EU pushes for world-class innovation clusters

The European Commission has proposed a series of measures aimed at overcoming weak links between industry and research and market fragmentation in a bid to help turn the 2,000 or so existing European competitiveness clusters into world-class innovation poles amid increased global competition.

“Europe does not lack clusters, but it lacks world-class clusters,” the Commission said, announcing its communication on measures to be taken to facilitate the emergence of world-class clusters in the EU. 

Indeed, according to the European Cluster Observatory there are currently already “around 2,000 statistically significant agglomerations” in the EU. 

However, according to the Commission, “persistent market fragmentation, weak industry-research linkages and insufficient cooperation within the EU” mean these clusters do not always have the necessary critical mass and innovation capacity to grow into world-class excellence poles.

“We need more world-class clusters in the EU,” said Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, arguing that clusters play a vital role in business innovation and are “powerhouses of job creation”. 

The communication adopted on 17 October proposes a number of measures to improve synergies between the different policy levels that affect further strengthening of clusters. These include:

  • Deepening the EU internal market by removing barriers to trade, mobility and free movement of knowledge;
  • improving cluster policies through the Lisbon National Reform Programmes
  • fostering transnational cooperation to match complementary strengths; 
  • promoting excellence of cluster organisations through professionalising cluster management, and; 
  • improving the integration of innovative SMEs into clusters to promote technology transfer and support the internationalisation of SMEs’ activities.

The EU executive also said it would establish a European Cluster Policy Group to share intelligence about cluster policies and advise on how to support the emergence and growth of world-class excellence clusters in Europe. The policy group will replace the current High Level Advisory Group on clusters, with a view of raising its profile and visibility.


A cluster can, according to the European Commission, be defined 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". 

Its 2006 Communication on a broad-based EU innovation strategy identified strengthening existing clusters as one of its strategic priorities for successfully promoting innovation. 

The communication was welcomed by EU ministers, who agreed that clustering can be "an effective means to strengthen regional innovation by combining [the] competences of industry, research and public authorities". 

EU heads of state and government also recently underlined the need to better coordinate the framework conditions for innovation, "including through improved science-industry linkages and world-class innovation clusters and the development of regional clusters and networks".


  • Early Dec. 2008: Member states to present revised Lisbon National Reform Plans.

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