Once considered merely sleepy outposts of Europe, the Atlantic western regions of France, Spain and Portugal that make up the Euratlantic project area are working together to promote themselves as major centres for the aeronautical, automotive and agricultural industries.
The Euratlantic project – led by Ouest Atlantique, the inward investment promotion agency of western France – was set up in 2005 to enable the 13 regions and 14 partners in France, Portugal and Spain to market their territories to North American investors. The regions – Normandy, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Poitou-Charentes and Limousin in France; Asturias, Galicia, Castilla y León, La Rioja and Andalusia in Spain, and Norte, Centro and Alentejo in Portugal – were brought together under the INTERREG IIIB Atlantic Area Operational Programme, Measure D3, an EU scheme that encourages trans-national co-operation.
“We’re helping North American companies set up business in our regions by giving them contacts with local firms, assisting with financial information and helping them to enter the legal and fiscal framework of the country,” says Sophie Labrosse, director of business development for Ouest Atlantique. The project also provides trade show support and information designed to highlight the expertise, resources and infrastructure available throughout the area.
“Being part of a project that joins together different Euratlantic organisations is a clear advantage for us,” says Luis Castilho, deputy director of Conselho Empresarial do Centro (CEC), the Portuguese federation of chambers of commerce and industry. “We can exchange experience with others who share the same type of problems, specifically concerning their territory’s peripheral location and the need to increase external investment.”
Aerospace activities feature strongly in the area, with 300 companies, including composites specialists, already located in the 13 regions. Research and development (R&D) and aerospace training are also well catered for, with 326 university R&D teams and 8300 specialist researchers dedicated to fields of interest to the aeronautics industry. A further 250,000 students are in higher education courses relevant to the sector. The Euratlantic zone is home to six Airbus manufacturing sites which employ more than 14,000 aerospace workers in areas such as assembly, maintenance and mechanical engineering composites.
The automotive industry is equally well served. According to the most recent figures available from Euratlantic, in 2004 the area had 23.4% of the total European automotive sector workforce and produced 2.3 million vehicles. Assembly sites and plants for manufacturers such as PSA Peugeot Citroën, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Toyota, Renault, Nissan, Heuliez, Iveco and Scania are also spread throughout these regions.
Although high-tech industries play a major role, the area remains a key agricultural region, responsible for 37.4% of total EU-15 agricultural production. It is also a major zone for food processing and related industries, generating close to €75bn ($106bn) in revenue annually.
“All three countries involved are benefiting from the project,” says Elena Gallego Cañabate, head of the international department at the Andalusian ministry of innovation, science and enterprise. “We work with similar sectors – and our really well-developed infrastructures can be used by North American investors as a launchpad for their businesses in Europe.”
In recent years the regions have notched up some major investment. Metal Improvement Company, a provider of metal treatment services, has announced plans to invest more than €3m in a plant for treating metal surfaces for the aeronautics industry at Seville’s Aeropolos Technology and Aerospace Park. And Johnson Controls-Saft Advanced Power Solutions is to build a $15m to $20m lithium-ion battery facility at Saft’s Nersac plant near Angoulême, France.
The image that some investors have of the fringes of Portugal, France and Spain can be both a benefit and a burden. “On the one hand, North Americans are attracted to our territories for food and good living,” explains Ms Labrosse. “But it can be a handicap because they think you’re maybe not the best in business. The advantage of being all together has been to create a network, which says to them ‘we are not only the city of Nantes, when you contact us we can put you through to the whole Euratlantic region’. It’s a kind of Eurogate – a bridge to Europe.”
One of the challenges of the project has been to combat potential investors’ lack of knowledge about the area. For a start, the group says the French and Portuguese Euratlantic regions have considerably higher economic growth rates than their country averages, while the Spanish region’s economic growth is similar to the national average. Furthermore, it points out that at 1.8% in 2002 (the last year it collected data), total economic growth in the Euratlantic area was considerably higher than the EU-15 average (1%) and EU-25 average (1.1%) for the same period. What may also surprise some is the area’s claim that its level of unionisation is low compared with the European and American average.
“Thanks to this project we have met other development agencies and regional organisations with the same objectives as ourselves,” says Ana Sánchez Tejada, international department adviser at the Andalusian ministry of innovation, science and enterprise. “It was an opportunity to work together and reinforce our network abroad.”
Mr Castilho agrees: “We’ve always worked towards creating a common identity that would enable us to do more, on a bigger scale and with cost reductions that could benefit all partners.”
The EU has provided financial support from 2005 to the end of 2007, when the project officially finishes. “Although the EU funding stops the collaboration continues,” says Ms Labrosse. “We’re already working on new projects, such as the launch of an extranet that will act as an additional communication tool.
“One of the biggest successes is that 14 partners succeeded in co-operating and having one strategy, one identity and that’s something we don’t want to give up when the funding stops.”