On 17 June, the directors from the Vanguard Initiative’s member regions met online for the High-Level Directors’ Meeting of 2021. During the meeting, the directors participated in fruitful discussions on the future development of the network and engaged with speakers from the European Commission and EFFRA on future opportunities for collaboration.
The meeting was moderated by Ellen Mulder, Director Public Affairs Department, East Netherlands, and Chair of the Vanguard Initiative. Ms Mulder summarised the achievements of the first six months of 2021, highlighting the strong cooperation within the Board, the launch of the network’s new website, that the Basque Country was appointed member of the industrial forum and that the pilot projects are preparing for the first calls within the new I3-instrument.
Željko Pazin, Executive Director, European Factories of the Future Research Association (EFFRA) presented the Made in Europe partnership within Horizon Europe. Its focus areas include strengthening the resilience of European industry, the climate and digital transitions and emerging new technologies. Mr Pazin emphasized that EFFRA is looking to increase its cooperation with regional authorities to explore synergies and complementarities and that the Vanguard Initiative is a very valuable partner in this effort.
A panel discussion followed with Ms Ulla Engelmann, Acting Director Networks and Governance, European Commission, DG GROW and Ms Denisa Perrin, Deputy Head of Unit EU and Place-Based Innovation Ecosystems, European Commission, DG Research. The discussions focused on the updated industrial strategy which is highlighting the effects and lessons learned from the COVID-pandemic on the EU’s industry and focusing on how the EU can accelerate the green and digital transitions in the industry. Ms Engelmann especially emphasized the need to put SMEs at the centre of the twin transitions.
Testimonies from member regions Asturias, Scotland, Tampere, and Basque Country stressed the importance to recognise the regional dimension and interregional cooperation in both the updated industry strategy and proposals for European innovation ecosystems. Regarding the new I3 instrument, Ms Denisa Perrin informed the directors that the work program will be launched in early July and that successful proposals need to bring together stakeholders from the quadruple helix and build on the strengths of the participating regions.
In a session focused on the internal governance of the network, recent achievements and upcoming activities were presented, most notably presentations of the two new pilot projects on Smart Health and Artificial Intelligence that were launched earlier in 2021. Furthermore, a call for proposal will be open until 6 September for ideas on how to use parts of the network’s financial reserve. Several ideas were raised during the meeting, such as the option to launch further pilots, calls for pilot cross-cutting activities, conducting in-depth value-chain analyses, and reports on cascade funding for SMEs.