Emphasis on the pharmaceutical and health care sectors as a driver of economic development is the main health-related focus of Structural Fund investments in the South Netherlands. Nevertheless, the region has a public-private health development initiative that targets innovation in the sector, as well as ensuring that public health gains are integrated into economic development activities. A number of interesting projects that target innovation in the health sector have been funded in the region during the current programming period, despite the fact that health itself is not considered a strategic priority for the programmes.



Background information

The South Netherlands brings together the three provinces of Zeeland, Noord Brabant and Limburg, and is an administrative region for Cohesion Policy programming purposes only. The region has a population of 4 million inhabitants (2004) around 24% of the national population, with 29% of the population under 25 and 14% over 65 years of age. 

In the South Netherlands there are two national significant urban networks, namely BrabantStad and Tripool. BrabantStad consists of five major cities in North Brabant: Breda, Den Bosch, Eindhoven, Helmond and Tilburg. Tripool is the partnership of the municipalities in Limburg, Heerlen, Maastricht and Sittard-Geleen. These eight cities, plus Venlo in Northern Limburg make up the nine cities in South Netherlands that form the part of the Dutch Major Cities Policy (GSB).

In the Structural Funds Operational Programme (OP) for this region, these nine cities have a central function in the areas of economy, culture, facilities, innovation and higher education. The cities have an appealing business environment for the service economy and creative industries. The cities also face a number of problems including higher than national average unemployment, benefit dependency, levels economic restructuring, higher proportions of immigrants and concentrations of poverty. 

Figure 1: The South Netherlands Regional Competitiveness & Employment Operational Programme 2007-2013

Source: DG Regional Policy – Inforegio

Table 1: South Netherlands at-a-glance

Population (inh., 2004)

3,925,357 million

Surface area (km2)


GDP per capita in EUR (PPS, 2008)


GDP per capita as % of EU 27 (PPS, 2008)


Cohesion Policy status

Regional Competitiveness & Employment

Life expectancy at birth, male (2008)

-          Noord Brabant

-          Limburg




Life expectancy at birth, female (2008)

-          Noord Brabant

-          Limburg




Sources: Eurostat and Fifth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion

Figure 2: GDP per capita in PPS (EU27 average = 100)

Source: Eurostat; GDP per capita in PPS is Gross Domestic Product in purchasing power standards.

In 2008, life expectancy at birth in South Netherlands was of approximately 78 years for men and 82.5 years for women, which is slightly higher than the EU 27 average of 75.8 (men) and 82 (women).

In terms of overall development, South Netherlands scored above the EU average on the EU version of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI). This index includes healthy life expectancy, household income, and educational attainment levels. Noord-Brabant and Limburg scored, respectively, 78.1 and 73.9 out of 100 compared to an average value of 62 for EU regions.



Policy and institutional overview

Cohesion Policy

The core objective of the ERDF programme is to strengthen South Netherlands as a top technology region. Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship are key priorities in the regional ERDF programme, mainly through support for research and development. In addition, the programme devotes considerable attention to the development of attractive living and working environments.

A total of €186 million is available to the South Netherlands through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The Managing Authority for South Netherlands is coordinated by the Province of Noord Brabant in Den Bos, and the monitoring committee is chaired by the Queens Commissioner of Noord Brabant. The Managing Authority is solely responsible for ERDF programme, as the ESF programme is coordinated nationally in the Netherlands.

Health sector

The Brainport Development Agency houses Brainport health, a public and private-funded initiative that seeks to invest in health as a driver for the region’s economy. The objectives of Brainport health are to:

1.      Promote innovative healthy assisted living initiatives by bringing health care to the home. 

2.      Reduce the costs of institutionalised care, helping people to retain independence.

3.      Promote use of new technology to bring an innovative range of services to the home in both rural and urban areas.

4.      Innovation in neighbourhood safety, recognising that a feeling of inclusion in society and happiness are important.

5.       Promoting campaigns against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s etc. 

6.      Underpinning a regional focus on healthy ageing and living

7.      Harness advances in service provision from for the regional population through innovations in imaging, screening and prevention of cardio related conditions



Health in the Structural Fund programmes

Generally, health measures are not directly included in the ERDF programme due to bias towards economic development and innovation priorities.  There are, however, examples of a number of innovative technological and environmental projects that have direct impacts on the development of the region’s health objectives. Broadband infrastructure is one example. It is a priority for the region in tackling the digital divide between social groups and urban and rural areas.  Ubiquitous provision of broadband has significant implications of the development and provision of future innovative health services to the home in both rural and urban areas.

The strategy for the national-level ESF programmes complements national employment policies and aims to increase labour productivity and participation in the labour market. The objective is to focus on job-search assistance for those at a distance from the labour market, as well as on education and training, in particular for the least qualified. Raising the skills and employability (where health can play a role) of these groups will result in more and better workers, thus raising participation and productivity. Priority 2, which focuses on promoting inclusiveness for disadvantaged groups, will contributing to combating social exclusion from labour markets and from society as a whole, and is expected to have impacts on public health.

Tables 2 and 3 below summarise the key priorities and intervention areas of both OPs, as well as their correlation with the proposed briefing sheet topics. Whenever applicable, the tables also show how health is considered within each priority.

