Only one in ten EU regions spends more than 3 % of their GDP on research. These 30 regions account for 40 % of the investment in innovation and are concentrated in eight countries. A conference held at the Committee of the Regions (CoR) brought together institutions, Member States and regions who discussed how to address the innovation divide and implement the EU's Innovation Union initiative at regional level.
As confirmed by a Eurostat report in October 2013, regional disparities in expenditure on research and innovation persist with only 30 regions spending more than the EU target of 3 % of GDP in this area. Ten regions are in Germany, five in the UK, four in Sweden, three in Denmark and two each in Austria, Belgium, Finland and France. Though expenditure on research at the level of the Member States has increased in recent years, it appears that disparities at regional level have increased. EU regional policy is crucial to address the gap and regions and cities are fully committed to increasing efforts in the new programming phase. This was one of the outcomes of the conference on Innovation Union held at the Committee of the Regions on 27 November.
A large number of innovation measures were showcased, ranging from the users-oriented ICT Living Labs from the Puglia Region in Italy, to the Rhone-Alpes agency for innovation in France which brings together 3 000 small and medium enterprises with research centres and universities. In most cases, EU funding was key. Between 2007 and 2013, EU cohesion policy programmes provided some EUR 86.4 billion - almost 25 % of the total and three times the amount of the previous period - for research and innovation of which the majority (EUR 52.8 billion) was spent on infrastructure, research investment in firms and technology transfer. At the end of 2012 almost 80 % of the innovation-related cohesion policy budget had been allocated to more than 69 000 projects and the European Commission's 2013 Strategic Report indicates that over 15 600 research jobs were created.
During the opening session of the innovation conference CoR rapporteur on closing the innovation divide, Markku Markkula (EPP/FI), argued that Europe should move away from single public bodies being in charge of promoting innovation and instead foster a culture of collaborative open innovation. "We need to find methods to fund collaborative entrepreneurship – a kind of discovery process to get to the level of Open Innovation 2.0 – at the local level so people and different communities of practice throughout Europe can learn from each other. The Aalto University in Finland is proud to be at the forefront of this thinking and the Open Innovation House, which was opened in March this year, is a platform for collaborative creation, interaction and the sharing of ideas. There the activities for creating something unique included among others EIT ICT Labs node and AppCampus. Through schemes like this Europe should be able to use innovation and entrepreneurship to answer societal needs and compete on the world stage."
Survey show regions see little progress in Innovation Union initiative
During the conference the findings of a survey conducted by the Committee of the Regions 2020 Monitoring Platform were discussed. From the 12 thematic headings of the Innovation Union, only one - ‘Focusing EU funding instruments on Innovation Union priorities’ - was perceived as making significant progress while most of the others (eight out of twelve) were seen as making only some progress. For three of them - a single innovation market, increasing social benefits and enhancing access to finance for innovative companies - the respondents reported that there had been no visible progress. More than half respondents recommended changes to the Flagship Initiative and argued that expert bodies should be established in the regions to ensure the policy goals set under the Innovation Union were achieved. Concerning the implementation of specific measures in support of the initiative, 90 % of respondents declared that they had introduced measures or projects aimed at investing in R&D and ICT whilst 83 % was providing support to potential beneficiaries to help them to access EU funds and participate in various EU initiatives.
"The Committee of the Regions is working hard to provide its contribution to the mid-term assessment of the Europe 2020 Strategy" said the CoR First Vice-President, Mercedes Bresso, adding that: "the outcome of the innovation conference will be part of a political declaration aimed at improving the implementation on field of Europe's growth strategy".