Written by Silvia Polidori,
Today, our economy and lifestyles are becoming more circular and environmental friendly. This brings with it an industrial reconversion trend, driven by new business models, often based on new technologies, such as digital . How can old industrial areas in or close to towns be sympathetically converted into innovative and eco-friendly zones? How can we make these areas attractive hubs for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in the sustainable management of natural resources, modern energy solutions, and eco-efficient transport? And how is this incorporated in the EU’s current and next regional development strategy?
Fifteen experts from twelve EU Member States, including five Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), representatives of other European institutions, universities and local authorities, will gather to discuss the topic from various angles, highlighting the challenges, and proposing solutions based on policy strategies, legislative proposals and concrete examples.
As mentioned in an EPRS Briefing on ‘Harnessing globalisation for local and regional authorities – Challenges and possible solutions‘, global competition has affected various EU industries (e.g. coal, steel, iron, shipbuilding, automotive and textiles), to an extent that they have had to downsize their activities. Other challenges are also inherent to the topic of industrial transformation, such as the economic impact on urban areas where industry is located. For instance, SMEs may depend on those big industries, and demographic and employment issues are also involved. The long and expensive road to soil reclamation and general decontamination of the affected areas represents another challenge, addressing the environment. Adequate strategies need to be tailored to the specific EU areas, as not all EU urban regions have the same needs. In its ‘Reflection paper on harnessing globalisation’, presented in July 2017 as part of a series of papers on the future of Europe, the European Commission calls for a holistic approach to facing globalisation that also empowers local and regional authorities to successfully address the related challenges.
In its 2016 Resolution 2015/2278(INI) on ‘Cohesion policy and Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation’ (rapporteur: Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, EPP, Spain), the European Parliament shaped the current EU strategy and legislative framework 2014-2020, based on smart specialisation strategies. These support each region’s existing capabilities and combine them with the activities of local industries. According to a Parliament study, European cohesion policy has contributed to the rehabilitation and new development of industrial areas. A STOA Study on ‘New technologies and regional policy: Towards the next cohesion policy framework’ also provides policy options for the legislator, in view of the adoption of the next regional policy legislation for the 2021-2027 period. In particular, it highlights the role and potential of cohesion policy funding in planning and implementing urban innovation areas. A new generation of science parks can be developed in urban areas, thereby stimulating a wider constituency of entrepreneurs and businesses to innovate and grow.
On 29 May 2018, the European Commission published a ‘proposal for a regulation on the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF)’. The new cohesion policy is expected to focus on five policy objectives, including a Europe closer to citizens, with the support of locally-led development strategies and sustainable urban development. One of the key investment priorities is industrial modernisation. There is also a shift towards investments that promote a low-carbon, circular economy and the fight against climate change. Fighting exclusion and supporting the migrant integration are also high on the agenda. As many of these challenges will be tackled in Europe’s cities and metropolitan areas, the European Commission proposes further strengthening of the urban dimension of cohesion policy. Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development (REGI) adopted the ERDF-CF report in the form of amendments to the Commission’s proposal on 14 February 2019. Among the various points raised, the REGI Committee reiterated its support for sustainable urban development, smart specialisation and for a transition to industry 4.0. The next stage in the Parliament will be to table this report for vote in plenary.
Besides the strategic and legislative framework, representatives from six European towns will present some of the most prominent European cases of mastering industrial and economic reconversion.