Greater synergies between EU funds can help regions to create successful innovation ecosystems

Adopting a bottom-up approach to smart specialisation can link together missing pieces and allow entrepreneurs to thrive in Europe, said Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, in a conference organized jointly by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 26 January.

Commissioner Moedas stressed the need to maximise the synergies between EU funding for regional policy and for research through initiatives such as the Seal of Excellence and the Knowledge Exchange Platform. Rewarding promising project proposals submitted under the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument, the Seal of Excellence quality label can help them to receive alternative funding. Mr Moedas recognised the region of Lombardy in Italy as a frontrunner in its implementation, along with Sweden, Spain and Cyprus.

The Knowledge Exchange Platform was launched in October 2015 by CoR President Markku Markkula and Commissioner Moedas. It aims to help cities and regions to benefit from new knowledge created through Horizon 2020 projects and to assist local and regional decision makers to be drivers for change and innovation.

Yoomi Renström (SE/PES), Chair of the CoR Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), stated that smart specialisation strategies should "build on each region's strengths and adapt to their needs and possibilities". The EU's excellence-driven Research and Innovation Policy and the Smart Specialisation element of its Cohesion Policy may have distinct aims but they can be complementary. "Fostering world-class excellence for European science should go hand-in hand with assisting laggard regions to innovate in order to promote territorial cohesion", Ms Renström stressed, adding that social and environmental objectives should also be taken into account.

Ramón Valcárcel Siso, Vice-President of the European Parliament, emphasised that the focus of smart specialisation strategies should be on creating jobs and that all stakeholders need be involved in their planning and implementation. The former President of the CoR also referred to the key role of local and regional authorities in infrastructure investments and considered that the CoR is "best placed to provide the framework and conditions for EU regions to support innovation".

"We need to be clear on what we need to achieve with smart specialisation strategies and investments", said Nicola De Michelis, Head of the Cabinet of the Commissioner for Regional and Urban Development Corina Crețu. "Think European to avoid fragmentation and duplication", he stressed. Professor Kevin Morgan, from the School of Planning and Geography of Cardiff University and Special Advisor to the Commissioner Crețu, highlighted the link between good governance and innovation in EU regions.

Raffaele Cattaneo (IT/EPP), Chair of the CoR Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER), concluded that local and regional authorities are key players in the development of innovation ecosystems through interaction with universities, businesses and the civil society. Referring to the need of a bottom-up approach, he said: "Innovation always happens on the ground, in a specific place". As an example of successful regional development policies for innovation, the President of the Regional Council of Lombardy remarked that his region has invested on concrete experiences and defined clear priority areas, such as agrifood, ecoindustry and sustainable mobility.