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Evolution of cluster policy in Hungary - 2000-2020

I. The beginnings

The history of clusters starts at the beginning of the early 2000s. Hungary was the first country in the Central and Eastern European region, where national government supported the development of corporate cooperation and clusters. The first cluster in the Central and Eastern European region was established probably in Hungary (in December, 2000 - PANAC: Pannon Automotive Cluster) as a result of calls for proposals supporting the establishment and development of regional clusters starting in 2001. Top down approach was typical for clusters at these times.

Joining the EU in 2004 opened up new resources to support clusters and opportunities to spread the cluster phenomenon. The breakthrough was the 2007-13 programming period, in which clusters were supported along complex and long-term programmes.

II. 2007-13: Three-level cluster development model

The economic development and regional operational programmes in the 2007-13 programming period supported widely the development of cluster organizations. The three-level cluster development policy supported (Figure 1):

  • start-up cooperation, establishment of clusters;
  • developing clusters (at least 1 year track record);
  • accredited clusters;

Figure 1:  Three-level cluster development model 2007-13

The Regional Operational Programmes provided resources for the start-up and developing clusters. The primary goals of the approved projects were to support the newly-formed clusters and the developing clusters (the ones that had been operating for 1 year at least).

The Economic Development Operational Programme provided grants for supporting accredited clusters using nationally uniform criteria. Calls targeted the support of joint R&I projects and investments of cluster members, project companies and consortia.

The three-level cluster development policy facilitated the continuous evolution of clusters and the top of this progress was to reach the “Accredited Cluster” label. The aim of the accreditation was to recognize the achievements of successfully operating clusters and to select and improve those clusters which meet the following requirements:

  • significant impact on employment
  • outstanding depth of cooperation between members
  • national or cross-border impact of cooperation among members
  • international market entry potential  significant innovation potential.

The Accredited Clusters, on one hand, received an accreditation certificate, which provided the Accredited Cluster label for 2 years and on the other hand using the label they were entitled to utilize certain advantages in the available calls for proposals (for example dedicated calls for proposals, higher grant intensity, advantage during the project selection process).

In 2013, 34 clusters had the Accredited Cluster label. Altogether, they had 1261 members of, which there were 1140 business organizations. The 34 clusters employed around 117,000 people and their aggregate income was over 9,500 billion HUF, one quarter of which came from export activities.

The 3-level cluster development model and the available calls for clusters and for their members led to an explosion of the number of Hungarian clusters in the 2007-13 period (Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Supported Hungarian clusters 2007-2013

III. 2014-20 Focusing, concentration among clusters

The results and experience of the national cluster development policy was summarized in a study ordered by the Ministry for National Economy of Hungary in 2015. The purpose of the study was to determine the goals for the new 7-year period.

The main lesson of the study was, that only one third of the 176 start up and developing clusters could utilize the received grants successfully. The other clusters did not perform any real activity after the project implementation period. On one hand, the abundance of cluster-related calls caused that start-up and developing clusters established in the same industry almost next to each other geographically. On the other hand, cooperation among members did not have the right background.

In contrast member companies of accredited clusters implemented a lot of successful projects making investments for economic development, particularly for R&I projects.

Considering this experience, the national cluster development policy has been changed significantly. Unlike previous practice, the cluster development policy is more focused in the 2014-20 programming period. The emphasis is placed on clusters with track record and on improvement of clusters that are able to develop instead of numerous start-up cooperations. Accordingly, the conditions of receiving the Accredited Cluster label were changed, so active cooperation among members, professional cluster management and international presence is more significant than before.

Beyond modifying the conditions of the Accredited Cluster label, the aims of the national cluster development policy for 2020 were defined, as follows:

1. Cluster concentration, internationally visible clusters

Concentration and growth of accredited clusters shall result in the emergence of 10-15 top clusters within three years. Operational issues shall be performed by a cluster management organization providing professional services (for example incubation, mentoring, supplier rating, etc.). Such a top cluster should concentrate the most relevant players in its industry and sectors related to that and should have over 100 members (present average is about 40 members) and cover the entire spectrum of value chain.

2. Implementation of successful and market-oriented projects

Within three years, the concentrated cluster membership presents at least 3 successful, cooperative projects in each top cluster and the product coming out from such projects is introduced to the market and/or sold. The projects shall pay special attention to Industry 4.0 solutions.

3. Increasing international presence

Within three years, as a result of concentrated cluster membership each cluster is involved in at least two international projects (for example: Horizon2020, COSME, INTERREG EUROPE etc.).

4. Strengthening regional clusters

Besides the Accredited Clusters, the successful regional clusters focusing on regional needs and local industry specialization get an important role, as well. The purpose of supporting regional clusters is to help them in their further development and prepare them for international market. The expected result is 15-20 clusters focusing on professional regional needs which will give the new generation of Hungarian clusters.

In order to reach the above mentioned goals Ministry of National Economy introduced a new approach for supporting Hungarian cluster initiatives (Figure 3).

Figure 3. – Cluster development model 2014-2020

IV. Present situation, where are we now?

In line with our goals to be achieved by 2020, the cooperation among Accredited Clusters has entered each a new phase. In this context, there have already been two merger cases of Accredited Clusters. In one of these cases, as a result of the merger a cross-sectorial cluster was created that utilizes cooperation between IT, health and life sciences areas. Currently, there are 25 Accredited Clusters in Hungary, and this number is expected to decrease due to the merger process. Picture 1. – Minister For National Economy and the Accredited Clusters’ Managers.

Minister For National Economy and the Accredited Clusters’ Managers

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