The drive for competitiveness and wellbeing in today's competitive context gives regions greater relevance (see Handbook of Regions and Competitiveness, de Huggins and Thompson, 2017). One of the reasons for this is that competitiveness factors have changed and now demand more contextual responses than in previous decades. The sources on which to build advantages that entail territorial differentiation have changed and are based very much on knowledge and people's capabilities, especially the ability to learn and innovate. Thus, regions are key to promoting unique and specific competitiveness strategies based on regional capabilities and strengths. An example of this type of strategy is the innovation policy, promoted by the Basque Government since the 1980s, which focuses on generating capacities rooted in the territory, that are difficult to imitate and are of a cumulative nature. These strategies are promoted initially through the creation of technological capacities in industry and, subsequently through the diversification of the economy based on R&D.

However, in a context of global competition, the economic and social progress of regions depends not only on their own capacities, but also on the ability to collaborate and work on synergies with other regions that share common challenges. Consequently, along with the growing leadership of regions in boosting competitiveness, interregional cooperation emerges as a key aspect to compete globally. Interregional cooperation means that businesses, governments, knowledge centres and even civil society from different regions collaborate in joint initiatives seeking mutual benefits.

The competitiveness diagnosis of the European regions that make up the Atlantic Arc carried out by Orkestra and presented at the Atlantic Arc Chambers of Commerce Conference in June identifies a series of challenges and opportunities shared by these regions: (i) improve their connectivity and capacity to influence; (ii) strengthen diversification and entrepreneurship capacities; (iii) lead innovation towards areas of sustainability; (iv) face the demographic challenge; and, (v) work to remain an attractive territory. These challenges arise from the need to overcome the difficulties associated with the structural characteristics of this territory and to improve its competitiveness and wellbeing results.

The structural characteristics of the Atlantic Arc show a peripheral territory, far from the areas of greatest growth (globally the Pacific and in Europe a shift towards Eastern Europe) and with poor connectivity with the main decision-making centres; a low influential capacity due from its size - it accounts for approximately 4.5% of the population of the EU-27-; a clear trend towards an ageing population and low birth rates; and a particularly industrial productive structure with a greater predominance of small companies compared to the rest of the EU-27.

The results of competitiveness and wellbeing show a territory that although has a good level of wellbeing (in terms of health, education, air quality and poverty levels of its inhabitants) it must improve its economic-business results. These results reveal a territory with significant differences in the capacity to generate wealth of its different regions; with unemployment rates above the EU-27 average; productivity levels and a percentage of innovative SMEs below the EU-27 average; and a lower Foreign Direct Investment than other Spanish regions.

In order to improve the competitiveness of the regions that make up the Atlantic Arc (made up entirely of the regions of five countries - Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Ireland - that share a connection with the Atlantic coast), including the Basque Country, it is imperative to work in cooperation to take advantage of the opportunities and face the common challenges beyond the framework of the regional and national borders of this territory. For example, completing the Atlantic rail corridor, strengthening cooperation between seaports, or promoting the map of green interconnections are some of these shared challenges that can be tackled jointly.

Cooperating also means connecting at different levels: business, institutions, research centres and citizens. At the institutional level, governments and social agents are already working on this connection to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion based on shared resources and common interests. For example, the Atlantic Arc Commission has been working since the late 1980s to position the territory on the EU agenda and strengthen cooperation between regions.

Mobilising people, companies, knowledge agents and institutions is key to improving the knowledge and innovation capacity, and the challenge now is to work on cooperation between them. It is in the interaction between these actors that the knowledge needed to innovate is produced, transmitted and shared. And to mobilise these actors and connect them at an interregional level, it is necessary to secure their involvement and joint investment in key strategic areas.

And that is the challenge that the Atlantic Arc Chambers of Commerce aim to address: the collaboration of companies to jointly face the development of solutions to shared challenges and opportunities. The Chambers of Commerce of the Atlantic Arc (in the Bilbao Declaration of 21 June 2023) committed themselves to strengthening inter-chamber collaboration to respond to the competitiveness challenges of the Atlantic Arc mentioned in previous paragraphs. And the barriers they face are not few. In order to promote cooperation between companies, it is essential to identify the benefits that such cooperation can bring them. The identification of those benefits does not happen spontaneously but must be facilitated by building spaces for collaboration where there is a dialogue between the parties to address the challenges of shared competitiveness in a collaborative manner. At the II Forum of Atlantic Arc Chambers held in Porto on 2nd February, the Chambers made progress in this direction. The approval of the governance model of the network of Atlantic Arc Chambers of Commerce contemplates the implementation of groups of project coordinators responsible for the implementation of cooperative projects that respond to the competitiveness challenges of this territory. The Chambers therefore adopt the role of facilitators of collaborative processes to try to launch, with different actors in the territory, concrete projects that would bring benefits to both companies and the territories that make up the Atlantic Arc.

From now on this facilitation faces challenges such as incorporating regional governments in the implementation of cooperation projects (where necessary, for example, in the improvement of the infrastructures that connect us), ensuring the necessary investment and financing to carry them out, or having the necessary private and industrial support, to mention some. The commitment to interregional collaboration will be essential to strengthen the competitiveness and wellbeing of the Atlantic Arc regions.

usue lorenz

Usue Lorenz

Usue Lorenz, research facilitator at Orkestra, has a Degree in Economic and Business Science, specializing in International Management, and completed her training with a Master's Degree in International Management and various courses related to the competitiveness of regions (courses and conferences related to innovation, regional development and European innovation programmes).

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mari jose aranguren

Mari Jose Aranguren

Mari Jose Aranguren is the General Director at Orkestra and Professor in Economics at Deusto University. She has worked at Orkestra since its beginning in 2006. Mari Jose is a recognised expert in the area of competitiveness and territorial strategy, cluster and networks, and the analysis and evaluation of policies, having published several books and articles in specialised national and international journals of impact.

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