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Brussels, 31 July 2003

EU's EUR 2.5 million initiative boosts the participation of European regions in the knowledge economy

On August 1st, the European Commission will launch the “Regions of Knowledge” pilot action with a budget of €2.5 million for the first year. The initiative will support innovative projects involving regions in several Member States that demonstrate the central role of knowledge (know how, human resources, R&D and other “intangible” production factors) in the development of regional economies. It acknowledges the fact that regions are key engines of economic growth. Projects that will be supported include technology audits, developing economic and technological future models at regional level, initiatives to promote university involvement with the local economy, mentoring between technologically advanced and less favoured regions, as well as awareness-raising actions focusing on the role of knowledge as a booster of regional development.

“The regional dimension is key if Europe is to close the gap with its competitors in research investment and knowledge exploitation,” said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “Europe has some of the most innovative regions in the world, but also many regions that have yet to benefit from the knowledge society. The “Regions of Knowledge” initiative will support innovative efforts by regions to make the most of their knowledge bases and to learn from others.”

Call for proposals

The “Regions of Knowledge” initiative is a pilot action called for by the European Parliament with an allocation of €2.5 million for 2003. The call for proposals to be published on August 1st sets a deadline for proposals by mid-September 2003. Proposals must involve participants from at least three current EU Member States. The call will be available at

Finding faster routes to the knowledge economy

The development of regional research and innovation activities has been supported through the EU Research Framework Programme and the Structural Funds. This new pilot action will build on existing experiences and support projects that demonstrate the different paths regions may follow to achieve more rapidly a knowledge based economy.

What are regions of knowledge?

Regions have a core role in the development of the European Research Area1, a true internal market for science and knowledge. They can play a key role in driving economic growth through, for example, the development of regional innovation strategies, local level partnerships and clusters of related enterprises and researchers.

But the performance of European regions in research activities and realising the economic benefits of the knowledge-based economy varies enormously. For instance, the regions of Baden Wurttemberg (Germany), Ile de France (France), Uusimaa (Finland), Vaestsverige (Sweden) and Eastern England (United Kingdom) all spend well over 3% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on research and development (R&D), while in many regions this figure is less than 0.5%2.

Growth engines

Dynamic regions can contribute to turning Europe into the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 a goal set by the March 2000 Lisbon European Council. And they are also fully participating in efforts across Europe to raise EU average R&D spending (public and private) from 1.9 now to 3% of EU average Gross Domestic Product by 2010. This aim was endorsed by the March 2002 Barcelona European Council, and the Commission presented a detailed Action Plan to this end on April 29, 20033. In addition, the Commission's communication on the role of universities in Europe4 highlights the potential of universities to contribute to regional development.

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Leading EU innovative regions

The following table shows the leading EU regions for a number of indicators of innovative performance used in the European Innovation Scoreboard 2002.

Indicator of


Top 5 EU regions
Tertiary Education South West (UK) Oestra Mellansverige (S) Vaeli-Suomi (FIN) Ile-de-France (F) Berlin (D)
Life long learningSouth West (UK) Sydsverige (S) Vaeli-Suomi (FIN) West Midlands (UK) North West (Inc. Merseyside) (UK)
Medium/high tech employment in manufacturingComunidad Foral de Navarra (E) Baden - Württemberg (D) Franche - Comte (F) Piemonte (I) Alsace (F)
High tech employment in servicesComunidad de Madrid (E) Stockholm (S) Uusimaa (Suuralue) (FIN) Ile-de-France (F) Lazio (I)
Public R&D expenditureMidi-Pyrenees (F) Flevoland (NL) Berlin (D) Lazio (I) Languedoc - Roussillon (F)
Business R&D expenditureVaestsverige (S) Eastern (UK) Stockholm (S) Baden - Württemberg (D) Piemonte (I)
High tech patentsNoord - Brabant (NL) Uusimaa (Suuralue) (FIN) Stockholm (S) Bayern (D) Pohjois - Suomi (FIN)

Source: European Innovation Scoreboard 2002

Relationship between innovative performance and GDP per capita

There is a general positive relationship between indicators of innovative performance and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in a region5. The table below shows that those regions with higher gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) also tend to be those with higher GDP per capita.

[Graphic in PDF & Word format]

Data: European Commission (Eurostat, Research Directorate-General)

    5 see European Innovation Scoreboard 2002 Technical Paper No 3

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