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Innovation strategies of EU regions

Smart specialisation


European Commission



Together with CSIL Milano and numerous regional experts, Prognos analysed the prioritisation of smart specialisation in the EU between 2014 and 2020. The strategies were intended to be based as much as possible on the strengths of the respective region. They were also supposed to incorporate new technological trends in order to generate future competitive advantages. The study evaluates the prioritisation approaches in all available S3 strategies in the EU with regard to innovation capabilities and their translation into actual projects. A complex and multi-layered picture emerged. To increase the effectiveness of smart specialisation, improvements are needed.

Key priorities are Agrofood & Bioeconomy, ICT & Industry 4.0, Health & Life Sciences and other technology-oriented topics.

The priority areas of S3 strategies in the EU are largely based on objective, data-driven identification processes. While these processes are appreciated by stakeholders, there is room for improvement in terms of continuous dialogue and data analysis at a granular level. The individual EU member states or regions have therefore defined a wide range of priority areas. Most of them focus on R&D and rather technology-oriented topics. In most cases, projects funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) have been linked to S3 priority areas. The volume of investment in the S3 priority areas was around 20 billion euros. This suggests that the prioritisation approach in the funding procedures was mostly effectively implemented. However, over 25% of the S3 strategies do not match well with the innovation potential of the respective region.

A comparison of the S3 priority areas with the Regional Innovation Scoreboard (RIS) and European Quality of Government Index (EQG) reveals some surprising results: Some inherently weak regions, with low innovation potential and institutional capacity, do relatively well in the S3 areas. There may be three reasons for this: a comparatively high level of funding, a stronger orientation towards the S3 rules or less top-down policy. Of the highly developed regions and countries that perform strongly in RIS and EQG, some performed worse in the S3 areas.  Among other things, this could be due to relatively low funding.

Overall, however, it can be noted that the nationwide S3 strategies of 22 countries in the EU are working well. The study describes in detail the development of S3 strategies and the prioritisation approaches used within the strategies.

Policy recommendations: exploit regional innovation strengths

"We recommend more careful identification of priority areas in the future, better use of regional innovation strengths in these areas and better evaluation of the chosen strategy goals," says Prognos project manager Dr Jan-Philipp Kramer. Details on how this could be done are provided in the study.

S3 Scoreboard 2021: Evaluation of all 185 smart specialisation strategies by means of new methodology

For the first time, the study authors developed an "S3 Scoreboard" as a comparative assessment of all 185 smart specialisation strategies in the EU Member States and regions. The basis is a novel methodology based on AI-supported matching analyses and exclusive data.  

The S3 Scoreboard covers 163 regions in 28 EU countries. In addition, S3 strategies at country level, such as in Malta, Luxembourg or Cyprus, are included. The scoreboard provides a detailed breakdown

•    of performance groups with contextual data,
•    including the share of the ERDF budget associated with S3 priority areas,
•    the continuity of the so-called Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) or
•    the selection criteria for S3-related calls for proposals under the ERDF 2014-2020.

Based on these, the maturity of S3 strategies across the EU can be analysed and compared now and in the future.

Overall, the S3 scoreboard 2021 shows a strong variation that reflects the different starting points for smart specialisation in terms of the strength of the research and innovation system, the level of available resources compared to the national resources and the level of aid intensity.
Many S3 leaders are found in less developed regions, while the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, or some German, French and more developed Spanish regions show potential for optimisation in their S3 strategies. The 22 national S3 strategies in the EU perform relatively well.

Dr Jan-Philipp Kramer first presented the results of the analysis at an online event organised by the European Commission on 2 September 2021. Afterwards, the results and their implications for EU policy were discussed together with Roman Arjona (Head of Unit, Directorate General Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs), Magda de Carli (Head of Unit, Directorate General Research and Development) and Pierre-Alex Balland (Utrecht University).

Read the study (Website European Commission)

Authors: Dr Jan-Philipp Kramer, Dr Georg Klose, Janosch Nellen, Janis Neufeld, Neysan Khabirpour, Lennart Galdiga, Moritz Glettenberg, Johanna Thierstein (all Prognos);  

Emanuela Sirtori, Dr Francesca Guadagno, Dr Julie Pellegrin, Alessandra Caputo, Dr
Francesco Giffoni (all CSIL)

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