Strengthening national and regional competitiveness is highly important nowadays. Worldwide clustering has already been proven to be one of the efficient concepts for achieving these goals through strengthening cooperated companies´ competition and innovation capacities. Thus today what is more needed, especially on the European scale, is the creation of efficient clusters rather than just clusters. One of the way towards achieving this aim is the development of inter-clustering over the borders. In such a way cooperated companies improve regions´ strengths by learning more effectively from each other´s best practices, broadening their market share and unveiling their hidden potentials. In terms of globalization this is extremely important, especially for SMEs, which are able to gain stronger competitive position on the international market.
Basque country, Spain and Aquitaine, France represent two southern border regions. They are an excellent reflection of a vivid historical, economic and political relations, which officially go back almost 30 years in the past, starting with their double entrance into the Pyrénées Economic Committee. Regions are also strong in clustering processes, giving the existence of more than ten influential clusters on each side. Today both territories are participants of different European programmes. Since 2011 the cooperation between them has taken a legal form backing by European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation. Additional to the collaboration under the Euroregion “Aquitaine – Euskadi” there is also several other, among which the alliance under Eurocities Basque “Bayonne – San Sebastian” is worth to mention. In terms of broadening the existing cooperation a high level conference on the aspects of inter-clustering within border regions has taken place on the 20th of February 2013 in Bayonne. Representatives from a broad range of sectors have participated in the event.
Extremely important was the knowledge exchange and accumulation with other regions already strongly implementing cooperation over the borders. Thus good examples were provided from existing programs withing Bas-Rhin cooperation (France – Germany - Switzerland) and Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai (France – Belgium). From Basque country, Mari Jose Aranguren and James Wilson, from Orkestra were invited as experts on the regional and cluster development in order to share the experience and provide further suggestions for the collaboration. Moreover, inter-clustering is already a highlighted issue in the Aquitaine region, which was clearly reflected in the presentation of the “Aquitaine Développement Innovation” project´s General Director and Coordinator.
In Europe and the rest of the world there are many other very vivid examples. In this framework it is important to disclosure main reasons for grown-up popularity of cross-border collaboration within the framework of inter-clustering. Referring to European Commission (2008), Milan Bufon and Vesna Markelj (2010) and Jens Gabbe (2007, pp. 15–24) 10 key arguments have been set up to revive the benefits from opening cooperation over regional borders.
- Bridging the information gap - collaboration between different regions lead to strengthening the intensity of information exchange within different institutions and authorities. Herewith it opens the possibilities for deeper and better understanding of local cultures, behaviors and communication styles and avoiding further conflicts.
- Accumulation of qualified staff – the development of all clusters is turned to be on different levels, herewith by the establishment of cooperation arises the chance to reach more specialists, which leads to stronger knowledge spillovers.
- Access to existing research capacities – a lot of industries and production lines are inter-dependent on each parts´ technologies. Thus by cross-clustering the access to different research institutions can be achieved resulting in higher intensity of inventions.
- Stabilization of political situation – due to high frequency of communication within projects´ coordination different political conflicts are smoothed and solved. However, it´s fairly to mention, that in cases of radical disagreement, it might lead to even bigger conflicts.
- Harmonization of strategies for socio-economic development – usually every border region has developed its own programmes for solving local problems. Herewith geographical or social preconditions are often very inter-connected. Thus, due to cooperation the unique cross-border projects are creating more precise and efficient settlement of problems.
- Opening of new markets - through collaboration with new cluster, companies are able to unveil new partnerships, e.g. in form of suppliers or providers, which finally stimulates the opening and broadening of production lines.
- Avoidance of possible lock-in effects – often regions tend to specialize only in several key industries. However in case this type of business deprives or policy changes, it can further lead to general worsening of the situation in the region. Inter-clustering cooperation can help to excludable such situation.
- Provision of new services – alliance between clusters often leads to the development of new products or services, which were impossible on their own. This further brings the creation of new regional specialization lines and better covering of current and potential demand.
- Settling of current local needs – regional funds tend to concentrate on general aspects of the regions, which often exclude peculiarities of borders. Thus, due to cooperation, as a matter of fact these regions can turn to be true beneficiaries of the financial resources.
- Recognisability of border regions on international level – there are many organization on national and European level that deal with the development of border territories. Regions belonging to these initiatives have stronger effect on international decision making, resulting for international institutions to pay more attention towards their needs.
The below diagram reflects the key presented arguments by grouping them into two highlighted sources of origin, namely over the border or inter cluster cooperation. Thus one gets a more vivid understanding of the forces causing each benefit in particular.
In the last years cross-border and cluster cooperation have proven to be an efficient tool for regional development and enhancing competitiveness. However it is not an easy approach due to existing barriers, e.g. cultural, institutional or political miscomprehension. In this way it is seen as crucial for all regional actors to be aware of these advantages and play a supporting role for local authorities in strengthening the settling processes. Communication platforms, online tools and gathering events, like workshops or conferences, rise the information grad on the issues among the stakeholders and provide the possibility to demonstrate their success, for instance like in the case of the two winners of the 1st “Iniciativa Empresarial Transfronteriza” Award representing EVOLO project and AÉROVISION – AÉRODRONES collaboration.
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