The fourth and the final Exchange Meeting between European Regions and Japanese Prefectures took place in the premise of the Delegation of the EU to Japan on 30 October back-to-back with the High-Level Policy Dialogue of EC Directorate-General Regional and Urban Policy (DG-REGIO) and the Ministry of Land Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) of Japan held on 31 October. The meeting took place in a hybrid format; participants from Japan participated in person while those from the EU participated by online. The EU and Japanese cities which are participating in the IURC Asia and Australasia program and cooperating on topics relevant to innovation were also invited so that the regions / prefectures and cities working on similar topics could know each other and seek for synergy of the region-to-region and city-to-city cooperations.
The meeting was divided into two sessions. Session 1 was participated by Japanese prefectures and cities for exchanging ideas and information about the activities they have carried out with EU partners. Japanese prefectures and cities do not actually have many opportunities to exchange information with each other, and this session was an excellent opportunity for them to deepen understanding of each other’s activities. Session 2 was held with participation of Mr. Normunds Popens, Deputy Director-General for Implementation, DG-REGIO, Mr. Sachio Muto, Director of Urban Policy Division, City Bureau of MLIT, and representatives of 6 EU regions, 5 Japanese prefectures and 3 EU-Japan city pairings participating in the IURC Asia and Australasia program (3 EU cities and 3 Japanese cities).
At the opening, Mr. Popens stated that the European cohesion policy takes up digital transition and green and carbon neutral Innovation as a priority, and the EU is happy to lead the way together with Japan towards transition to a digital and green economy. According to their estimate, two million new jobs can be generated by the green transition alone, and more than 35 billion euros will support EU’s smart specialization strategies over the next seven years. He added that the EU needs to be strategic but also experimental, which means that the EU should learn from experienc
es in Japan and other countries. He emphasized that regions should be the test beds for different strategies and the EC is thankful for the international cooperation that has been extended to EU regions to deal with shared challenges.
Mr. Muto stated that Japan has been trying to coordinate urban innovation policies in the international arena, including the G7 Urban Ministerial Meeting held in Takamatsu in Kagawa Prefecture, and grassroots exchange is the most important driving force to promote this movement. He expressed his belief that the EU and Japan are benefiting from the city-to-city and region-to-region dialogues when addressing our common challenges such as climate change, urban natural disasters, and transition to digitalization. He added that MLIT is promoting digital and environmental transition in the urban field, and examples are their study on how to attract private investment in high quality urban green spaces and the development of a digital twin using a 3D city model which is called the “project PLATEAU” throughout Japan.
After the two opening speeches, two videos on the project overview and the interviews made with experts from the participating regions and prefectures were presented. Then, participants from regions, prefectures and cities expressed their evaluation of the EU-Japan region-to-region and city-to-city cooperation for innovation after they have conducted study visits, webinars and bilateral communication and exchanges. Speakers presented how the EU and Japanese partners share common challenges, identify topics of common interest, learn each other’s good practices, and are trying to cooperate towards solutions. They also reported how decentralized EU-Japan cooperation is developing on the common innovation challenges such as “hydrogen”, “startups” and “open innovation” as well as “food techs”, “advanced air mobility”, “sustainable tourism”, “disaster management, “big data”, and “biosciences”.
The unanimous opinion was that the study visits were very useful to gain access with each other, but there were comments that the itineraries could be made more effective to facilitate bilateral communication and understanding and engage more experts and stakeholders. Some stressed the role of universities and the importance of quadruple helix approach involving academia, government sector, companies and civil society. Some expressed their hope that the more in-depth webinars, e.g., for open innovation, will be organized with participation of wider stakeholders. There were also announcements of international events which will be good opportunities for personal exchange, plans of sending delegation to Japan and the EU. Some EU regions expressed their interest in participating in EXPO 2025 Osaka for showcasing their technologies and innovation projects.
At the closing, Mr. Ramon Lopez-Sanchez of DG REGIO commented that it is good that the open pairing approach, in which cooperation started without fixing bilateral partnership, worked successfully. He also commented that there should be complementarity between the city program and the region program and hopefully the collaboration will include all the different governance levels, adding vertical partnerships between national, regional and municipal levels. He stated that that a new IURC phase will be more focused on fewer topics, more meaningful, and more productive, and we should identify funding mechanism, e.g., Horizon fund, Cohesion fund, etc., that would follow up with the project that come out of this. He also added his hope that there will be some pilot projects that come out of the learning from the IURC.
Finally, Mr. Cesar Moreno of the Delegation of the EU to Japan expressed his thanks to the positive feedback from the participants, as well as his hope that the EU and Japan can tackle common challenges together by sharing best practices. He also commented that it was impressing that topics of cooperation have been identified, and follow up visits are scheduled, memorandum of understanding are in discussions, and universities and businesses are coming on board, adding that this is a very good model and the same opportunity needs to be offered to other regions and prefectures, too.