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May 27, 2011

EP committee supports intermediate regions category

On 26 May, the Regional Development (REGI) Committee of the European Parliament voted in support of the creation of a new intermediate category of regions for the next Structural Funds programming period post-2013. The proposal, which overturned the recommendations of a report which went before the committee, would represent a new bridging mechanism between the strongly-subsidised Convergence ('Objective 1') and the less well-financed Competitiveness ('Objective 2') categories of assistance. Despite the committee’s approval the final decision from the Parliament is expected to be a close-run issue at the 23 June plenary session.

If ratified by both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the decision would group about 50, mainly Western European regions with GDP between 75% and 90% of the EU average. Whether or not the Border, Midland & Western Region could figure among this set will ultimately depend on which years’ figures are taken as the calculation basis.

The committee also set down a marker against the prospect of forthcoming Commission budget proposals fragmenting EU cohesion policy spending along sectoral lines. It sees separate initiatives for themes such as climate change or transport as a retrograde step which would fly in the face of the tried and tested regional programming approach and its ability to significantly address the Europe 2020 objectives relating to combating poverty, education and training, employment, innovation, and competitiveness as well as energy and the environment.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at May 27, 2011 06:32 PM

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May 25, 2011

BMW Innovation Audit

The Border, Midland & Western (BMW) Regional Assembly has published a strategic report on the regional innovation system. 'An Audit of Innovation in the BMW Region: An evaluation of a Regional Knowledge Economy' examines the innovation and economic performance of the region and sets out the key challenges and opportunities for significant job creation and economic growth in a range of emerging knowledge-intensive services (KIS).
These specific sectors - Medical Devices, Computer and Communications Hardware, Bio-Pharmaceuticals, Software and Communication Services, Processed chemicals and Materials, and Diversified Manufacturing and Processing are already worth close to EUR1bn to the local and regional economy, principally through high-value graduate employment in almost 1,500 firms, many as part of clusters. The report builds on a 2004 analysis of regional innovation whose update and extension to the KIS sector including R&D, ICT and management support services has been made possible through the Assembly's involvement - along with WESTBIC and the Southern & Eastern Regional Assembly - in the Interreg Atlantic Area project Atlant KIS.

A particular area of concern highlighted in the report is the underwhelming share of public R&D investment directed towards the BMW region over the past decade by Enterprise Ireland, the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions, and Science Foundation Ireland. The report recommends that national innovation policy should include a more explicit regional dimension to reflect local and regional economic realities and existing networks and linkages. It argues that regional innovation strategies can both take national considerations into account while also fostering a more effective level of implementation at the regional and local level. The report also strongly advocates the development of technology transfer intermediary bodies between industry and academia which can help overcome the 'culture gap' that currently persists.

Welcoming the launch of the report at the Assembly's Conference in Athlone on 20 May, Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, Richard Bruton T.D. stated his desire for regions to better understand their economic assets and to maximise their impacts on jobs both locally and regionally and gave a commitment to work more closely with the BMW Regional Assembly to review the implementation of the report’s recommendations.

The BMW Assembly's current Structural Funds Regional Operational Programme is providing EUR200m (50% co-funded by the EU) for planned investment in support of the development of the regional research and innovation system under the Innovation, ICT and Knowledge Economy Priority. The Assembly has also managed two Regional Programmes of Innovative Actions enabling 12 pilot actions to be developed in Partnership with regional stakeholders in support of technology transfer, innovation management and ICT development.

'An Audit of Innovation in the BMW Region'

Posted by iroronan at May 25, 2011 04:42 PM

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May 25, 2011

Governments approve 'Territorial Agenda for Diverse Regions'

A 19 May informal meeting of Ministers responsible for territorial development and spatial planning (Ireland was represented by Department of Finance officials) in Godollo, Hungary reached agreement on providing strategic orientations to foster the integration of the territorial dimension within different policies at all governance levels. 'Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020: Towards an Inclusive, Smart and Sustainable Europe of Diverse Regions' (TA2020) has been driven by the current Hungarian Presidency of the EU and is supportive of the principle of 'territorial cohesion'. This implies efforts to provide for ''harmonious, balanced, efficient, sustainable territorial development'' in order to allow each European region to achieve its potential including through integrated strategies based on a tailored 'place-based' approach.

