The cohesion policy and the conditions it created for succes

On October 12th, “Cohesion Policy 2021-2027: Creating conditions for success”, a European Week of Regions and Cities 2021 side event was successfully held. The event focused on what impacts the old cohesion policy had on SMEs and regional development as well as how the new policy can continue to support the scaling up and internationalization of SMEs while recovering from the pandemic.

Ms. Tanya Hristova, Mayor of Gabrovo Municipality and CoR member, was the event’s keynote speaker. She presented some insights about the cohesion policy and its applications in her region. It is well acknowledged that the cohesion policy is the most important investment policy in Europe with clear added value on jobs providing sustainable growth and modern infrastructure. Some initiatives were shared in her presentation in relation to SMEs and how the instruments provided by the Cohesion Policy helped companies and boosted regional development in Gabrovo. She also stated that many previous programs targeted young people because their entrepreneurship is vital to the region’s innovation and sustainability. In 2020, due to Covid-19, the cohesion policy had to transform in order to support the most exposed sectors such as health care, SMEs, and the labor market against the negative impacts of the pandemic. In the next period of Cohesion policy, the programs will have more flexibility and simplification to better support business development, and the focus of the new policy will be innovation, digitalization, and renewable energy. The most important thing, as she emphasized, is that the cohesion policy, which is built on the general partnership between European regions and cities, requires members to stay together closely. In order to introduce the application of the cohesion policy, a short presentation was shown about her city and how they involved companies and other organizations to build an innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region.

Mr Kostas Karamarkos, a Strategic Planner from RDFA introduced the SCALE UP project in general such as its purpose, instruments, key areas and influence. He specifically explained how they conducted their activities throughout different regions in Europe. SCALE UP contributes to the European competitiveness and acceleration of regional economic growth through improvement of policy instruments. The instruments that SCALE UP utilize are designed to support SMEs capacity to grow in regional, national and international markets. This way, regional and local authorities can respond adequately to key obstacles that hamper SMEs on their path to growth. 
In general, the key areas that SCALE UP is mainly concerned with are creating new business and models, establishing regional smart specialization sectors, improving the collaboration culture between different kinds of companies, and the use of new financial technologies.
In order to understand SCALE UP, it is essential to know what actions they are making and how they are related to the cohesion policy. The first element in their actions is the identification and benchmarking of best practices about industry business scaleup policies at a local, regional and EU level. Also, they have developed 6 regional Stakeholders Action Groups (SAGs), whereby project partners engage their respective governments, businesses and academia as stakeholders. Interregional policy learning events and peer review exercises are organized in the communities of the project partners with the participation of the project SAGs. Six action plans are established based on the interregional policy learning to be then implemented by the project partners.

The DEVISE project, which was presented by Mr. Jose Manuel San Emeterio, a Programme Manager from ERNACT, is another project that is closely related to the cohesion policy. This project aims at unlocking and exploiting the potential that digital tech SMEs have as enablers for the competitiveness of other SMEs belonging to priority sectors in the participating regions. The regions which the project has organized programs are in Ireland, Romania, France, and Bulgaria.

Throughout the enlightening presentations, audience participation was encouraged and questions that provoke opinions were raised by both the moderator and the speakers.