EU regions need to specialise for competitiveness, policymakers say


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.

Rob van Gijzel, president of the 'Brainport 2020 Commission', the Southeast Netherlands' future vision and strategy, said:

"Southeast Netherlands-based high-tech manufacturers contribute to European welfare by combining a globally competitive position with strong links to the regional open innovation system. And by cooperating closely with partners in like-minded regions throughout Europe. EU Industrial Policy should further enable and facilitate this."

"The third industrial revolution will be based on Europe and the regions of Europe. Wallonia will totally be part of this redeployment. This redeployment is supported by sectors with high-level economic potential and innovative activities," said Jean-Claude Marcourt, vice president of the Walloon Government.

Roddy Macdonald, head of Innovation, Investment and Industries of the Scottish Government, added:

"The Scottish Government is committed to working with other EU regions to ensure that Scotland plays a full part in shaping future European Union policies whilst at the same time grasping the existing opportunities that partnership working brings."

Pontus Lindberg, deputy governor of the region of Skåne in Sweden, continued:

"With the fixed link between Malmö and Copenhagen we are creating a dynamic region across the Öresund strait. The competition will be very tough in the future, but regions with a high level of research and development, a concentration of both public and private activities based on knowledge and innovation will have opportunities."

'Smart specialisation' of regions means looking at the entire value chain in the ares in which a region seeks to profile itself and to build transnational and EU-wide links to maximise complementarities and build critical mass and stronger, world-class clusters.

The aim is to open up opportunities for combining regional and European research and innovation roadmaps, in particular the investment and cluster strategies linked to the common societal challenges and re-industrialisation challenges.

  • 13-14 Feb. 2014: EU Council on industrial policies.

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