Un blog du Groupe des Belles Feuilles

To give birth to new Silicon Valleys: this is an old dream of politicians and administrators. Having brought together during several months several experts on the subject, as it was already the case in 2003, the European Commission is on the verge of publishing a series of recommendations for member States. In the Financial Times, and simultaneously in Science Business (July, 16th 2008), several personalities such as Esko Aho, Pat Cox, Roch Doliveux, Denis Payre or Philippe Pouletty signed up a kind of manifesto “How to make Silicon Valleys in Europe”, urging the Commission to set up a cluster policy at the European level.

The authors of this manifesto demand a higher concentration in European clusters (Europe has more or less 2000…) and a drastic selection before funding the happy few. They also urged the Commission to invest first in the schools for scientists’ children and in the cultural facilities. But has a European cluster policy to rely on concentration of means and investment in cultural amenities?

“Persistent clusters”, by jaki good


The success of the cluster idea rests on two main arguments: first, the example of the Silicon Valley tends to show that a territorial entity is an added value for innovation policies – although the Silicon Valley could not even be exported by his spiritual father in New Jersey. Second, the “theory of the coffee machine” says that informal meetings and intellectual stimulation can cross-fertilze disciplines, labs and ideas, and also bring together money and ideas. The clusters would have the critical mass and as such would be able to deepen their comparative advantage, principally while attracting higher levels of public and private investments.

Nevertheless, the concentration of means in a European cluster policy calls for questions, which I would formulate so:

  • Which study has demonstrated that public investments in university clusters had more convincing outputs on a national scale (a fortiori on an European scale) than other types of investments in higher education and research?
  • The concentration of money in Europe would mean a distorted concurrence: why should liberal economists approve of it? A line is drawn between those who are inside and those who remain outside; more energy would then needed for being inside (through political lobbying in Brussels, intensive bureaucratic work, etc.) instead of doing more research and fostering entrepreneurship. This means more problems on the long run than they bring solutions on the short term;
  • If concentration of means were to be justified by the shaping of highly specialized zones in Europe, wouldn’t the ordinary cluster policy, based on synergies and cross-fertilization, be thwarted? It is also to be feared that smaller clusters will feel abandoned by the public authorities and especially by Europe;
  • Isn’t it a counter-intuitive idea, that the core of the clusters’ mission, bringing together scientists and business on a microeconomic level, would be facilitated by a concentration of subsidies on a Europea scale? Before concentrating public means in a cluster policy at European level, we can ask for serious empirical evidence.

The interaction between science and business is often so regionally specific that the principle of subsidiarity should prevail here. The European Commission can foster the dissemination of good practices; nevertheless, it should not seek to “create” clusters of world size, the fertility of such devices being closely linked to small scale environments. In most of the cases, European funding would only mean one more stakeholder. The Commission could rather concentrate on stimulating demand from the industry and the public sector in knowledge-intensive technologies, by creating various incentives to do so.

Giving a closer look to the personnalities of the manifesto, we find that most of them have as many links with American interests as with the European ones. It brings an explanation for this strange recommandation: “”Create a council, dominated by non-EU experts on technology, development and education, that weighs competing applications from the regions based on their performance (…).” The expression “dominated by non-EU experts” sounds as a pro domo plea : these personalities see themselves on such a Board. Do they wished to clarify the EU market of talented scientists and control it with little money from the EU itself…? Maybe a title like “How Could The Silicon Valley Take Advantage From Europe?” would be more appropriate?


“Silicon Valley 1920s”, scanned from a travel book by johncoate

No successful cluster has ever been created by a political or administrative decision. If Europe wants to have successful clusters, it seems sensible to bet on excellent universities and research programs, and to let university scientists and regional business representatives talk together. We can but only hope that excellent academic poles, apart from being well equipped with schools and theatres, will build up successful businesses of varied importance.


See the manifesto: “How to make Silicon Valleys in Europe?

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