Smart specialisation: The concept and its application to EU cohesion policy

04-10-2016

The persistent gap between European regions as regards research and innovation performance provides a strong case for policies tailored to the local context that foster structural change. This is where smart specialisation comes into play, providing a path for innovation-driven differentiation and economic transformation, building on local assets and comparative strengths. To achieve maximum impact, efforts and investments are expected to focus on a limited number of priorities, identified through a discovery process in which entrepreneurs play a central role. This place-based approach and logic of prioritisation have been found to be broadly consistent with the overall reforms of EU cohesion policy, aiming to improve spending efficiency and impact. Consequently, having a research and innovation strategy for smart specialisation (RIS3) in place has become a prerequisite to receiving funding from the European Regional Development Fund. Currently, 121 smart specialisation strategies are in place at national or regional levels. With a view to assessing how they are being implemented, the European Commission organised a high-level conference in June 2016 to evaluate progress and difficulties to date. The European Parliament, in a newly adopted resolution on RIS3 and cohesion policy, asked for periodic (annual and mid-term) monitoring of the strategies’ implementation, and called on the European Commission to push for a review in 2017 to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. This is an update of an earlier briefing published in January 2016.

The persistent gap between European regions as regards research and innovation performance provides a strong case for policies tailored to the local context that foster structural change. This is where smart specialisation comes into play, providing a path for innovation-driven differentiation and economic transformation, building on local assets and comparative strengths. To achieve maximum impact, efforts and investments are expected to focus on a limited number of priorities, identified through a discovery process in which entrepreneurs play a central role. This place-based approach and logic of prioritisation have been found to be broadly consistent with the overall reforms of EU cohesion policy, aiming to improve spending efficiency and impact. Consequently, having a research and innovation strategy for smart specialisation (RIS3) in place has become a prerequisite to receiving funding from the European Regional Development Fund. Currently, 121 smart specialisation strategies are in place at national or regional levels. With a view to assessing how they are being implemented, the European Commission organised a high-level conference in June 2016 to evaluate progress and difficulties to date. The European Parliament, in a newly adopted resolution on RIS3 and cohesion policy, asked for periodic (annual and mid-term) monitoring of the strategies’ implementation, and called on the European Commission to push for a review in 2017 to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. This is an update of an earlier briefing published in January 2016.