Third European Cluster Policy Forum: improving linkages and synergies in cluster policy

Submitted by Alina Danieles… on 08 March 2019

On 15 November 2018, 18 representatives of 15 EU countries met to discuss how clusters and regional and local ecosystems can accelerate entrepreneurship, industrial modernisation and growth and what policies can do to support this process and connections between them.

Participants were updated on:

  • The launch of the EU Cluster Weeks (to take place between 20 November 2018 and 30 April 2019) and the plans for the European Cluster Conference (14-16 May 2019) in Bucharest, Romania. The Conference will focus on the theme of ‘Connecting ecosystems’ while more specific topics will be digitalisation and the skills gap, circular economy, shared value and social impact. It will host an EU cluster matchmaking pre-event and follow an interactive, participatory approach.
  • The Joint Romanian-Hungarian International Cluster Conference (20-22 November 2018) which took place in Oradea (Romania) and Debrecen (Hungary) and Cluster Excellence Denmark’s ‘Future Weeks’. Both events served as the kick-off events of the EU Cluster Weeks.
  • The planned establishment of a Commission Expert Group on Clusters to follow up on the work of the European Cluster Policy Forum.
  • The new European Cluster Excellence Programme call for proposals, which saw its budget increased to €3.6 million to implement a ClusterXchange pilot – a clusters mobility scheme similar to Erasmus.
  • The European Cluster Excellence Initiative, with plans presented by the external representatives to make some changes to the labelling scheme and to make the process more transparent, e.g. by setting up a new legal non-profit entity as part of a new governance structure.
  • Recent changes in France’s competitiveness cluster policy designed to strengthen the existing model by giving more prominence to the competitiveness cluster label and by increasing participation in European collaborative projects and partnerships.
  • Good practice examples of entrepreneurship support through clusters from Scale Up Denmark, the Silvano Fumero Bio Industry Park in Italy and the Bioeconomy region (Värmland and Dalarna regions in Sweden)
    • The renewed focus on clusters being incorporated in the COSME pillar of the draft Single Market Programme under the next Multiannual Financial Framework. The Commission encouraged to gather more views from EU countries about the role of Joint Cluster Initiatives, and in particular on synergies with other EU programmes, implementation aspects, complementarity with national and regional efforts, the participant selection process, the prioritisation and size of partnership projects.
    • The EU Industry Days, that took place on 5-6 February 2019 in Brussels, accompanied by local events.  

Outcomes of the 3rd European Cluster Policy Forum

  • The work on cluster excellence is heading in the right direction, however stakeholder commitment will be critical for continuity and more clarity and information on the proposed changes was encouraged
  • Linkages with digitisation and smart specialisation need strengthening and synergies across EU cluster initiatives are very important
  • EU cluster initiatives need to take different national characteristics, needs and objectives into account
  • Cluster partnerships and internationalisation are key for cluster growth
  • A collaborative approach is needed that involves clusters in the discussions in order to learn from stakeholders’ experiences and the EU Cluster Weeks were welcomed to do this
  • EU countries’ input on the draft proposal on the Single Market Programme and the further development of the proposed Joint Cluster Initiatives was encouraged as the Multiannual Financial Framework discussion is underway


The basis for discussion included an input paper providing insight and concrete examples of how clusters can build favourable environments for start-ups and SMEs to grow and increase their competitiveness. Cluster policies are useful for integrating policy fields that are usually addressed separately and are relevant to entrepreneurship. At the same time, cluster organisations can position themselves at the centre of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by integrating and leveraging the systemic conditions that enhance firms’ performance.

The paper challenges the linear view on entrepreneurship that all start-ups and scale-ups result from new technological inventions and argues the importance of a more systemic view on innovation. The paper also pointed out that relating entrepreneurship and scale-up policies to value-chain policies is a new concept. It implies positioning emerging European value chains within global value chains. Collaboration between clusters in the same or in related value chains also involves companies that can potentially compete with each other, meaning that such collaboration needs to be carefully designed.