This is especially pertinent in relation to ensuring that the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth are achieved through the implementation and monitoring of policies and actions which take due account of the varying territorial impact based on different regions' specific development opportunities.

As the EU does not have any competence in territorial development, this represents a high-level policy framework agreement rather than a binding spatial strategy. Its success will depend on Commission recognition - including through carrying out integrated impact assessments and detailed local and regional stakeholder consultation in advance of all significant EU legislative initiatives, policies and programmes to properly take territorial matters into account - as well as national actions (notably relating to the National Spatial Strategy in Ireland's case). Ireland has recently provided the Commission with a National Reform Programme (by which to deliver on Europe 2020) which conspicuously did not outline any specific measures to address regional imbalances or set any sub-national targets.

The TA2020 document identifies six main territorial challenges facing the EU and its regions collectively or more selectively:
1) Increased exposure to globalisation: structural changes after the global economic crisis;
2) EU integration and the growing interdependence of regions;
3) Territorially diverse demographic and social challenges, segregation of vulnerable groups;
4) Climate change and environmental risks: geographically diverse impacts;
5) Energy challenges threatening regional competitiveness;
6) Loss of biodiversity, vulnerable natural landscape and cultural heritage.

In response to these challenges, six 'Territorial Priorities' for the EU are also set out:
1) Promote polycentric and balanced territorial development;
2) Encourage integrated development in cities, rural areas and specific regions;
3) Territorial integration in cross-border and transnational functional regions;
4) Ensuring global competitiveness of the regions based on strong local economies;
5) Improving territorial connectivity for individuals, communities and enterprises;
6) Managing and connecting ecological, landscape and cultural values of regions.

Efforts to ascertain the feasibility and desirability of a coherent EU spatial policy as opposed to standalone sectoral policies date back beyond the publication of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) in 1999 where the concepts of polycentric development and integrated urban-rural interrelationships were placed on the EU agenda.

'Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020'
Further details

Posted by iroronan at May 25, 2011 12:19 PM

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May 23, 2011

Minister Perry named as Ireland's 'SME Envoy'

As part of the European Commission's efforts to improve the implementation of measures, at EU and national level, to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), all Member States were requested to nominate national SME Envoys. The chief role of these appointees is to take responsibility for ensuring that full account is being taken of the 'Think Small First' principle with the cross-cutting design and implementation of policies at national, regional and local levels being enterprise-friendly and with EU legislation relating to small firms being both correctly and appropriately applied at national level. The Irish Government has appointed Minister for Small Business John Perry T.D. to the role and he and other national nominees have now formed a new 'SME Envoy Network' which met for the first time in Hungary on 24 May.

The initiative is part of plans for better business governance under the Small Business Act (SBA) - the European Commission's SME policy framework to strengthen the performance of SMEs so that they can create and grow employment; to make Europe more business friendly; and to encourage entrepreneurship. The SBA Review is currently the subject of an Opinion within the Committee of the Regions (CoR), with Irish member Cllr. Connie Hannify (Offaly County Council, Midland Regional Authority and Border, Midland & Western Regional Assembly) acting as rapporteur in providing the local and regional perspective. Her report will be adopted by the CoR at its October plenary session.

'Small Business Act'

Posted by iroronan at May 23, 2011 11:16 AM

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May 20, 2011

Border Region's productive sector potential

Initial findings from a new Interreg-funded study by the Centre for Cross Border Studies underline the untapped potential of industrial activity in the Border Region and Northern Ireland. The 'By-passed places? The post-Belfast Agreement Border Region Economy' study, presented in a recent article in the Journal of Cross Border Studies in Ireland, has paid special interest to gaining an understanding of the productive structure and long-term prospects of the region by analysing issues including sectors of manufacturing and service industry activity; clustering potential; expansion or contraction trends; productivity levels; employee skills; and ownership (local or foreign).

The report is critical of regional development policy in both jurisdictions for leaving the border area ''stranded''with the exception of major infrastructural improvements along the Belfast-Dublin corridor. The authors conclude that ''new and more relevant frameworks of analysis are urgently needed if the border region and its struggling economy is to be reincorporated into the mainstream of island business life.''