Tables 2 and 3: Overview of South Netherlands OPs

OP for the European Regional Development Fund South Netherlands

MA: Provincie Noord-Brabant – DenBos

Total EU allocation: 185 900 000 €

Priority Axis

Funds (€m)

Percent of total OP

Content of priority

Briefing Sheet topic(s)

Health considerations in the priority

Knowledge Economy, entrepreneurship & innovation



R&D investment, innovation and entrepreneurship.

collaboration between research institutes and enterprises/clusters


Research and innovation around the region’s biomedical et pharmaceutical sectors can be an effective driver for growth.

Attractive regions



Foreseen activities target the environment, culture, tourism, energy or access to ICT.


Urban regeneration

Culture and heritage


Investments in nature, culture and environmental quality have a positive relationship with issues such as health, promoting sport and recreation space.


The urban dimension


21.5 %

Supports urban issues in the GSB-cities

 Urban regeneration


Health-related services can be improved off the back of ICT, broadband initiatives that include rural areas.

Technical assistance and strengthening of institutional capacity



Financial support is available covering administration, monitoring and control.




OP for the European Social Fund - Netherlands

MA: Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en WerkgelegenheidTotal EU allocation: €797 million

Priority Axis

Funds (€)

Percent of total OP

Content of priority

Briefing Sheet topic(s)

Health considerations in the priority

Increasing labour supply



Target groups: unemployed, with the following priority target groups: seniors, women, and the

partially occupationally disabled.

Education and training


Only insofar as  equal opportunities, integration of disadvantaged groups and ethnic minorities can have an impact on public health

Promoting an inclusive labour market



Target Groups: detainees/ex-detainees, forensic patients and youth in

juvenile custodial institutions


Contribution to equal opportunities in access to employment. Southern Netherlands is aware that its ageing society presents and important opportunity for additional employment in the health sector

Increasing adaptability and investment in human capital



Target Group: low-skilled employees





Integrating health in the programmes

This section covers the process and experience with integrating public health issues into the planning of the Structural Fund programmes in South Netherlands. Based on interviews with managers and experts in the Structural Funds Managing Authority and one of the regions key health development and innovation agencies, Brainport Development NV health department, this section reviews how health has been integrated into the programmes.

The partnership on the Programme Monitoring Committee includes a number of the public health sector bodies in the region including the hospital in Maastricht. Nevertheless the public health and social care sector is characterised by small and medium sized businesses that do not necessarily have the capacity to monitor and follow EU developments on a day-to-day basis.  In a number of provinces and municipalities local authorities and public health organisations pool their expertise to create capacity and information flows that can allow them to take advantage of funding.

Public health is not considered directly in the project appraisal and selection processes although food processing, sustainable development and potential spin offs from cluster projects can have unforeseen positive benefits for public health.   

Consultation with health sector in the 2007-2013 programmes

The current ERDF programme does not directly consider health as a priority. The main focus is on urban development and high tech investment.in mechanical engineering and automotive sectors.  Some focus is given to the growth of the pharmaceutical sectors in the region with the emphasis on ERDF supporting the business environment and physical infrastructure.

Nevertheless a number of broadband initiatives, food technology and sustainable development schemes have had a beneficial effect on public health in the region.  Bike lanes, a major investment priority across the Netherlands, receive funding from EU programmes as environmental enhancements.  Meanwhile, their regular usage by citizens and workers with the documented benefits for public health are not considered in the programme criteria or project output indicators for the time being.  As a result, many health gains go unrecognised by the programmes.

The Managing Authority representative underlined that health is not considered as a primary topic in the current programmes and for the moment has not being considered one for the future programmes.  For health to have a greater place on the agenda, it will be essential for the top down framework of Community Strategic Guidelines and national strategic plans to contain something about public health as a priority consideration. The Managing Authority representative underlined the risk that public health will be treated as one of the many sub-objectives or cross-cutting themes that do not in practice receive the attention they deserve beyond the jobs, growth and innovation agendas. 

Project Examples

FHEALINC (ERDF): The project involves farmers, food processors, hospital dieticians and higher education institutions, working together optimising health for people through innovative practices and product development. The project is located at the Greater Den Bos area and has developed a training centre located near the local hospital.  The projects primary objective is to increase the capacity of the food processing sector with innovative product lines.


RECAP (ERDF, INTERREG IVB): Noord Brabant is the lead partner, and brings together 14 transnational partners in North West Europe to share experiences on capitalising on innovation in the health sector. The project’s objectives are to encourage the extended use of ICT tools in the sector; to create and extend collaboration clusters; and to design new management models for effective healthcare treatments. The project will develop a transnational health innovation portal to record and disseminate the work.





Print sources

ERDF Operational Programme for the South Netherlands (in Dutch)


Operational Programme The Netherlands ESF 2007 – 2013, June 2007



Interviews with regional health department

Marcel DE PENDER, Brainport Health Innovation, Brainport Development N.V

Interviews with the intermediate body for Structural Funds programmes:

Jop van Unnik, Managing Authority for South Netherlands, Province of Noord Brabant

Interviews/coordination with Brussels office
Wim De Kinderen, International Project Manager, Brainport Eindhoven EU Office Brussels