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First Innovation camp of the Dialogue4Innovation Project – Review of the opening conference

The first Innovation Camp organised by the Dialogue4Innovation project, in collaboration with the EUSAIR Presidency and the Interreg IPA ADRION 2021-2027 Programme, took place on 23-24 May in Sarajevo during the 8th Forum of the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) hosted by the Directorate for European Integration of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The two-day event addressed local, regional, national, and macro-regional policymakers, researchers, and actors in the field of smart specialisation and territorial development. It focused on exploring opportunities to strengthen smart specialisation for sustainability in the Adriatic and Ionian macro-region as a contribution to the European Green Deal and the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans.

The first day of the camp opened with a half-day conference session, followed by the first workshop. On the second day, a hands-on session was held to illustrate how the systemic and transformative innovation approach can be applied to address a specific challenge, such as rural depopulation.

This article highlights the main points arising from the conference.

The conference session saw the participation of 18 speakers from European institutions, Interreg programmes, international organisations and representatives of the innovation ecosystems, in conversation with the Mission representatives. More than 80 people enrolled and attended, either in person or online and were involved in the discussion through digital polls.

The conference opened with institutional greetings by Midhat Džemić – Directorate for European Integration of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, EUSAIR 2022/2023 Presidency – who welcomed the participants and expressed Bosnia and Herzegovina’s willingness to host the first official activity of the Dialogue4Innovation project within the 8th EUSAIR Forum. Mr. Džemić reiterated his hope that the project would achieve its objectives by contributing to a long-term social dialogue in the Mediterranean area. Lorenzo Donatelli – First Secretary of the Embassy of Italy in Bosnia and Herzegovina – underlined the importance of the Innovation Camp in addressing sensitive and crucial issues for the Adriatic-Ionian and Mediterranean area, for which an increasingly strong cooperation between EUSAIR, Interreg IPA ADRION and Interreg Euro-MED will be necessary in the coming years. Finally, Džana Sokolović – Directorate for European Integration of Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Interreg Euro-MED BA National Contact Point – emphasised the added value of cooperation between the Institutional Dialogue Project and the Thematic Community Project, which will enable both to learn from each other, strengthen the effect of their strategies, and develop a common voice for advocacy.

Interreg support to face common challenges

The first session discussed the support of Interreg programmes to address common challenges across the Mediterranean and how they can support cooperation of institutions as well as of civil society and citizens.

Gilles Kittel – European Commission, DG Regional Policy and Urban Policy – highlighted the added value of territorial cooperation in the Adriatic and Ionian region in the field of innovation, which is part of the Political Objective 1 of the Cohesion Policy 2021-2027, a more competitive and smarter Europe. He stressed the importance of the S3 Strategy approach and mentioned some specific actions, promoted in the framework of European funding programmes such as the Med Lab Group.

Interreg EuroMed and IPA ADRION programmes shared their objectives and strategic outcomes for this new period.  Isabelle Nobio – Interreg Euro-MED Programme Joint Secretariat – introduced the Euro-MED 2021-27 architecture and missions, the approach to contribute to the Better cooperation governance objective and shared some information from the first call for thematic projects. Ms. Nobio underlined the Programme ambition to promote coordination and synergies with other initiatives and the outward look to Southern and Eastern Mediterranean shores.

In the same direction, Lucia Calliari – Interreg IPA ADRION Programme Joint Secretariat – presented the Interreg IPA ADRION 2021-27 Programme and its approach to innovation, emphasising the ambition to seed bottom-up initiatives that can evolve and the need to cooperate with other programmes. Ms. Callari  highlighted the fifth extraordinary call of the ADRION 2014-2020 Programme, which will finance the development of preparatory actions for the activation of a Joint Master to be implemented in the period 2021-2027. Innovation will be one of the cross-cutting themes of these training paths.

Furthermore, the Mediterranean Youth Council, represented by George Mansour, presented the structure and the mission of the Council. Mr. Mansour shared the expectations of the young people regarding the possibility to participate in the Interreg programmes and to contribute to the transnational joint work to promote the innovation ecosystem.

Finally, Matija Pavlovčič – Ministry of Cohesion and Regional Development of Slovenia, EUSAIR Facility Point Lead Partner Team – explained that R&I is conceived a cross-cutting topic in the EUSAIR action plan touched by the four pillars of the EUSAIR strategy. Mr. Pavlovčič also introduced the Facility Point events organised within the framework of S3 development and new topics such as circular economy and shared the plans for the future.

The Innovative Sustainable Economy Mission perspective

The discussion continued with the approach of the Innovative Sustainable Economy (ISE) mission that works to boost a just transition to a more innovative sustainable economy in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing on green, blue and circular aspects.

