East Netherlands


Vanguard Initiative High Level Directors Meeting 2020

How Vanguard Initiative supports the EU’s green and digitalised economic recovery by interregional collaboration?

On 24 June, the Vanguard Initiative organised the High-Level Directors’ Meeting 2020. During the meeting, the Directors welcomed the Vanguard Initiative’s newest member, Friuli Venezia Giulia, bringing the total membership to 37 regions. The Directors also engaged with speakers from the European Commission’s DG REGIO and DG GROW, discussing the sustainable and digitalization transitions.

Speed up recovery

In the opening remarks, Duncan Hamer, Chief Operating Officer, Business and Regions of the Welsh Government and Chair of the Vanguard Initiative, emphasised the challenges Europe has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic but signalling importance of collaboration to speed up the recovery.  He pointed to the Pan EU 3D Printing Platform, an initiative of the Vanguard 3D Printing Pilot, as a clear example of this. Duncan Hamer also emphasised that, despite the outcome of Brexit, Wales sees its future based on a strong and collaborative relationship with the EU and its regions.

Interregional approach

The Directors welcomed Friuli Venezia Giulia Autonomous Region as the newest member of the Vanguard Initiative. In a statement by Mrs. Alessia Rosolen, Regional Minister for Education, Labour, University and Research, she highlighted that “only an interregional approach can lead us out of the current crisis” and that Friuli Venezia Giulia’s membership in the Vanguard Initiative will allow regional actors to participate more actively in interregional cooperation along strategic value chains that are essential for an industrial renaissance.

Read more about this highlevel directors meeting online… 


“In order to accelerate valoration in our pilot methodology and significantly increase our impact, Vanguard Initiative has been advocating the need for a pan- European programme or fund, which allows investments in interregional innovation projects.This would help in a speedy European economic recovery by strengthening European competitiveness and developing new European value chains. ”

Ellen Mulder-Metselaar, Province of Gelderland, East Netherlands


“Think small first. Focus on SMEs.  Assess the effects and burdens of EU-legislation, treaties and plans on the SMEs to make sure that they are not put at a disadvantage. The application of key enabling technologies like AI and  ESM is paramount for the digital and sustainable transition of our European industry.”

Alfred Peterson, Province of Overijssel, East Netherlands


(Inter)regional perspective

In East Netherlands, consisting of Provinces Gelderland and Overijssel, we have a strong innovation ecosystem in the quadruple helix. With 24 partners we work on innovation with “Th!nk East Netherlands”.

Our strengths:

  • Smart & sustainable Industries 
  • Concepts for a Healhty Life.

We recently updated our Smart Specialisation Strategy. We also actively participate in six S3 platforms on Agrifood, Industrial Modernisation and Energy. Via these interregional cooperations we achieve resilient European world-class clusters.

Vanguard Initiative provides a smart specialisation approach that can facilitate the ambitions of the new European Commission in the industrial and societal transformation, ànd the regional innovation ecosystems to shape the Europese economic recovery from Covid 19. By enhancing innovation, productivity and employment in our regions we contribute to a new European Green Deal, taking Europe into the digital age and focussing on SMEs.

East-Netherlands is an active member of Vanguard Initiative since 2016. In these years the European Regional Innovation Index has marked East-Nederlands as a strong innovator, in an upward trend. One of our specialisations is Smart and Sustainbale Industry. In 2020 we took on the responsiblity to act as board member of Vanguard Initiative, knowing 2020 would be a special year with the new European Commission, finalising of the current programming period and preparation of the new Multi Annual Framework. And with a new Industry Strategy. An important year, for which none of us could have foreseen the current economic recession we find ourselves in as a result of COVID-19 measures.

This means now is the time to act, together on a European, national and regional level, in order to speed up economic recovery, and at the same time enabling the digital and sustainability transitions.


Equity support for SMEs

The EU should focus more on SMEs in its action plan for economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is the main challenge for SMEs at present: to overcome the COVID-19 crisis. And these SMEs form the backbone of our European economy.
The recently presented European Committee’s crisis-recovery plans barely mention the SMEs, even though they are Europe’s largest employer providing two-thirds of all the jobs. Many are family businesses. Our advice is to help the SMEs with capital assistance to strengthen the companies’ equity. New loans for SMEs would make a bad situation worse: they will hamper job growth, innovation and investments. Do not withhold capital assistance for SME-companies.


Boosting innovation in Vanguard Pilots

We continue to be at the forefront of new innovations together with our partners from Vanguard Initiative. For example the application of Artificial Intelligence in manufacturing SMEs in the AI Regio project developed last year in the Vanguard democase Efficient and Sustainable Manufacturing (ESM).

The application of this key enabling technology is paramount for the digital transition of our European industry. So we welcome the White Paper on AI of the European Commission, see our contribution to the consultation.

The AI REGION project aims at filling three major gaps currently preventing AI-driven Dgital Innovation Hubs from implementing fully effective digital transformation pathways for their Manufacturing SMEs:

  • at policy level the Regional vs. EU gap;
  • at technological level the Digital Manufacturing vs. Innovation Collaboration Platform gap;
  • at business level the Innovative AI (Industry 5.0) vs Industry 4.0 gap. 


Vanguard Initiative and interregional innovation investments

In order to accelerate valoration in our pilot methodology and significantly increase our impact, Vanguard Initiative has been advocating the need for a Pan-European programme or fund, which allows investments in interregional innovation projects.

This would help in a speedy European economic recovery by strengthening European competitiveness and developing new European value chains. It would enable synergies with the other EU programs Horizon Europe and Digital Europe. We also foresee strong strategic alliances with Made in Europe and the regional European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIHs).


Think small first

But, there is more that Europe can do to help SMEs. The European Commission preaches “to think small first”, however, its own policy falls significantly short in addressing these companies. It is time for measures that really matter to the SMEs.
Europe should make sure to be present in regional economical capillaries, and grant access to European assets through regional hubs; networks in which governments, industry, education and knowledge centres work together. Good results are achieved by us in the province, during this time of crisis for example. Regional points of contact help companies to find their way to national en European emergency aid.


Enabling digitalisation and sustainability transitions in the region

Next to this, Europe should boost the economy by investing regionally in energy transition, construction, digitalisation, and infrastructure, and enable regional SMEs to profit from SME-friendly tendering. Protect the businesses better against unfair competition from outside the EU by making trade agreements on these points. This includes state aid, lower salaries and lower environmental standards. And finally: assess the effects and burdens of EU-legislation, treaties and plans on the SMEs to make sure that they are not put at a disadvantage.”


Committee of the Regions

Our regional minister Eddy van Hijum has written his report on the European SME strategy as member of the Committee of the Regions.  Van Hijum’s advice was compiled in close collaboration with the Lectorate Family Businesses at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. This advice will be discussed by the Committee of the Regions, and is part of the European SME-strategy discussion in the European Parliament next Autumn. And we look forward to continue to work in this together with the European Commision and the partners of the Vanguard Initiative.