For the past 25 years, industry's share in Europe's economy has consistently decreased, and the recent crisis has only deepened that trend. Still, industry plays a central role in the EU's economy. It provides highly skilled employment for some 34 million people, and each job in the industry sector creates two additional jobs in the supply and service sectors. Industry generates 75 per cent of the EU's exports and 80 per cent of its innovations. That is why today, Europe so desperately needs an effective reindustrialisation programme.
Reindustrialising the EU's economy is central to overcoming the crisis and building a stable foundation for European prosperity. Without a major leap in innovation, Europe will struggle to keep up with its global competitors, and industry will have a tough time being environmentally sustainable.
Bringing together companies, government agencies and academic institutions, clusters must be the backbone of our reindustrialisation policy. Through strong synergies between the public and private sectors, clusters are key to stimulating innovation, research and development in a way that will have spill-over effects across a variety of sectors and regions. They are important drivers of growth and higher-skilled jobs, generating competitiveness not only on a regional scale, but for both national and EU economies.
"Reindustrialising the EU's economy is central to overcoming the crisis and building a stable foundation for European prosperity"
The role of clusters is recognised in the EU's different strategies. As parliament's rapporteur on the seventh framework programme for research, I have always underlined the potential of the 'regions of knowledge', and so I am pleased that fostering cooperation between academia and industry is central to the proposal's budget.
Assisting EU regions and members states in developing world-class clusters and promoting their cooperation across the EU are goals brought forth by our programme for the competitiveness of enterprises and small and medium sized enterprises (COSME), as well as Horizon 2020 - both key programmes on which parliament's industry, research and energy committee worked during the last term.
Today, under COSME we are already carrying out the cluster excellence programme, and the European commission is presently accepting proposals for cluster facilitated projects aimed at developing new industrial value chains.
We must also recognise that clusters can be crucial in delivering key enabling technologies - nanotechnology, micro- and nanoelectronics, advanced materials, biotechnology and photonics - which have been identified as priority areas for the EU's knowledge-based economy under Horizon 2020.
Moreover, as drivers of innovation and competitiveness-based growth, clusters are the backbone of the EU's regional policy. Developing regions' unique specialisations is a crucial element of our regional and cohesion policy.
For example, in my home region of Silesia, synergies between existing industries, academic institutions and entrepreneurship-oriented regional policy help make it one of the key drivers of nationwide economic growth. It is only natural for smart specialisation strategies in many regions across the EU to be built around existing or prospective clusters.
We recognise that through clusters, regions strategy. This must be translated into our structural policies, as well as investment programmes. This is also a challenge for the commission's investment plan, which is expected to unlock at least €315bn. This could generate funding for smart specialisations and clusters, particularly where they carry strong potential for innovation, yet struggle to access funding.
"As parliament's rapporteur on the seventh framework programme for research, I have always underlined the potential of the 'regions of knowledge', and so I am pleased that fostering cooperation between academia and industry is central to the proposal’s budget"
At the same time, projects developed by clusters and as part of smart specialisation might at times carry better prospects for stimulating innovation, growth and job creation than proposals put forward at national or EU-level.
Synergy between clusters, smart specialisation and the reindustrialisation of the EU's economy must be better recognised by policymakers, investors and entrepreneurs - at regional, national and EU-level. This way, we can build the competitive advantage of Europe's economy.
The first world cluster congress, taking place this month in Dąbrowa Górnicza, will offer us an excellent opportunity for broad discussions on local and global economies.
I am glad that it will be taking place in Silesia, which has centuries-old industrial traditions and key industry-related research institutions, among them Poland's largest technical university. Naturally, the congress will focus on the challenges and opportunities facing clusters. It should help foster cooperation and exchange best practices.
It will also be an opportunity to look at development strategies of our regions, and synergies between smart specialisation and clusters. Nonetheless, driving innovation and reindustrialisation for the European economy must be the underlying theme - in discussions at the world cluster congress just as much as in EU policymaking.