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The European Research Area: Towards full recognition of Regional Innovation Hubs  
Cities and regions are keen to be fully involved in the governance and implementation of European research and innovation policies. In particular, the introduction of European Research Area (ERA) hubs could be a key tool in achieving the European Union's objectives concerning environmental, digital, social and economic cohesion, as the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) highlights in an opinion drafted by Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES), a member of Pays-de-la-Loire Regional Council.

​​ In September 2020, the European Commission adopted a communication aiming to revitalise the European Research Area (ERA) by defining a new vision, clear objectives and specific actions. While some elements of the opinion give greater recognition to regional innovation ecosystems, the European Committee of the Regions notes with regret that ERA governance is still centred around the Commission and the Member States, and is too close a continuation of the Horizon Europe programme, instead of progressing towards a "European Education and Research Area".

The Committee therefore advocates taking a cross-cutting approach closely linked to regional policies, involving a wide range of stakeholders – academia, industry, the public sector at various levels, the general public and civil society – and also highlights the need to fully recognise the role of smart specialisations and their collective and entrepreneurial process as one of the cornerstones of European research and innovation performance.

According to the rapporteur, Christophe Clergeau, "the European Research Area needs to have the objective of ensuring, alongside excellence, the availability in all EU cities and regions of high-quality science that can be harnessed to boost innovation and help society and businesses meet the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals and deal with today's crises. ERA hubs are an ideal instrument for fully recognising the merits of a place-based approach to science and innovation. This approach is all the more necessary in the context of the current crises, their impact on the most fragile and hardest-hit regions, and the fragmentation of the ERA."

In her speech at the CoR's plenary session today, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, stressed that "regions and cities will play a key role in strengthening the European Research Area, contributing to recovery and increasing Europe's resilience. Through our joint action plan with the European Committee of the Regions, we will empower researchers, entrepreneurs and civil society to consolidate their regional research and innovation ecosystems and become part of a pan-European network of excellence." The Commissioner confirmed that the CoR will participate in the ERA Forum for Transitions, which was launched this morning with the aim to develop the governance of the ERA and prepare the future Pact for Research and Innovation.

MEP Dan Nica (RO/S&D) said: "While the EU is a leader in R&I and international scientific collaboration, it lags behind in turning the research outcomes into disruptive innovation and in mobilising research and technological capacities in less developed regions. There should be stronger emphasis on the relationship between research and businesses, on the availability of high-quality science in all EU cities and regions and on their role in the co-creation process. I hope that "ERA hubs" will give a greater recognition to regional ecosystems and innovation hubs and also boost less developed regions."

The European Committee of the Regions hopes that at least 50 to 100 sites in Europe can be recognised as ERA hubs, including emerging ecosystems in more disadvantaged regions. They should be recognised as important points of support for achieving the European Union's objectives, and should be supported directly by the EU, including financially.

The rapporteur, Mr Clergeau, stresses that the network of ERA hubs could become an excellent framework to boost the emergence of collective research and innovation projects, combining several regional ecosystems and innovation hubs in a bottom-up approach. He also laments the fragmentation of the ERA, with major disparities between countries and regions, as highlighted by the most recent ERA progress report and the Regional Innovation Scoreboard .

Fearing that the COVID-19 crisis will result in a collapse in research and innovation investment in the most fragile and hardest-hit regions, the Committee calls for the Next Generation EU recovery plan and the new financial framework to provide greater support for higher education, research and innovation. The ReactEU programme and the Just Transition Fund should also be harnessed in line with the operational programmes adopted by the regions and their smart specialisation strategies.

More information

Research and innovation policies occupy a specific place in the Joint Action Plan adopted in November 2020 with the Commission departments under Mariya Gabriel's aegis (DG RTD, DG EAC and the JRC), which provides for enhanced cooperation and policy discussions between the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions. In particular, strategic cooperation on the Knowledge Exchange Platform (KEP) will focus on the new ERA. KEP 2.0's actions will bring the ERA concepts closer to the general population and provide regional/local stakeholders the opportunity to promote their relevant R&I activities.


Lauri Ouvinen

Tel. +32 473536887

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