Research and innovation – Regional policy

Macroeconomic research points out that innovation contributes between two-thirds and four-fifths of economic growth in developed countries. In other words, about 85% of productivity growth in advanced economies is driven by innovation. However, statistics confirm large disparities between Member States and EU regions in the areas of innovation and R&D as well as a persistent gap compared to its main competitors at global level. Europe needs to become more inventive, reacting faster to changing market conditions and consumer preferences in order to become an innovation-friendly society and economy.

The main drivers of research and innovation are dealt with most effectively at the regional level. Reducing the innovation gap between European regions is therefore a key task for cohesion policy. In this context, it invests, among other things, in five key elements: Research and innovation, adoption of ICT, competitiveness of SMEs, skills development, energy efficiency and renewable energies . Given the limited resources available, it is important to have a strategic approach in the form of a national and / or regional smart specialization strategy (RIS3) bringing together relevant stakeholders from business, research, education and the public to develop and implement strategies that focus their resources on a limited number of areas with competitive advantages.

In the current programming period, investments under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) focus on 4 key thematic priorities: innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the low carbon economy. ERDF investments in innovation are used to support the implementation of over 120 smart specialization (S3) strategies to have a greater and more sustainable impact on jobs and growth in different regions. S3 strategies were developed in entrepreneurial discovery processes, involving businesses, research, public bodies and civil society. Smart specialization has made the diversity of our territories a strength by drawing on the specific strengths of each region or Member State. It has also helped to understand that the success of investments in innovation depends on how public, private, research and business organizations work together.

To provide support to Member States and regions that are developing and implementing their S3, the ‘smart specialization platform’ has been set up: more than 180 countries and regions have registered on this S3 platform to learn among peers how to develop, implement and monitor their S3 and explore possibilities for cooperation. The S3 platform provides guidance, peer learning opportunities and tools, such as the Eye @ RIS3 database on smart specialization priorities in Europe, which shows 33% of S3 priorities relate to digital transformation and 51% concern sustainable transformations linked to the Green Deal.

The S3Platform also facilitates the work of 33 interregional partnerships grouped into 3 thematic smart specialization platforms (industrial modernization, agrifood and energy), and implements pilot actions (support for lagging regions, Romania, Stairway to Excellence) proposed by the European Parliament.

Following on from the communication on strengthening innovation in European regions – Strategies for resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth (2017), two pilot actions were launched:

  • The pilot project of “Interregional innovation partnerships” complements the efforts of the thematic smart specialization platforms by accelerating the marketing and scaling activities of the 9 selected partnerships (marine renewable energies, sustainable buildings, bioeconomy, printing 3D, De & Re-fabrication for the circular economy, cybersecurity, traceability and big data, high-tech agriculture, and in 2018, as part of the EU Battery Alliance and the Strategic Action Plan on Batteries, a partnership on advanced materials on batteries). The pilot is part of a larger reflection on post-2020 mechanisms to help jointly develop and test new ways of commercializing and scaling up interregional innovation projects to reshape European value chains, help attract private investments and strengthen synergies. It also feeds into the preparation of the new interregional instrument for investing in innovation under the 2021-2027 cohesion policy funds.
  • The “Industrial Transition” pilot project in ten regions and 2 countries received the support of experts and the OECD to develop a comprehensive strategy for economic transformation, based on their smart specialization strategies, a broad concept of economic transformation. innovation and addressing globalization, automation, decarbonization, emergence and digital technologies, skills and investments. Lessons learned from the pilot help test new approaches to industrial transition and provide evidence to inform post-2020 policies and programs. See the OECD report “Territories in industrial transition: policies for people and places“(2019).

The Commission also encourages to strengthen the synergies and complementarities of ESI Funds investments with Horizon 2020, COSME and other relevant EU programs.

About the author