Forging Networks and Innovation: Insights from the European Cluster Conference 2024

Submitted by ECCP Team on 14 May 2024

European Clusters Conference 2024

The 9th edition of the European Cluster Conference witnessed an impressive turnout, with around 700 participants spanning cluster practitioners, SMEs, policymakers, and esteemed speakers, who convened over two days of insightful discussions and networking opportunities. With 56 speakers sharing their expertise, a mix of 800 formal and informal meetings during the Matchmaking event, the conference served as a dynamic platform for fostering meaningful connections and catalysing innovation across diverse industrial ecosystems.

The event, held in Brussels, commenced by hosting two side events, respectively addressed to European cluster partnerships and Euroclusters, and to national cluster associations and networks, where European cluster representatives highlighted the pivotal role clusters play in navigating the evolving landscape of today's economy. Central to the discourse was the indispensable role of cluster policies and networks in propelling Europe towards a greener, more digital, and resilient future.

ECC2024 Exhibition

Before the official start of the Conference, Jan-Philippe Kramer, Team Leader of Data and Policy at the European Cluster Collaboration Platform, presented enlightening data on innovation scores and global rankings in key technologies, revealing China's significant strides in innovation vis-à-vis the EU and the USA. Kramer highlighted the critical role of clusters in the innovation ecosystem, showcasing examples such as the densely clustered Spanish province of Catalonia, which accounts for around a third portion of Spanish patents. He stressed the need for clusters to align with the green and digital transition and underscored the essential role of stable political support in fostering their success. To date, 14 EU member states are active in cluster policy.

At the official conference opening, Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, emphasized the imperative of overcoming cross-border barriers to bolster the internal market during his video address, highlighting cluster networking and the Euroclusters project as best practices in this regard.

Clusters for European competitiveness: Building new and reshaping existing value chains

Following this, Christian Ketels (Stockholm School of Economics), Montse Daban (CEBR), Bianca Muntean (Transilvania IT Cluster), Andrea Barbagelata (ASD Europe), and Mark Andries (VLAIO) gathered in the first panel session, “Clusters for European competitiveness: Building new and reshaping existing value chains”, moderated by Kerstin Jorna, Director-General of DG GROW, European Commission. The speakers conveyed that clusters are well-placed to help companies tackle current challenges and that connecting different clusters across Europe is key to fostering the knowledge exchange, collaboration, and innovation needed to build pan-European value chains. Christian Ketels stressed this point by stating:

“(We) need new forms of cooperation and that is expressed in the clusters and their cooperation. It is a real challenge because only a few recognise the problem-solving expertise of clusters.”

Emphasising clusters as solution-driven entities, Ketels advocated for unified engagement with policymakers to position clusters not only as funding recipients but as strategic partners in navigating complex challenges and effecting transformative change.

Being fit for the next EU mandate: Clusters as hotspots for attracting investments

The second high-level panel session, “Being fit for the next EU mandate: Clusters as hotspots for attracting investments”, was moderated by Jakub Boratynski, Director for Networks and Governance at DG GROW, European Commission. During the session, Ole Janssen (German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action), Pierre-Alexandre Balland (Utrecht University), Isabelle Grippa (, Verónique Willems (SMEUnited), and Kristina Šermukšnytė-Alešiūnienė (ECA) passed on the message that the EU should build on existing structures and actors, especially clusters, to attract investments and that clusters are at the right place to leverage public funding with private investments. Pierre-Alexandre Balland added to this by stressing the importance of connecting clusters across Europe to achieve actual competitiveness vis-à-vis other global players such as the US and China, stating that:

“We need to do a much better job at connecting clusters.”

The two high-level panel sessions were followed by 12 parallel sessions, which took place during the afternoon on 7th May and during the morning on 8th May. Some of the key takeaways from these sessions were that metaclusters represent a potent framework for fostering cluster excellence, driving economic growth, and enhancing competitiveness, and that metaclusters can address skill gaps by leveraging the distinct competence strengths of various regions.

European Clusters Conference 2024

During the parallel session on the EU’s security, participants underscored that clusters are key to protecting the EU’s security by addressing both long-term and short-term security challenges, such as supply chain shortages, cyber-attack risks and others. On the other hand, during the session “Creating shared value through clusters”, speakers shed light on the untapped reservoir of talent within the EU, particularly among women, in technology and other sectors. Clusters emerged as pivotal agents in bridging this gender gap and harnessing the full spectrum of human capital. Moreover, in a parallel session focused on start-ups and scale-ups, clusters emerged as indispensable vehicles for mitigating investment uncertainties by bringing together all the actors in industrial ecosystems.

Throughout several of the discussions, the indispensable role of funding emerged as a recurrent theme. Participants highlighted the pressing need for substantial investments to drive the envisioned green and digital transformation. They also converged on the point that the lack of technological knowledge and a change-averse mindset among companies and cluster organisations, as well as the difficulty in bringing innovations to market, are some of the key barriers clusters face as regards technology development and adoption.

The European Cluster Conference 2024 aimed to highlight the vital role of clusters in advancing EU industrial priorities and engage stakeholders in discussions on ongoing Commission initiatives, collecting feedback on 2024 priorities and encouraging bottom-up actions. The Conference is held every second year.

Please find more about the event and the event photo gallery.

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