On the 16th of February, a joint Alpine Policy Forum was held online. The event was organised in the frame of the two EU-funded projects that share common goals on the way to the circular biobased economy in the Alpine Space – AlpLinkBioEco and Smart SMEs. In addition, the forum was supported by the partners of the project ARDIA-Net.
The forum offered an open policy dialogue to exchange experiences and find common positions for the Alpine macro region regarding the circular biobased economy as well as to the digitalization of SMEs, which play a major role in the optimization of value chains based on sustainable resources. Involving the audience, 18 speakers and panellists talked about international dialogue to scale up the bioeconomy efforts into cross-regional dimension, approaches and tools to activate broken biobased value chains and digitalization of SMEs as one of the solutions to boost the development of biobased industries.
Keynote Prof. Dr. Ralf Kindervater from the state agency BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg, started the event with his speech “Overview and challenges of the Alpine macro-regional approach to bioeconomy” and identified the existence of many different bioeconomy strategies within the macro region as one of the main challenges.
Afterwards, regional representatives gave short introductions to their bioeconomy strategies. In 2019, the Austrian bioeconomy strategy was approved and in 2020 the new government declared bioeconomy one of their most important topics in their governmental programme. It is seen as a link between different policies, sectors, and ministries as well as a part of the climate policy. The strategy of Baden-Württemberg consists of 37 concrete measures supporting innovation and communication, including the training of professionals, and focusing on sustainable bioeconomy in industrial and rural areas. The mission is to promote the use of renewable and recyclable raw materials through innovative biological concepts.
The Bavarian bioeconomy strategy, which was released in November 2020, was presented by Dr. Markus Schaller from the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy. The comprehensive strategy was developed in a participatory process in five digital workshops with more than 300 participants from diverse stakeholder groups. It consists of ten chapters with 50 specific measures: two chapters identify the key issues to establish a circular economy and to strengthen cooperation, also across borders. The strategy focuses on the most relevant stakeholders in five chapters and addresses the society to display the necessity to change to bioeconomy. In 50 specific measures the Bavarian strategy foresees concrete realisations of which some have already started.
Italy’s very comprehensive bioeconomy strategy was published in 2019 and includes all its diverse regions. Their vision is to move from sectors to systems with a multidisciplinary approach. Slovenia does not have a separate bioeconomy strategy yet but includes the topic in various other strategies. However, their working document “Investment needs of the republic of Slovenia for the 2021-2027 period” includes the transition to a circular bioeconomy as a specific objective. Also, Switzerland does not have a special national bioeconomy strategy but a strong agriculture and forest policy.
The first panel discussion on cross-regional collaboration concluded, that exchange of information, ideas and experiences between regions is highly important. Existing platforms and programmes such as EUSALP and INTERREG programmes for cross-border cooperation should be used. However, it is also possible for cooperating partners to use regional funding for their cross-regional cooperation instead of waiting on special cross-regional funding programmes. Regional money is available and much easier to use than money from Brussels.
Another topic discussed by the participants was the activation of broken bio-based value chains in unforeseen circumstances, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Harvard survey the crisis caused disruption in form of trade barriers, border restrictions and storage issues. Supply chains are broken and therefore the solution would be to find new, regional suppliers. A tool that could help here is the Value Chain Generator, developed within the AlpLinkBioEco project which enables finding complementary and similar actors.
Issues identified concerning digitalization are that SMEs are often not fully ready for a digital transformation, lack digital skills, have no access to professionals and the high costs. Furthermore, CEOs often lack the awareness of what is important for a digital transformation and as technology is moving fast, SMEs often cannot follow. Supporting SMEs in digital transformation it is important to establish flexible and fast measures and avoiding to much bureaucracy.
By the end of March 2021, the INTERREG project AlpLinkBioEco will terminate with a final conference where the project results, such as the Value Chain Generator tool will be presented and then be accessible to the public online.