3 mins

Eco-clust er s as governance tools

Jacopo Riccardi
 Thijs Fikken

Europe's urban-maritime regions are vibrant areas and often establish an interface between cities, industrial activities, recreational activities and nature. Historically, land that is close to seas and rivers has provided these areas and their inhabitants with economic opportunities. European ports play an indispensable role in ensuring the cost-efficient distribution of goods to and from European consumers and producers.

European urban-maritime regions have their own specialisations. Coastal areas in the north-west of Europe are home to some of the biggest ports in the world in terms of processed cargo. Ports in the Mediterranean region are generally smaller in size, but play an important role in passenger transport. Some ports focus on bunkering services, whereas others specialise in container transhipment or cruises. Ports in mainland Europe service a large hinterland, and island ports often cater for the local market.

Port activities can also have negative impacts on urban-maritime regions. They can pose a threat to the environment and can lead to congestion along the region's infrastructures. Guaranteeing economic growth while minimising the negative impacts on the environment will be one of the core challenges for European urban-maritime regions in the coming 10 years. It is a challenge that can only be overcome when regional stakeholders from industries, government and academia join forces ? in other words, through effective eco-cluster developments. The question' how can effective eco-clusters be developed?? is at the core of the ESPON European Research for Maritime Eco(nomic) clusters governance Strategy (ERMES) targeted analysis.

" Cluster governance strategies can help local administrations and businesses to structure their cooperation and gain socio-economic benefits"

The challenge described previously is a good example of the need for organisation in a complex and ever-changing society. With the societal and economical changes taking place over the past 100 years, traditional models of administration and governance have to be revised. There are realities that have changed little (e.g. the municipalities as entities) and others that have profoundly evolved (e.g. the universities). These dynamics have been affected by the increasing coexistence between national and European interests, especially in terms of law. Governance, understood as the exercise of authority, management and control, is the tool that adapts traditional methods to societal evolution and the challenges of new markets.

Cluster governance strategies can help local administrations and businesses to structure their cooperation and gain a range of socio-economic benefits. Although they seem synonymous, words such as agglomeration, network or cluster have different nuances. A cluster combines spatial dimensions and cooperation. It is characterised by spatial proximity, socially embedded links and interactions that are associated with economic benefits. A cluster consists of businesses from different parts of the value chain that are located in the same place, have horizontal relationships and interact with education, research and development, and other neighbouring organisations. There is no single governance model, just as there is no single cluster model.

" Guaranteeing economic growth while minimising the negative impacts on the environment will be one of the core challenges for European urban-maritime regions in the coming 10 years "

The ERMEStargeted analysis examined European realities in the development of maritime eco-clusters. The addition of 'eco' in this project refers to both the ecological (sustainable) and economic values that cluster governance can bring. ERMESprovides the framework of a multilevel cooperation, which involves public bodies, the business system and the academic world.

The goal is to propose innovative tools that make the cooperation fluid and mutually advantageous. To unleash the socio-economic potential that the ports and maritime sector can offer to a region, it is imperative that relevant stakeholders (public, private, academic, etc.) commit to a shared, integrated and sustainable ambition.

This will provide a vision for actions to be targeted towards, allowing for the alignment of resources that stakeholders can offer to benefit the development of the region. However, a study, a project or an analysis must not be limited to reiterating the need for collaboration between institutions, companies and centres of knowledge. They must start from the statements of principle to take the leap from a generic level and obtain lines of concrete actions, which, once implemented, can allow their evaluation in economic terms.

Jacopo Riccardi is Liguria Region ? port and logistics sector manager (lead stakeholder ERMES)

Thijs Fikken is consultant on regional & urban development at Ecorys (lead project team ERMES)

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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