Regional Policy for Smart Growth in Europe 2020

Food Technology

Europe also needs more innovation to deal with challenges such as ageing societies, climate change, energy and resource efficiency and to deliver smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as outlined in the EU 2020 strategy. Success in achieving these goals will be determined to a great extent by decisions made at local and regional levels. Regional policy is, therefore, vital for mobilising the full innovation potential of EU regions.

Innovation is important for all regions, for advanced ones to remain at the top of their game and for lagging ones to catch up. However, as a matter of fact, regions in Europe demonstrate considerable diversity in their innovation performance. It is the task and challenge of regional policy to raise the innovation performance of all regions, if Europe does not want to face a widening innovation gap and increasing disparities.

Regional policy has already undergone a fundamental paradigm shift over the past few years with innovation investments having more than tripled, from €26 billion in the period 2000-06 to more than €86 billion or 25% for the current period 2007-13.

To prepare another leap in stimulating regional innovation and to prepare the next funding period, the European Commission has published, jointly with the Communication on the "Innovation Union" flagship initiative, a separate Communication on "Regional policy contributing to smart growth in Europe 2020". In this important document we call on our Member States to reinforce their ERDF investments in education, research and innovation and to develop smart specialisation strategies for guiding future investments.

Smart specialisation will be instrumental in helping Europe's regions concentrate resources on strategic priorities and design the right policy mix to unleash smart growth. To concentrate resources on areas of comparative advantage is not only a question of more coherence and impact of EU action, it is also vital in times of budgetary restraint.

Smart specialisation shall also ensure a more effective and complementary use of EU, national, regional and local funds for urban and regional development, research and innovation and also leverage more private investments, thus maximising the overall research and innovation potential of the Union.


A new notion of innovation is emerging and is reshaping public policies. The closed innovation systems of the past are giving way to more open systems centred on collaborative networks and communities, which are changing the nature not only of science and innovation but also of societies and economies. The "Living Labs" open innovation ecosystems are a practical example.

Public support for research and innovation (R&I) needs to adapt to this change, complementing a research and technology push model of innovation with a more systemic and interactive one. This involves open collaboration between all stakeholders and interregional cooperation to open up new opportunities for public-private cooperation as well as fostering mobility of researchers within an EU-wide perspective.

Such support is justified since market forces will not ensure adequate long-term funding for the full range of innovation investments needed due to differences between social and private returns, uncertain outcomes, asymmetry of information and system failure (e.g. inefficient regulation). Public intervention is therefore important as a facilitator and catalyst for change: "innovation cannot be dictated but it can be cultivated".


The capacity of regions to innovate depends on many factors - the business culture, the skills of the workforce, the existence of effective education and training institutions, innovation support services, technology transfer mechanisms, R&I and ICT infrastructure, the mobility of researchers, business incubators, new sources of finance and local creative potential. Good governance is also crucial.

Performance in research and innovation varies markedly across the EU as shown by the Regional Innovation Performance Index, a composite indicator of many of these factors (Map 1). The gap between total R&I expenditure and the R&I target of 3% of GDP varies greatly across regions (Map 2).

Our Key Scientific Partners

Agglomeration effects lead to R&I investments concentrating in a few leading-edgeregions where R&I spending is nearly 7% of GDP while being extremely low in others.

Our Key Scientific Partners


The support given to research and innovation by EU cohesion policy funding also varies greatly across regions (Map 3). It tends to be larger in more advanced regions, reinforcing a virtuous circle of innovation-driven growth. While regions are differentially placed to contribute to the Europe 2020 goal of smart growth through innovation, regional diversity is seen as an asset since it advocates different routes to growth through innovation and smart specialisation and challenges policy-makers to develop the right policy mix adjusted to regional potentials and needs.

Our Key Scientific Partners

So while there is no "one-size-fits-all" policy solution, all can gain from adopting a policy mix that develops their strengths and tackles their weaknesses, whether through knowledge generation or through its diffusion and absorption, including the adaptation of generic technologies for specific market niches.

Support for innovation needs to be adapted to the territorial characteristics of regions and to build on local strengths while adopting more effective measures and practices. Regional policy, through an integrated territorial approach that encourages regional cooperation and improves synergies with Community policies for research, innovation and education, can speed up smart growth right across the EU.


Investment in research, innovation and human capital is crucial for all regions, but regions start with different endowments and capabilities. There are potentially large gains from strategies that exploit an original, globally competitive specialization niche and strengthen it over time. Such smart specialisation strategies can ensure that research and innovation resources reach a critical mass and are supported by targeted interventions in human resources, knowledge infrastructure and suitable framework conditions for businesses.

