On 19 November, the Vanguard Initiative organised the Annual Political Meeting 2020, and for the first time ever the meeting was held in digital format. During the meeting, political representatives from the member regions engaged in fruitful discussions about the network’s future priorities, as well as with speakers from the European Commission’s DG REGIO and DG RTD on the importance of interregional collaboration, as well as the new opportunities offered by the Digital Innovation Hubs, European Innovation Council and how the Vanguard Initiative’s member regions are central for the implementation of the new EU Industrial Strategy.
During the meeting, an interactive panel discussion featured interventions by Keith Sequeira, Head of Unit EIC Governance and Coordination, DG research and innovation, and Monika Zsigri, Deputy Head of Unit Smart and Sustainable Growth, DG for Regional and Urban Policy. The panel was moderated by Richard Tuffs, Friends of Smart Specialisation, and following the two interventions the political representatives engaged with the speakers on a broad number of topics; how Horizon Europe will support innovative SMEs through the European Innovation Council, the strong ecosystem approach in the new industrial strategy, the importance of instruments such as the interregional innovation investments and Digital Innovation Hubs to accelerate the EU’s green and digital transition.
The main achievements of the Vanguard Initiative in 2020 were also highlighted during the meeting. One focus area has been to operationalize the new funding model that was approved at the Annual Political Meeting 2019. The new model allows for greater flexibility which has resulted in several positive developments, such as the launch of a call for new pilot projects. The call is open until 10 December and pending successful applications it will result in the first new Vanguard Initiative pilot in several years.
Prior to the meeting, the new Board and Chair had been elected and in his remarks, Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for the Economy of the Welsh Government, announced that East Netherlands will be taking over from Wales to chair the network in 2021. Mr Waters also welcomed the Vanguard Initiative’s newest member, East and North Finland, bringing the total membership to 38 regions. Mr Waters concluded that even though 2020 has been a very challenging year, Wales is pleased to have seen the network develop in positive ways during their time as Chair. In particular he noted the crucial role interregional collaboration plays in the economic and social recovery from COVID-19, and the 3DP Pan EU Platform was mentioned as one succesful example of this which emerged from Vanguard Initiative.