Our country currently has 71 labelled competitiveness clusters, 7 of which are global in scope. Thirteen years after their creation, are they still adapted to the needs of the economy, i.e. to group together and make companies, higher education establishments and research organisations work in synergy on the same territory? Have they lived up to their promise to be "engines of growth and employment"? It is now a question of transforming innovation into products and services that create wealth and jobs, serving transitions and in line with the nine industrial solutions of the Industry of the Future. In response to a government referral in January 2017 and based on the Court of Auditors' report of July 2016 on competitiveness cluster policy, the EESC today adopted its opinion "What policy for competitiveness clusters? ».
Created in 2005, the competitiveness clusters, which bring together companies, research organisations and higher education establishments in a given area and around a given theme, have become key players in the development of the regions. They now bring together more than 8,500 companies and 1,150 research and training establishments and have generated more than 1,600 research projects.
Conceived as anchor points for research and innovation with a view to creating economic wealth and jobs, the clusters have generally proven their usefulness as territorial ecosystems and cooperation tools. They have succeeded in networking innovation players, developing partnership relations between the business world and public research, and creating a leverage effect on private R&D spending, which is conducive to its self-financing. However, questions and wishes for improvement or development of some of their missions have been expressed by both cluster players and third parties (experts, public authorities, control bodies, etc.). They cannot go unanswered, as competitiveness clusters always generate a great deal of interest and expectations, particularly from SMEs, as well as in terms of job development.
The clusters are well placed to address innovation as a truly global issue, a key factor in the success of ecological, energy, economic and social transitions. The proposals that follow aim to help them achieve their objectives.
In a context of revitalising French industry, the EESC would therefore like to call on the public authorities to address the importance of competitiveness clusters, while putting forward concrete recommendations to enable them to fully play their role as silicon valleys territorial.
Among its key recommendations, the EESC advocates stricter labelling of these clusters, clarification of their financing methods, better involvement of SMEs in their governance and innovation in support of ecological transition.
The EESC recommends an overhaul of the "Competitiveness Cluster" label
Stricter categorization and labeling in the service of a logic of excellence
The Competitiveness Clusters are territorial ecosystems and cooperation tools that need to be reorganized. In the EESC's view, a distinction must be made between two categories of poles, national on the one hand and regional on the other, in order to ensure better allocation and management of financial resources. The categorisation of clusters will make it possible to assess them with qualitative factors relating to job creation and the economic performance of member companies.
The EESC considers that public financers, in particular the state and the regions, should have a greater role in the selection of projects carried by the clusters, as their labelling is carried out on behalf of the public authorities. Finally, clusters whose results are deemed insufficient during their evaluation could have their "competitiveness cluster" label withdrawn if they do not take effective corrective action.
Increasingly involve SMEs in cluster governance
France has more than 3 million SMEs, which account for 43.9 % of the country's value added. However, according to the EESC, they remain too little involved in the governance of the competitiveness clusters. The EESC recommends highlighting good practices to strengthen the position of VSE/SMEs (shared presidency, key role in governance entrusted to VSE/SME representatives, etc.) in order to convince them to become even more involved in the governance of the clusters and in their actions.
The EESC would also like to involve other stakeholders (associations, trade unions, social science researchers, economists, representatives of other innovation clusters or structures, elected representatives, etc.) in think tanks by setting up open commissions or working groups.
Innovation at the service of ecological transition
Innovation is central to the Competitiveness Clusters' strategies. For the EESC, the Poles must treat innovation as a truly global issue, a key factor in the success of ecological, energy, economic and social transitions. The Competitiveness Clusters could thus become "transition facilitators" by renewing their policy with a vision of energy transition, sustainable development and digital deployment.
This report and the draft opinion reported by Frédéric GRIVOT (Enterprise Group) for the EESC's Section for Economic Activities, chaired by Delphine LALU (Group of Associations), were presented at the plenary assembly of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council on 25 October at 2.30 p.m. The opinion was adopted in plenary with 171 votes in favour, 4 abstentions and 0 votes against.