Will Smart Specialisation impact Europe’s textile regions?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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In the EU Cohesion Policy programming for 2014-2020, Smart Specialisation Strategies are a new tool for regions to design their investment in research and innovation. Europe’s leading textile regions united in RegioTex initiative to realise this potential, writes Lutz Walter.

Lutz Walter is Innovation Manager at EURATEX (European Apparel and Textile Confederation) and Secretary General of the European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing.

To face vigorous global competition, Europe’s textile and fashion sector has been undergoing a dramatic transformation exploiting research, advanced manufacturing technologies creativity and new business models focused on value adding services. In several European regions, this industry remains a major employer and creator of economic value with positive trends in turnover, exports and some cases of manufacturing reshoring in recent years. For example, Norte Portugal is the number one textile region, with 100,000 direct jobs in textiles and clothing production.

The EU Smart Specialisation Policies encourage regions to use more of their Structural Funds for innovation investments in the sectors of their strength and competitive advantage. For this reason, Norte and several other EU regions decided to support the textile and clothing sector in their Smart Specialisation Strategy through the advanced manufacturing and creative industries priorities. In many other regions, especially in the Central and Eastern European member states, the sector failed to be recognised as a priority domain for innovation support. It can be explained by fragmented SME-dominated nature of this industry, its generally traditional image or simply by the lack of interaction between the sector’s representatives and regional authorities. 

To better exploit EU regional funding opportunities and connect regional textile innovation clusters, EURATEX and the European Textile Technology Platform decided to facilitate a dialogue between the EU regions specialising in advanced manufacturing of textiles or the creative industries. Regional authorities, industry representatives and innovation enablers were brought together to develop the best strategies to enhance textile innovation.

As a result, the RegioTex initiative was shaped and officially launched on 13 April 2016 during the conference ‘Boosting Regional Textile Innovation in Europe’ held at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels. Six regions have committed to lead RegioTex at this starting stage: Catalonia (ES), Nord Pas de Calais (FR), Norte Portugal (PT), North-East Romania (RO), Valencia (ES) and West-Flanders (BE). More than ten other regions from important textile producing countries such as Italy, Germany or the UK were also involved in RegioTex creation and may formally join the initiative.

The main goals of RegioTex are to strengthen regional innovation structures and capacities and to establish effective European collaboration between regional actors. The initiative will focus on a number of key innovation themes for this industry such as advanced materials and manufacturing technologies, creativity and design-based innovation. Digitisation of supply chains and business models and sustainable business operations are the other priority topics.

With the RegioTex initiative, Europe’s textile regions and their political and sectoral representatives express their intention to help making the EU’s Smart Specialisation policy a success. What is expected from the EU authorities is a recognition and some operational support for such bottom-up initiatives, similar to what is provided to the broader Vanguard initiative. And a special action to bring Central and Eastern European textile regions on board of RegioTex should be a high priority. We need more specialised textile research, innovation and training infrastructure right in the regional and local clusters where this industry in concentrated to defend Europe’s position as the global textile innovation leader.

Its creators hope that RegioTex will build an active and lasting EU network of textile regions for peer-to-peer learning and to facilitate business and innovation collaboration. After its official launch, the initiative remains open for further regions sharing its targets and themes.

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