Northern European regions are in the lead when it comes to innovation in Europe. But there is a considerable diversity in regional innovation performance not only across European countries, but also within the member states, according to the European Commission's Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2012, published today (7 November).
Unsurprisingly, the most innovative regions come from the most innovative countries in Europe.
Within the EU, Sweden confirms its position at the top of the overall ranking in innovation, a key driver of economic growth and jobs. The Scandinavian country is closely followed by Denmark, Germany and Finland, the Regional Innovation Scoreboard shows.
The report has covered 190 regions across the European Union, Croatia, Norway and Switzerland.
The scoreboard has classified European regions into four performance groups. Fourty-one regions belong in the first group of "innovation leaders", 58 belong to the second group of "innovation followers", 39 are "moderate innovators" and 52 are in the fourth group of "modest innovators".
In Germany, 12 out of 16 regions are innovation leaders. In Finland three out of five regions and in Sweden five out of eight regions are innovation leaders.
Only in Denmark, the majority of the regions are innovation followers, and two out of five regions are innovation leaders, including the capital region of Copenhagen and Midtjylland.
Innovative performance varies more at regional level
The results show that nearly all of the European countries have regions at different levels of innovation performance.
The most pronounced examples are France and Portugal. In both countries, the performance of regions (including overseas territories) ranges from innovation leaders to modest innovators.
Other countries with wide variations in performance are Finland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. All of these countries have at least one region in three different innovation performance groups.
The most homogenous countries are the moderate innovators Hungary, Poland, Greece and Slovakia, where all regions except one each are also moderate innovators. The situation is similar in Bulgaria and Romania where most or even all regions are modest innovators.
In almost all analysed European countries, capital regions are the national innovation leaders. In some member states the capital regions play a particularly outstanding role so that the capitals outperform the national average innovation performance by two broad performance groups.
This is the case in Czech Republic and Portugal, both of them being moderate innovators, where their capital regions of Prague and Lisbon belong to the European regional innovation leaders.
Europe lagging behind in global competition
Almost all member states have improved their innovation performance compared to the scoreboard of 2011. However, innovation performance growth is slowing down and the EU has not closed the persistent gap with global innovation leaders – the United States, Japan and South Korea.
“We need balanced national research and innovation systems that provide an innovation-friendly environment for business," said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science.
"The Scoreboard also identifies a gap with the US in terms of top-end research. We urgently need a European Research Area to inject fresh competition, generate more excellence, and attract and retain the best global talent," Geoghegan-Quinn continued.
The largest gap for the 27 EU countries remains in terms of private-sector innovation. The EU still maintains a clear lead over the emerging economies of China, Brazil, India, Russia, and South Africa.
But China is improving its innovation performance and is catching up progressively.
"This year’s results are a clear warning that more efforts to boost innovation are needed. If we want to close the gap with our main economic partners and to overcome the current crisis, innovation deserves all our attention," said European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship.
"In particular I count on enterprises as they have proven to be the key to success in innovation. But successful start ups in other parts of the world show that some lessons are still need to be learnt in Europe,” he said.
Growth is increasingly related to the capacity of regional economies to change and innovate.
Regions and cities have become the primary spatial units where knowledge is transferred, innovation systems are built and competition to attract investments and talents takes place.
Regions are an appropriate level for stimulating innovation: Many regional governments have important competences and budgets in the field of innovation.
Their geographical proximity facilitates the acquisition, accumulation and use of knowledge. Regions' performance depends not only on that of enterprises and research institutes but also on interactions between different stakeholders, enterprises and organisations, whose knowledge and know-how build up over time.
EU innovation policy has placed a strong emphasis on networks which link the business to the surrounding environment (other firms, universities, research institutes, etc.) and are active mostly at regional level, e.g. in the field of cluster initiatives.