot actions to accelerate market development in Europe for existing and emerging industries with competitive and high-value added products.
- The pilot project on Advanced Manufacturing for Energy-Related Applications in Harsh Environments (lead: Scotland and the Basque Country) aims to make the EU the global leader in manufacturing robust high-integrity components for marine renewables and offshore energy applications.
- The High-Performance Production through 3D-Printing pilot project (lead: South-Netherlands, Flanders and Norte) focuses on the creation of a network of industry-led demonstrators across European regions to improve the uptake of solutions provided by 3D-printing technologies.
- Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing (lead: Catalonia and Lombardy) aims to create a network of demo-sites and pilot lines at the regional level that will enable manufacturing companies in different sectors, including SMEs, to develop and introduce highly efficient and sustainable processes, technologies, systems and methods.
- The Bio-Economy: interregional cooperation on innovative use of non-food biomass pilot project (lead: Randstad Region and Lombardy) focuses on the implementation and demonstration of synergies in new bio-based value chains across the regions based on their smart specialisations.
- The goal of New Nano-enabled products pilot project (lead: Skåne and Tampere) is to boost the advanced manufacturing of innovative nanotechnologies via joint demonstration cases in which regions can intensify their collaboration.
The pilot projects are following a four-step methodology.
- The first step is the mapping of potential actors and infrastructures for emerging value chains, innovation clusters and industries that will establish Europe as the leader of this new industrial revolution (learn phase).
- The second step is the matching of partners in the identified value chains across the regions seeking to cooperate on a common roadmap (connect phase).
- The third step is the development of a network of pilots and demonstrators (demonstrate) based on a commitment to ‘co-invest’ by businesses and public authorities by combined funding.
- The final step, commercialise, is the implementation by business actors of new innovation and industrial investment projects in emerging industries.
How to get involved
Regions interested in joining the Initiative can send a letter at the political level to the current chair of the Coordination Group and Secretariat expressing their interest in joining. Subsequently, the region can be invited as an observer to the next VI operational meeting in Brussels. Regions that have strengths in one of the pilot initiatives can express their interest by contacting the pilot project leads – contact details are on the VI website. The requirements to join are different for each pilot. In any case, the addition of a region in the pilot project must be made clear.