Competitiveness clusters


The European Union is seeking to promote clusters of large companies, SMEs, researchers, and other economic actors to help foster innovation, bring together a critical mass of commercial and R&D expertise and get maximum value from investment.

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Europe invests billions of euros in knowledge-based industries, but there is concern that links between industry and research are weak, and that market fragmentation is causing investment to leak out of the research infrastructure. 

At present, there are the 2,000 or so European competitiveness clusters in existence, but the European Commission wants to transform these into world-class innovation centres. 

The EU executive defines a 'cluster' as "a group of firms, related economic actors and institutions that are located near each other and have reached a sufficient scale to develop specialised expertise, services, resources, suppliers and skills". 

The Commission highlighted strengthening competitive clusters as a priority for promoting innovation in a 2006 communication. In October 2008, the European Cluster Policy Group was established as part of this effort. This could lead to the establishment of a self-sustainable, not-for-profit European Cluster Manager Association, which would help to raise the profile of clusters and attract funding (EurActiv 20/10/08). 

Clusters are primarily viewed as a market-driven phenomenon, rather than something designed and propped up by governments. However, public policy in several member states since the end of the 1990s has sought to encourage universities and research institutes to play a role in the emergence of strong clusters. 

Some observers warn against too much state intervention in supporting clusters, fearing that 'manufactured' clusters would be less dynamic.