Every European region needs to explore and exploit its competitive strengths in order to survive economically and push Europe back towards growth, EU policymakers say.

If the EU wants to continue being an important industrial player globally, European regions need to profoundly transform the way they do business. 

The EU's industrial policy should in the future focus on adequate responses to global challenges, such as climate change, raw materials, energy health and nutrition and ageing, analysts say.

More attention must be given to innovation of high-added value products and services, the development of new value chains, and exports to new and existing markets, EU policymakers stressed.

Speaking at a conference on research and innovation in the European Parliament on Friday (8 November), Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said Europe needed commitment, cooperation, investment and faith in the future. 

"Innovation is more than just research and development policies. Innovation is the ability of a system to produce new ideas, but also to bring them to the market, translate them into economic growth and prosperity," Van Rompuy said.

"Giving priorities to investments does work. An intelligent design policy does work. But it works thanks to the presence of a collaborating model, meaning an interactive process of dialogue with the private and public sector," the Council President continued.

Smarter regional investments

But how to regain competitiveness, foster industrial renewal and exploit new economic opportunities has become the main question and in this context 'smart specialisation' of regions is key. 

The regions play an essential role as they are sufficiently close to the entrepreneurial dynamics, experts say. Europe's more progressive regions should therefore work together and align their regional policies with the policy dynamics of other levels of government.

Speaking at a conference on research and innovation in the European Parliament on Friday (8 November), Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EU Commissioner for Research and Innovation, said that when resources for investment in research and innovation are scarce, it only makes sense to concentrate on sectors where funding will have a full stimulating act.

"Smart specialisation will be a good yardstick for identifying priorities, in order to analyse the impact of investment in research and development on growth, unemployment and on technology outcome," she said.

Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy, added that smart specialisation strategies will help to make smarter investments with more added value. It will allow the EU to do more with less.

At the moment, smart specialisation strategies are about to be launched across Europe mobilising a large number of stakeholders and leveraging public and private funds for innovation. 

Danuta Hübner, the chair of the Committee on Regional Development in the Parliament, mentioned that since the 'smart specialisation' idea was introduced by the Commission as a sort of paradigm for investment in Europe, it has sparked many discussion among MEPs.

"It's extremely important that we look at the smart specialisation on the point of view of synergies within the regions, the structural funds and cooperation," Hübner stressed.