Alessandro Daraio – Emilia-Romagna Region, Mission Institutional Dialogue Project Lead Partner – outlined the Innovative Sustainable Economy (ISE) mission scope and the objectives of the governance projects. Mr. Daraio presented the approach proposed by the project to pursue those objectives, stressing the openness to collaboration with external stakeholders and co-creation with other initiatives. Ema Midžić – CENER21, Mission Thematic Community Project Partner – deepened into the thematic community project activities and its specific approach, building on the work of the previous Interreg MED 2014-2020 Green Growth Thematic Community.

The session followed by the key role of smart specialisation strategies in the Mission activities, as a potential enabler of further cooperation to leverage on innovation to address complex challenges, such as the depopulation in rural and lagging regions.

Tatiana Fernández – Catalan Government, Mission Institutional Dialogue Project – focused on the role of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) to foster innovation and accelerate a sustainable transition. Ms. Fernández explained why we need systemic approaches to address complex challenges and focusing in transformative innovation policies to favour lagging regions in search of their own path to sustainable development. In this sense, Fernando Mérida Martín – European Commission Joint Research Centre Seville – discussed how the European Commission is supporting initiatives through key frameworks such as  Long-Term Vision for the EU’s Rural Area 2040 and the New European Innovation Agenda.

Opportunities for collaboration for innovation across the Mediterranean

The final part of the conference explored the synergies between the Interreg Programmes and other initiatives to foster innovation and cooperation across the scale of multilevel governance in the Mediterranean. The session was chaired by Maria Garcies from CPMR – Intermediterranean Commission. Ms. Garcies highlighted the added value of cooperation for innovation in addressing global challenges and achieving a greater impact, as it enables to bridge the innovation gap, access new business opportunities in emerging markets, and deploy science diplomacy.

Eleni Hatziyanni – European Commission DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries – emphasysed the EU framework focused on the synergies between S3 and the Sustainable Blue Economy, presenting actions and initiatives such as the S3 Thematic Platform on Sustainable Blue Economy. Ms. Hatziyanni encouraged the blue economy actors to participate in the S3 interregional partnerships, and explained that these could be supported through possible specific funding resources within the EMFAF with targeted call for proposals in the second half of 2024.

Elena Banci – Area Science Park, BLUEAIR Project Lead Partner – stressed the importance of complementing the local dimension with transregional S3-based cooperation. Ms. Banci presented in detail the ADRION BLUEAIR approach that fostered institutional capacities of the actors involved in the Programme area in the S3 governance. In particular, she focused on the main result of the BLUEAIR project, the draft of the Innovation Strategy, which is the basis for the Innovation Community.

Slaven Zjalić – Vice-rector for inter-institutional cooperation and technology transfer, University of Zadar – focused on the crucial role of collaboration between universities and local communities. In this sense, UNIADRION is a network of Adriatic-Ionian Universities and offers an opportunity for creating projects and finding suitable partner. Mr. Zjalić also provided two concrete examples of the synergies among different funds in pursuing an innovative transformative goal, financed by the ERDF and Italy-Croatia Programme. Both projects were designed with industrial partners and addressed CO2 emissions in maritime traffic, from different perspectives, paving the way for an integrated approach to face a common issue.

Daniele Antinarella – Abruzzo Region – presented the experience of the region, which strategically invested ERDF funds to promote the innovation cooperation process. Mr. Antinarella explained the role of the Partnerships for Regional Innovation (PRI) pilot action. PRI focused on attracting knowledge providers located outside the region and whose involvement in cooperation projects can increase the impact on the regional territory collaboration experiences. It stimulated the Regional Administration to include interregional cooperation for collaborative research within the calls for proposal of the ERDF Regional Programme.

Finally, Sinisa Marcic – Regional Cooperation Council – gave an overview of S3 developments in the region, highlighting the effort to strengthen links between academia and SMEs. He focused on two RCC concrete collaboration experiences: the Western Balkans Innovation and Research Platform and Regional Diaspora Knowledge Transfer Initiative. Both serve as an examples of the potential synergies with the ISE Mission activities.

In this rich starting conference session participants learned more about the approach proposed by the Interreg Euro-Mediterranean Mission Innovative Sustainable Economy Institutional Dialogue project and how to better cooperate to address complex environmental and social challenges. Invited speakers offered interesting insights and showed a crucial alignment with the foreseen Mission’s activities in the next years.

Participants also engaged and exchanged their opinions on the topics discussed through an online survey. In particular, the survey showed that the majority of them had great confidence in the impact of the European Territorial Cooperation Programmes (Interreg) and considered the issue of sustainable innovation as central strategy for the Adriatic-Ionian region. In this direction, 64% of voters raised interest in learning more about transformative innovation policies. As such, participants showed relevant interest in structured online and in person capacity-building programmes and engage with working groups at EUSAIR/Mediterranean scale.

The innovation camp continued with the workshops with people in presence as described in this dedicated article.

Find here the event recording