Europe is experiencing a momentous period of change. Globalisation, automation, decarbonisation, emerging and digital technologies: they all impact on jobs, industrial sectors, business models, the economy and society as a whole.
The future challenge for EU regions is being able to compete at the global level with other most advanced and emerging economic powers as they are more than ever part of a globalised world. Therefore, they need to find ways to become more resilient and competitive by taking concrete actions at EU, national and local levels while ensuring the benefits of globalisation are shared.
Many European regions are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities offered by globalisation. However, the Commission's reflection paper on globalisation stressed that the competitiveness and innovation divide between some advanced EU regions and less strong ones is widening.
Vulnerable regions can still be found across Europe in Southern or Central and Eastern Europe. Innovation is recognised as one of the main economic drivers for boosting jobs. Identifying these regions’ innovation potential and focusing on reinforcing their local strengths, narrowing development gaps, and boosting competitiveness can help strengthen resilience to globalisation.
Smart specialisation strategies reshaping European growth
Here, the EU is making a difference by implementing smart specialisation in each region. Smart specialisation is opening up new opportunities for interregional cooperation around shared priorities, thereby complementing one other's strengths and reshaping the European growth and integration model.
So far, over 120 smart specialisation strategies have been established and are receiving over EUR 65 billion from national and EU funds (including more than EUR 40 billion from the European Regional Development Fund). In total, the funding is expected to help 15 000 businesses to launch new products, support 140 000 start-ups and create 350 000 new jobs by 2020.
Smart specialisation provides a new way of working together, based on collaboration and innovation. It enables regions and industry to empower local solutions, foster competitiveness and maximise growth potential through the economy of scale while creating the prosperity and jobs that Europe’s citizens expect.
Four challenges to boosting innovation-led growth in EU regions
With its Communication ‘Strengthening Innovation in Europe's Regions: Strategies for resilient, inclusive and sustainable growth’, the Commission is committed to boosting innovation-led growth and helping regions seize the opportunities brought by technological change and industrial modernisation. The Commission has identified four main challenges to regional innovation as well as some pilot actions to tackle them. These actions will be launched by the end of 2017 to promote larger investments in interregional innovation projects and accompany the industrial modernisation of less-developed regions.
- Boosting innovation capacity in less-developed regions
Regions undergoing industrial transition face specific challenges and obstacles, notably linked to the fragmentation and sustainability of research and innovation infrastructures, lack of an appropriate skills base and deindustrialisation. Several EU initiatives and funding schemes are helping them to support broad-based innovation and widen their participation in EU research and innovation funds. These include: TAIEX Peer-2-Peer, S3 Platforms, Horizon2020 Teaming and Twinning, Stairway to Excellence, and the Lagging Regions initiative. Through pilot actions, the Commission will facilitate the combined used of existing EU instruments, accelerate innovation uptake and remove investment barriers.
- Increasing cooperation in innovation investment across regions
Smart specialisation strategies, interregional and macro-regional cooperation can help regions to exploit existing complementarities and build EU-wide value chains by encouraging the synergy of investments between the private and public sector and bringing EU-based innovation close to market. Pilot actions will help interregional partnerships to identify concrete business projects and investment opportunities.
- Further reforming research and innovation systems within regions
Structural reforms and better regulatory and institutional frameworks are essential to improve competitiveness and ensure innovation strategies. The Commission will step up its efforts to encourage Member States to make full use of EU support to facilitate the design and implementation of reforms. This will be achieved through on-demand assistance from the Structural Reform Support Service and the Horizon 2020 Policy Support Facility. Finally, the Commission invites Member States to reinforce the dialogue with all stakeholders concerned in the course of the European Semester process.
- Facilitating synergies between EU policies and instruments
A substantial number of regional, national and European policy programmes and instruments already exist to encourage innovation, growth and jobs or promote interregional cooperation. The Commission will help national and regional authorities to better combine them and to clarify possible synergies regarding public procurement and state aid.