An over-reliance on external investment to the detriment of building in a self-sufficient manner on the existing productive industry base is cited as a particular structural weakness hindering the region's prospects. To the South of the border, this is illustrated by the observation that most County and City Development Plan documents make scant reference to analysing the character and potential of their current indigenous and local manufacturing base - instead concentrating on pursuing a marketing-style approach to attract Foreign Direct Investment, much of which is reliant on external factors such as quality access to international connectivity for exports. The lack of scope for formal local/regional policy initiatives to facilitate the enterprise environment is alluded to as a factor in this disconnect.

Cllr. Patrick McGowan (Donegal County Council and Border Regional Authority), Head of the Irish Delegation to the Committee of the Regions, welcomed the report, saying that it ''underlines the challenges facing peripheral sub-regions within regions that are themselves peripheral'' and said that it ''demonstrates the need for continuing support for a strong Cohesion Policy post-2013 to encourage investment and to ensure that the necessary infrastructure can be put in place.'' However, he warned of the need to recognise recent work on cross-border development at various levels including ongoing investigations by the Department of the Environment, Community& Local Government and the Northern Ireland Department of Regional Development into possibilities for a spatial strategy for the island of Ireland.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at May 20, 2011 05:13 PM

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May 17, 2011

Ireland bids for major clean technologies projects

Following a Call for Proposals last November, two large-scale Irish-based demonstration projects were among the 78 proposals deemed eligible by EU Member State authorities to compete for funding under the 'NER 300' programme. This is the world's largest demonstration programme to attract investment in innovative renewable energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that are proven, but have not yet been implemented at full-scale.

The programme is to be funded from the sale of 300 million emission allowances held in the New Entrants Reserve (NER) of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). An indicative 34 renewable energy and 8 CCS projects are expected to be supported from the current Call (valued at EUR3 billion) plus a second Call expected in 2012 and worth in the region of an additional EUR1.5 billion depending on the market price for carbon allowances which the European Investment Bank can obtain.

One of the Irish bids is the WestWave project, led by ESB International in conjunction with a number of wave energy technology partners, which aims to generate an initial 5 Megawatts of electricity by 2015 from particular sites off the coasts of Mayo and Clare. The two relevant County Councils are included as partners to the consortium. The second application relates to the bio-energy category. At least one Irish project will be approved for funding under the terms of the Call.

Department of Community, Energy & Natural Resources - NER300

Posted by iroronan at May 17, 2011 07:15 PM

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May 15, 2011

Mayo greenway gets regeneration recognition

The Great Western Greenway in Co. Mayo has been announced by Failte Ireland as the Irish winner of this year's European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) award. The scheme promotes a more socially, culturally and environmentally sustainable form of tourism development in non-traditional destinations as a means of rebalancing tourist flows and/or combating seasonality.

The designated EDEN theme for 2011 is 'Tourism and Regeneration of physical sites' with an emphasis being placed on recognising previous and ongoing efforts to convert derelict local heritage sites and disused assets into catalysts for wider renewal actions.

The winning bid - a 17.5 km trail along the disused railway line from Newport to Mulranny - was opened last summer. It was selected in part for the manner in which the local community conceived of exploiting the full potential of the greenway for the betterment of the tourism economy, with the engagement with local landowners being cited as a key factor. It beat off competition from the Arigna Mining Experience, Co. Roscommon and the Lough Boora Lakelands, Co. Offaly.

The project received EUR160,000 in Failte Ireland developmental investment with a further EUR1.6m being earmarked last year for a forthcoming 24km extension of the route to the north and south linking Westport with Achill Sound via the original stretch. Mayo County Council and the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht have also provided funding. In recognition of its success, an application to the EDEN Call for Proposals for 2011 (part of the Competitiveness & Innovation Programme) is expected to provide up to EUR50,000 towards certain costs associated with aspects of the project.

Previous Irish destinations which have secured EDEN designation have been Clonakilty, Co. Cork; Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula, Co. Louth; Sheep's Head peninsula, Co. Cork; and Loop Head Peninsula, Co. Clare.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at May 15, 2011 06:46 PM

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May 11, 2011

State Aid relaxation for Local Authorities?

New legislation that would allow local authorities to avoid EU state aid scrutiny when subsidising small-scale public services of a purely localised nature such as recreational and cultural amenities is at an advanced stage of preparation by the Commission. This practical approach would involve adapting public procurement rules - raising the so-called 'de minimis' threshold - in order to relieve local authorities from having to file complicated public tenders in relation to works and services which evidently have little or no impact on trade between Member States or potential to distort market competition. The indication was given by Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia at an early May conference on reforming the state aid rules on Services of General Economic Interest.

