European spatial governance is becoming an intriguing mix of ideas from the economic, political and cultural spheres. This article asserts that, in the EU's spatial planning, the cluster is increasingly part of a hybrid spatial politics, here named the ‘cluster gaze’, based on the interplay of innovation-oriented political rationality and spatial governance. To study this process, the article provides an empirical investigation into selected EU documentation. The investigation is based on two perspectives. First, the cluster is analysed as a mediating instrument to stimulate and rescale transnational market developments in the EU. Second, the cluster is studied as an instrument of spatial management — one that builds on a business managerial ethos and endorses a specific hierarchical spatial imaginary and a cluster evidence base to assess the productivity and efficiency of European clusters. Both of these perspectives pave the way for a European ‘politics of cluster excellence’ that is about the constant sharpening of cluster practices, continuous evaluation and ranking, and the enhancement of cluster performance to rise from the ‘European league’ towards the ‘world class’.