Northern Ireland Granted Top EU Honour

Northern Ireland was granted entrepreneurial region status in the European Parliament in a move which could provide a massive economic boost.

It is one of three EU regions – alongside Lisbon in Portugal and Valencia in Spain – to be given the honour for 2015.

And advocates of the scheme, which include Invest NI and the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), say it could help create hundreds of jobs and drive millions into the north’s economy.

It could open new doors for Northern Ireland-based entrepreneurs to potential investors and more than a billion euro of EU finance.

They could provide assistance from funding to manufacturing under license to joint marketing.

The status was accorded during a ceremony at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels yesterday.

Northern Ireland was one of 16 regions to apply for the honour.

The committee bestows areas with “the most credible, forward-thinking and promising vision plan” European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) for a specific year.

Committee president Ramon Luis Valcarcel said the prize was awarded to “regions that champion SMEs” and praised the “bottom up approach” proposed in Northern Ireland.

The committee said it rewards regions which “show an outstanding and innovative entrepreneurial policy strategy, irrespective of their size, wealth and competences”.

Nilga said the award will showcase the best, diverse, strong enterprises in Northern Ireland to a captive audience.

“The EU Award showcases in front of the whole of the EU, for a year, the most enterprising places and companies in NI, and sends a direct signal to investors to come here,” it said.

“The jobs will come as a result of giving our productive entrepreneurs 365 days of a commercial advertisement, allowing them to tap into billions of euro of funding programmes and be marketed to half a billion people.”

When the status was granted to the west Netherlands region, it reported 1,505 new jobs and new revenue of around ‚ā¨52 million as a result.

NILGA¬†president and Craigavon councillor Arnold Hatch said it was “an honour and privilege” to accept the award.

He said the north would present an entrepreneurial vision to Europe over the next two years and said that part-nerships between government bodies, universities and businesses in Northern Ireland “creates a synergy where two and two makes five”.

He said the status could have “very local and tangible benefits for those that need it most. That is, the community itself, the entrepreneurs and artisans in our midst”.

Councillor Trevor Cummings, who represents Northern Ireland on the committee of the regions, said the north’s strategy would harness the opportunities afforded by the new local government led planning model.

He said the aim was to see a sustainable and growing private sector where most of firms are competing for the global market.

Among plans are to link up with the north-west of France, a former holder of the award, to consider how their experiences could be implemented in Northern Ireland.