Innovation is one of the key drivers for regional development. The more you innovate, the more you grow, and the more you can create jobs and reduce poverty in the long run. This was the red thread in the discussions I had with the French regions yesterday in Paris. Talking to them provided me with an excellent picture on where France is on the innovation ladder.
I am glad that all Operational Programmes for France were adopted by the end of December. They are very promising clearly depicting the regional challenges and the way ahead. More than ever, European regions need to follow a strategic approach to activate their innovation potential in order to emerge stronger from the crisis.
Each region has to identify, build on and exploit its strengths with the aim to cultivate innovation, and thus create wealth and jobs for its citizens. Those so-called "smart specialisation strategies" will lead to more targeted investments with greater impact on the ground.
Sound and forward-looking strategies and programmes are now in place in the French regions. The instruments are there. The challenge is now to translate those into real and meaningful actions on the ground. I would like to invite France to continue its way ahead.
The first step I would suggest to take, is to identify, select and implement high-quality projects that make a real difference. The smart specialisation strategies should hereby function as a reliable compass to steer the French regions in the right direction.
During my visit in Paris, I had the opportunity to visit two highly innovative ERDF projects already in place: the "Pôle Mécatronique", a SME incubator in the field of high technology and intelligence, as well as "Juliette", a cluster of laboratories and SMEs specialised in robotics.
The second step is to set up a sound monitoring and evaluation system at regional level to assess what will be done and which direction should be taken. Smart specialisation strategies should not be set in stone, but should be seen as constantly evolving taking into account perpetual changes in the business environment as well as the experiences acquired over time.
Finally, the French regions need to exploit the potential for synergies with other EU Funds and instruments, in particular Horizon 2020 and the COSME instrument for SMEs.
These are the steps that I believe should be taken to have excellent Operational Programmes that help tap the regions into their local talents and unleash their capacities.
I wish the French regions every success in implementing the programmes. I assure that the Commission will stand by them, as they do with all regions.