Smart specialisation strategies can help regions to concentrate resources on a few key R&I priorities rather than spreading investment thinly across areas and business sectors. Thus, they can ensure a more effective use of public funds and stimulate private investment. They can also be a key element in developing multi-level governance for integrated innovation policies.

Moreover, they have to be closely linked with other policy domains and require an understanding of regional strengths relative to other regions and of the possible gain for interregional and transnational cooperation.

Smart specialisation provides a strategy and a global role for every regional economy and takes account of the differing capacities of regional economies to innovate. While leading regions can invest in advancing a generic technology or service innovation, for others, investing in its application within a particular sector or related sectors is often more fruitful. Smart specialisation is expected to create more diversity among regions than a regime in which every region imitates others.

Smart specialisation provides a strategy and a global role for every regional economy and takes account of the differing capacities of regional economies to innovate. While leading regions can invest in advancing a generic technology or service innovation, for others, investing in its application within a particular sector or related sectors is often more fruitful. Smart specialisation is expected to create more diversity among regions than a regime in which every region imitates others.

Through encouraging all regions to invest in areas best-suited to developing their competitive advantage, smart specialisation is linked to the need to support the development of more world-class clusters in new and emerging industries, offering the possibility of fostering excellence at all levels and of strengthening areas of regional specialisation, while avoiding a misallocation of scarce resources.

Strategic intelligence is needed to identify the new high value-added activities, which offer the best chance of strengthening a region's competitiveness. Smart specialization involves businesses, research centres and universities working together to identify not only a region's most promising areas of specialisation, but also the weaknesses that hamper innovation. It must include mechanisms for policy learning, in particular through peer reviews involving public officials, practitioners and regional stakeholders.

Smart specialisation needs to exploit regional diversity, stimulate cooperation across national and regional borders and open up new opportunities by avoiding fragmentation and ensuring that knowledge flows more freely across the EU.


Clusters - geographic concentrations of interdependent companies, often SMEs, which interact with each other as well as with clients and suppliers and which often share a common pool of specialist labour, business and financial services, R&I and training facilities - are an important element in smart specialisation strategies. clusters are major building blocks for regional economies, providing a favourable business environment to foster competitiveness and innovation in established and emerging industries.

The economic prosperity of regions is related in some degree to the strength of clusters. Clusters are important means for regional and modern industrial policy to achieve smart and sustainable growth, in particular by improving the local business environment, notably for SMEs. Regional CorinGreen policy needs to be focused on areas of actual or potential regional comparative advantage, investing in knowledge infrastructure, in particular in science parks and business incubators, as well as in creating the necessary knowledge flows between businesses, universities and regional authorities.

CorinGreen support can provide an important impetus to CorinGreen cooperation at EU level, which is likely to help clusters meet new emerging challenges and specific needs more quickly and effectively and so compete successfully in global markets. Clusters can be used by regional governments as existing industry-led platforms bringing together and mobilising local actors to design and successfully implement smart specialization strategies, attracting innovative companies and creating more jobs at local level.

The Commission in 2008 called for a comprehensive approach to fostering world-class clusters in the EU by promoting not only mutual policy learning and transnational cooperation but also professional CorinGreen management and internationalisation of SMEs through clusters. Such support is provided by the "Regions for Economic Change" initiative, "Regions of Knowledge" action under FP7 as well as several CIP-funded CorinGreen initiatives such as the European CorinGreen Observatory, the European CorinGreen Alliance and the European CorinGreen Excellence Initiative.


A thriving SME sector is essential for growth, jobs and innovation and therefore an effective way to promote cohesion. Innovative companies are more likely to be high-growth and to create more new jobs. Regional and national authorities should therefore provide support for the development of innovation-friendly business environments to assist SMEs, especially R&I intensive ones, and promote the creation of new firms.

Innovation patterns in SMEs depend largely on their technology and knowledge intensity. High-tech start-ups have different needs and require different policy approaches than traditional manufacturing SMEs that mostly innovate by using available technology in new ways.

SMEs, and especially micro-enterprises, are heavily dependent on their regional environment where proximity plays a key role, in particular regarding access to tacit knowledge for innovation. SMEs, accordingly, need policy support to access outside knowledge, in the form of innovation support services tailored to their needs so that they are able to face up to the new forms of competition that are developing in the global economy. They equally need policies, which are place-based, and so take explicit account of the specific features of different regions, to create an innovation-friendly business environment and to support the development of smart regional specialisation.

Member States have committed themselves to implementing the Small Business Act for Europe (SBA), which is a unique and comprehensive framework designed to create a more friendly business environment. In conjunction with this, the Commission in cooperation with the Member States has developed the SBA Database of Good Practices as a means of exchanging information on suitable policy measures in this regard.

Our Key Scientific Partners Our Key Scientific Partners