Nearly a decade after the onset of the global recession, the economies of Southern Europe still battle high levels of unemployment, public debt, underfunded public services, and in Greece’s case, the looming fear of default on loans. The major Eurozone countries of Southern Europe continue to face important socioeconomic challenges and widespread public discontent. The European Union has thus far also been unable to respond in a way that would support these economies returning to sustainable levels of growth and employment. However, regardless of European and national policies regarding major macroeconomic questions like public debt or further integration in banking and fiscal policies, local and regional governments have had to continue to take action on the ground to alleviate the compounding socioeconomic challenges of their citizens.
The Urban and Regional Policy Program (URP) of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) with the support of the Compagnia di San Paolo launched a peer-to-peer learning program on regional economic development focused on network development and cooperation for Southern European metropolitan areas. The METROS network included the cities of Bilbao (Spain), Genova (Italy), Torino (Italy), and Thessaloniki (Greece). In the first convening, the METROS cities collectively determined to focus their peer learning efforts on strengthening their local entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystems in an effort to generate new economic activity and provide opportunities for their residents in a context still marked by severe economic and fiscal constraints
These cities were engaged for a period of two years through a series of peer workshops, featuring input and coaching from U.S. and European experts, as well as virtual engagement to check in and support the city delegations in their projects between workshops. Through this network local level policymakers and stakeholders shared and learned from each other on strategies to bolster their economies at the metropolitan level. All of these cities shared a strong commitment to create and develop robust economic ecosystems regardless of the wider context of national economic stagnation.