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

11-01-2016

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. The link between RIS3 and cohesion policy is the subject of a report currently in preparation within the European Parliament Committee on Regional Development. Initial assessments of smart specialisation strategies, carried out in early 2015, have so far delivered a mixed picture, notably regarding the choice of priorities, often considered as too generic or insufficiently connected to the regional economic and innovation structures. In 2016, a high-level conference will provide an opportunity for further, and more informed, evaluation of the implementation of the smart specialisation approach in the European Union.

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. The link between RIS3 and cohesion policy is the subject of a report currently in preparation within the European Parliament Committee on Regional Development. Initial assessments of smart specialisation strategies, carried out in early 2015, have so far delivered a mixed picture, notably regarding the choice of priorities, often considered as too generic or insufficiently connected to the regional economic and innovation structures. In 2016, a high-level conference will provide an opportunity for further, and more informed, evaluation of the implementation of the smart specialisation approach in the European Union.