Effective ecosystems cannot be created within a short time period and cannot simply replicate other successful models. Continued and experimental policy support is needed.

Entrepreneurship support through clusters is about strengthening and leveraging links between the different actors of the entrepreneurial ecosystems, including universities, technology transfer centres, providers of innovation services, service and manufacturing firms, providers of public funding and private sector venture capitalists. Even if this is still an emerging policy approach in the European cluster policy landscape, several good practice examples exist across Europe in both traditional and emerging industries, in both developed and less developed regions.

In the discussions, a number of participants identified common challenges to cluster policy in Europe:

  • Identifying the appropriate number of clusters and the size of the critical mass of clusters
  • Rationalising the landscape of cluster business service providers
  • Promoting synergies across European, national and regional cluster initiatives
  • Internationalisation of clusters
  • The need to embed digitisation across the board
  • Professionalising cluster organisations

The Advanced technologies, Clusters and Social Economy unit of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs highlighted that they are putting a high emphasis on the linkages between its EU cluster initiatives and the implementation of digital innovation hubs and smart specialisation strategies.

The Commission further explained the intention to bring together the 4 strands of the ongoing EU cluster initiatives  with European Strategic Cluster Partnerships (on cluster excellence, internationalisation and smart specialisation investments and so-called INNOSUP-1 cluster projects for new industrial value chains to support innovation in SMEs) and to also introduce new elements such as skills, scaling-up and mobility. Participants welcomed the proposed streamlining. For future partnerships, they stressed the importance of allowing a mix of approaches and sizes of projects and the need for complementarity between EU, national and regional initiatives. Future EU cluster policy should also take national circumstances into account and continue to facilitate the exchange of experiences.

Next Edition

The next European Cluster Policy Forum will take place on 14 March 2019 in Brussels. It will focus on the topics of skills and internationalisation and be organised again with the support of the European Observatory for Clusters and Industrial Change.

For general enquiries about the European Cluster Policy Forum, please contact GROW-CLUSTERS [at]

Reference documents

Presentations of the speakers:


  • Update on EU cluster initiatives – Ulla Engelmann, Head of Unit, Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Session 1: Communication concerning the EU Cluster Weeks and EU Cluster Conference 2019

  • Update on EU Cluster Weeks and EU Cluster Conference 2019 – Aurélie Lechien, Annalisa Tessarolo DG GROW
  • Joint Romanian – Hungarian International Cluster Conference 2018: Bridging countries reaching Europe – Gabriela Pirvu, Ministry of Economy, Romania
  • Joint Romanian – Hungarian International Cluster Conference 2018: Bridging countries reaching Europe – Peter Keller, Ministry of the Economy, Hungary
  • Future Week Denmark – Merete Daniel Nielsen, Cluster Excellence, Denmark

Session 2 – Communication concerning Cluster Excellence

  • Cluster Excellence Labelling - Update on the current developments European Cluster Excellence Initiative (Phase II) - Hervé Floch, French Association of Competitiveness Clusters, and Helmut Kergel, VDI/VDE

Session 3: Update from France on recent cluster policy development at national level

  • The French competitiveness cluster policy Stage IV – Xavier Merlin, Direction Générale des Entreprises, Ministry of Economy and Finance

Session 4: Using clusters to boost and promote entrepreneurship

  • Using clusters to boost and promote entrepreneurship – Laura del Ponte, CSIL,
  • Scale-up Denmark - Søren Røn,
  • BioIndustry Park – Fabrizio Conicella,
  • Bio region economy - Gunnar Hellerström /Monika Svanberg

Session 5: Co-creation of future cluster initiatives

  • Co-creation of future cluster initiatives – Carsten Schierenbeck, Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Conclusions and next steps - Ulla Engelmann

The article was published on the website here. © European Union, 1995-2019

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