The general principle of state aid scrutiny is that its application should be proportionate to cases where competition distortions are likely to result. The proposed move would free up resources within the Commission's DG Competition to re-orientate efforts away from investigating complaints of negligible significance towards a prioritising of infringements which are of sufficient scale to constitute a matter in which Brussels should involve itself as part of its responsibilities to the proper functioning of the Single Market. The Commission is expected to publish a communication on state aid reform in November before new rules come into force by the end of the year.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at May 11, 2011 07:26 PM

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May 06, 2011

Project: Electric vehicles for Cork & Dublin

Cork and Dublin City Councils (the latter through the CODEMA Energy Agency) are among a consortium of cities, research institutions (including Trinity College), utility companies (including ESB eCars) and vehicle industry bodies set to avail of a major EU-backed pan-European ''electromobility'' initiative which is now underway.
Green eMotion, a four-year project worth EUR41.8 million with EUR24.2 million being provided by the Seventh Research Framework Programme, aims to exchange and develop know-how and experience in twelve regions (eight Member States) in dealing with electric vehicle issues and different technological approaches, as well as to facilitate the market roll-out of the new generation of cars. It will cover different types of electric vehicles, the development of Smart Grids (see News & Policy section), innovative Information & Communication Technologies solutions, and urban mobility concepts.

The project is part of the European Green Cars Initiative and also relates directly with the Commission's Transport 2050 Roadmap (see March Bulletin) which places a major shift in cities to electric vehicles at the core of ambitions to half the number of conventionally fuelled cars in European cities by 2030 and to phase them out completely by 2050 - thereby significantly reducing Europe's dependency on oil for transport and slashing CO2 levels by at least 60 percent.

Both Irish cities will serve as demonstration regions focusing on direct current (DC) charging stations; billing systems based on kilowatt hour usage; and supplier choice. Other sites in Spain, Germany, Italy and Denmark will address issues including plug-in hybrid vehicles; battery swopping; vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and battery-to-grid (B2G) power generation; renewable energy integration; alternative business models; and consumer behaviour.


Green Cars Initiative

Posted by iroronan at May 6, 2011 01:07 PM

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May 04, 2011

Ireland's plan for Europe 2020 growth strategy unveiled

On 29 April the Government submitted to the European Commission Ireland's National Reform Programme (NRP) - the plan detailing which structural changes are required in Ireland in order to deliver towards the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and socially-inclusive growth.

The document is intended to set out measures that will be undertaken to achieve a set of established targets, which, in an Irish context include:
(a) to raise the employment rate for persons aged 20-64 to 69-71% (current rate being 64%);
(b) to increase public and private sector investment in R&D to approximately 2% of GDP (or 2.5% of GNP);
(c) to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 20% compared to 2005 levels, increase the share of renewables in energy consumption to 16%, and move towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency;
(d) to reduce the percentage of 18-24 year-olds with low education levels to 8% and increase the share of 30-34 year-olds with a tertiary education to at least 60%;
(e) to reduce the number experiencing consistent poverty to 2-4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, lifting at least 186,000 people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion.

Ireland's NRP will operate within the framework of the National Recovery Plan, published last November and a number of the actions are central elements of the Programme for Government which are set to be fleshed out under forthcoming actions, such as the Government's Jobs Initiative.

All 27 NRPs will now be assessed by the Commission, who will issue recommendations for each country in June. Ireland's draft NRP was subject to a brief consultation process during April whereby stakeholders including the two Regional Assemblies; the Association of Irish Regions and the Irish Delegation to the Committee of the Regions were given an opportunity to make comments. These stakeholders were somewhat critical of the approach taken, feeling that, by not setting any sub-national targets, outlining any specific measures to address regional imbalances, nor proposing actions to build on regional development potentials, the NRP does not adequately take account of the territorial dimension. There was also disappointment that the expectation that the partnership principle would be better applied in the NRP preparation, implementation and monitoring arrangements, to engender a greater sense of ownership and, in turn, enhance its implementation prospects, has not been met.

Ireland's National Reform Programme

Posted by iroronan at May 4, 2011 06:11 PM