Opening note

#1, May 2020

Katerina Ciampi Stancova

European Commission, Joint Research Centre

It is my great pleasure and honour to write an opening note for this first issue of the Newsletter of the Traceability and Big data interregional partnership. The first issue comes in difficult times. The European Union countries together with other countries on all continents have been hit hard by the coronavirus COVID-19. This health crisis is transforming rapidly into socio-economic crisis with extensive consequences for numerous economic sectors and social groups. Evidence shows that some sectors will be seriously impacted due to their dependence on people's mobility, long global value and supply chains, foreign labour force, etcetera. In terms of social groups, it is well acknowledged that children, people with disabilities, refugees, low-skilled workers and immigrants from non-EU countries can suffer significantly from the current crisis.

Our task and duty is to find and implement viable solutions to ease and mitigate the suffering. The European Commission is putting in place a number of actions and financial measures to save people's lives and protect their livelihoods. As of beginning of April 2020 these included: a setting up a budget for emergency instrument, full flexibility of the European Structural and Investment Funds in the current programming period, flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact and SURE scheme to protect Europeans against the risk of unemployment.

The Traceability and Big Data partnership can play a crucial role during the post-crisis recovery. Its capability to connect regions, businesses, research organisations and civil society representatives across EU countries, develop European value chains and find new viable solutions for agri-food are impressive. The partnership has leadership, capacities and innovative ideas that can contribute to economic reconstruction in line with the European Green Deal and Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, an increased attention to environmental issues and climate change; finding environmentally friendly solutions and solutions to achieve food sustainability through systemic change will be of uttermost importance.

The Traceability and Big Data partnership is one of five Smart Specialisation thematic Agri-food partnerships that operate under the Smart Specialisation Thematic Platform on Agri-food. The Platform was established in 2016 by the European Commission services, including Directorate-General JRC, REGIO, AGRI and RTD, with the goal of accelerating the development of joint investment projects at the EU level in the smart specialisation areas linked to agriculture and food.

I have had the pleasure to manage this international collaborative community on agri-food, currently composed of 60 national and subnational authorities from 23 countries (19 EU countries and 4 non-EU). The majority are from Italy (11), Spain (8), Netherlands (6), Finland (4), France (4), Hungary (4). Other four Agri-food partnerships focus on the topics such as consumer involvement in agri-food, high-technology farming, nutritional ingredients, and smart sensors for agri-food. The Agri-food platform offers a structure to learn, network, build capacities and prepare joint programmes and projects in order to achieve food sustainability through systemic change. The participation in the Agri-food Platform enables regions to share resources in order to achieve common goals with greater efficiency and impact. Moreover, eco-systems can improve their competitiveness, resiliency and sustainability by promoting a shared value economy.

The Joint Research Centre, with its Smart Specialisation Platform based in Sevilla (Spain) has supported the development of the Traceability and Big Data partnership in multiple ways. JRC provided methodological support, expertise, advice and networking opportunities through workshops and seminars. In addition, partnership has been provided with support in identifying strong and missing competences among the participating regions.

I am very proud to see that the region of Andalusia that leads the Traceability and Big Data together with the support of the region of Emilia-Romagna was able to mobilise local stakeholders from 22 regions and involve them in international projects linked to the topic of the partnership. Today, Traceability and Big Data counts with the participation of more than 1,600 stakeholders including private sector, industry, research institutions, trade unions and civil associations. This makes the partnership a very powerful tool to address the challenges of COVID-19 recovery and contribute to the achievements of European Green Deal and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Probably, the health crisis and associated socio-economic crisis will bring new opportunities and challenges for interregional cooperation in smart specialisation that could be reflected in the updated Partnership Scoping Note. This might include new and revised objectives as well as a reflection on an alignment between place-based innovation and research and innovation missions - Horizon Europe research programme for 2021-2027.