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Co-creating Europe

Borders to Cross – a working conference on democratic innovation and civic driven change

Borders to Cross – a working conference on democratic innovation and civic driven change – took place in Amsterdam on 29 – 31 October 2013. See:

Borders to Cross came into being out of a cross over of disciplines and generations and has evolved into an alliance of partners from various backgrounds. It was itself an experiment in co-creation between different sectors, professional backgrounds (government, society, academia).

The initiative for a learning conference on bottom up change by citizens and the necessary shift in responsibilities between government, society and market was taken by five Dutch professionals (Rense Bos, Hank Kune, Stefanie Schuddebeurs, Jan Schrijver and Ton van der Wiel) who recognized the need to learn from international practice and between sectors about democratic innovation and civic driven change. They saw that people throughout Europe are seeking a new balance between the responsibilities of government and an active society.

Government can no longer take sole responsibility for dealing with societal problems; citizens and NGO’s can no longer simply question or complain about what their governments do or don’t do. The role of social media and social entrepreneurship, the empowerment of stakeholders and the changing set of competencies for government professionals are vital issues. The idea of an intensive learning conference where social entrepreneurs, citizens, government professionals and market parties from all over Europe would gather and discuss innovative practice of democratic and social innovation was born.

The initiative was embraced by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations under the condition that it would be organized in partnership. Support was soon gained from a diverse group of organisations, leading to partnerships in the financial and/or content-related sense with the City of Amsterdam, Network Democracy, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Leuven, G1000, European Cultural Foundation, European Alternatives, Agentschap NL, the ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport (VWS), and the ministry of Infrastructure & Environment (I&M). European Civic Forum, the European Year of the Citizen Alliance, the Erasmus Prize and Kracht in NL were also supporters of the conference.

This timely alliance was able to realize Borders to Cross in the European Year of the Citizen.

Thirteen years ago in Maastricht (October 5-7th, 2000), policy-makers, practitioners and social scientists from all over Europe came together in order to share new insights and good practices about citizen participation. The event was also called Borders to Cross. In 2013, 13 years later, it was once again time to cross borders in order to learn with and from each other – citizens, policy-makers, public sector professionals and social scientists – about how to innovate both civic society and the the public sector.

Open Days 2013 in Brussels

During the 11th edition of the OPEN DAYS: European Week of Regions and Cities in October 2013, the Committee of the Regions and the European Commission called on the European Council and Parliament to urgently finalise the adoption of the EU budget 2014-2020 and the new rules for structural funds. Regions and cities were also able to present the results of their 2007-2013 EU-funded programmes and projects, showcasing the impact these have on regional development, such as contributing to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. More than 6000 participants attended the diverse events during the week.

One of these events was the CoR/EPP workshop on “Citizen and business mobility across regions and cities” on Wednesday, 9th October 2013. This workshop highlighted the importance of mental mobility as well as physical mobility, and the need for the free movement of ideas as well as people, goods and services to co-create a truly innovative Europe.

Free movement across borders is at the very basis of a single market and one of the foundations of the European Union. The workshop signalled that. despite the many benefits of the EU single market, more can be done. To reach this potential, participants called for a 5th freedom: the freedom for the movement of ideas. Europe needs to look beyond a sense of urgency; a sense of opportunity – and a culture of opportunities – is needed.

For the press release with more information: A new sense of opportunity: cooperating for mobility across regions and cities, see:


Innovative regions and cities for territorial development

One event of particular interest during the Open Days was the EPP/CoR workshop about “Innovative Regions and Cities for Territorial Development,” which was held on the 10th of October with 120 people. The objectives, working process and content are described in the EPP press release below:

“An innovation culture is essential for successful open innovation” participants concluded at the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the Committee of the Regions (CoR) workshop on innovative regions and cities for territorial development yesterday. The seminar, which aimed to take stock of the potential of regions and cities for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, identified key areas for improvement and synergy in EU policy funds. “Europe needs to recover from the financial crisis and its regions and cities are the place to start” began Michael Schneider, President of the EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions. “In view of limited public budgets, we should welcome research projects that are jointly run by private companies, universities and research centres” he concluded. The seminar pushed the boundaries of traditional meetings by encouraging collaborative participation through a ‘Meshmoon’ virtual world.

Open innovation and cooperation between different sectors are vitally important to achieving the targets of Europe 2020 Strategy, Constance Hanniffy, Member of Offaly County Council and President of the Monitoring Committee of the Border, Midland and West Regional Assembly, explained. Through the region’s food technology transfer programme, success has been achieved by linking academia and monitoring to product needs and development. Martin Curley, Director of Intel Labs Europe and Chairman of the EU Open Innovation Strategy and Policy Group, drew examples from business to underline that the Internet levels the playing field. “Even small regions can compete on the global market thanks to digital entrepreneurship and technological advances… The network effect is also very important to regions and cities that may not have a large research budget or team available” he stated.

Entrepreneurial spirit, which many speakers emphasized as important for innovation and renewal, was especially clear in the presentation by Nils Paajanen, Aalto University student and President of the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society. His message was that student entrepreneurs at Aalto Venture Garage take the future into their own hands to create enterprises with the potential to transform society. He also proposed that more entrepreneurial role models would boost innovation in Europe.

Turning to the topic of EU financial instruments to boost the innovation capacity of regions, Michael Schneider noted that there is significant scope for better links between the Horizon 2020 programme and the structural funds. Dimitri Corpakis, Head of the Regional Dimension of Innovation Unit at the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation agreed. “Research and innovation is the best engine for growth. For this reason, we have proposed increased synergies between Horizon 2020 and the cohesion funds and specifically thematic concentration in the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).” He added that the relatively high percentages for this thematic concentration should send an important message to regions and cities about the potential for research and innovation.  This was echoed by Katja Reppel, Head of sector for Innovation in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Regional Policy, who emphasised that smart specialisation has to be a bottom-up approach: “Every region will invest in research and development in one form or another through the structural funds from 2014” she said. Financial support with less bureaucracy also came up in most presentations.

Following further presentations from Magnus Jörgel, Business Development Director in the Skåne Region, and Gohar Sargsyan, Senior Member and EU Lead for Logica, part of CGI, Markku Markkula underlined that Europe needs pioneering regions and cities. “To reach the Europe 2020 targets, increasing bottom-up collaboration is a must… Piloting and experimenting, entrepreneurial discovery and societal innovation all have their role to play” he stressed before concluding that “further policy development must be based on shared ownership and integrating political decision makers.”

Throughout the workshop, participants were also encouraged to make both oral and written comments, which were collected in the virtual EPP Group in the CoR. A vote took place on the most important conclusions with the most popular being the cultural and mindset issues. By far, the most votes went to the conclusion that “innovation culture is essential for successful open innovation, equally important as the focus on technology”. In addition, people strongly supported the notions that practical work processes need to directly involve all relevant actors for open innovation to be a success. The crowd sourcing experience will contribute to further studies and development of the innovation potential for regions and cities within the EPP Group’s Europe 2020 Taskforce. In the words of Gohar Sargsyan: “Think big, start small, accelerate fast.”

Useful Links
Workshop conclusions
The EPP Task Force on Europe 2020
Meshmoon: online virtual reality hosting system

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