Research and innovation needed to reduce regional GDP gap

Written by Richard Tuffs on 16 June 2014 in Feature

Richard Tuffs says stronger synergies between regional and research funding programmes are needed to boost growth and innovation across Europe.

Since 2010, the Week of innovative regions in Europe, or Wire, has been established as the most significant European forum dedicated to regional strategies, innovation and development. Wire is important because it is one of the few conferences where research and innovation is discussed from a regional perspective. Thus for regions, each year Wire provides not just a focal point on state-of-the-art thinking on regional research and innovation strategies, but also an excellent opportunity for regional actors to network and exchange best practices.

This year in Athens, the Wire 2014 conference is hosted by the Greek EU council presidency and is organised by the national documentation centre of Greece and the European commission, in collaboration with the general secretariat for research and technology. The conference will have a specific focus on the recently launched 'Horizon 2020' programme, and the new regulation for the European structural and investment funds and smart specialisation strategies announced within the first semester of 2014.

"Although there are signs that Europe is slowly exiting from the crisis, the speed of the exit varies from region to region"

In Athens, the fifth Wire conference will examine the new European research and innovation framework and then discuss how regions can maximise impact from their smart specialisation strategies. The conference will also discuss how business can contribute to driving regional innovation ecosystems and shed light on the new territorial cooperation agenda starting in 2015. Coupled to these classic areas of interest to regions, sessions on open data, metrics and monitoring tools and knowledge re-use and entrepreneurship will complete a packed two-day conference.

The conference comes at an important time for regions. Although there are signs that Europe is slowly exiting from the crisis, the speed of the exit varies from region to region. It is accepted that there is a correlation between regional innovation and GDP growth. Therefore, in order to reduce the gap between regions in terms of GDP, all regions, but particularly those categorised as less-developed, need to improve their regional research and innovation ecosystems. This means stronger synergies at the regional level between structural funds and research and innovation programmes at the European level such as Horizon 2020.

The synergies debate is not new but it is gaining momentum and all regions are facing up to the difficult task of taking the debate from Brussels and implementing it on the ground as new operational programmes are being approved and the first calls for Horizon 2020 have just passed. Wire V will give all regions present the opportunity to benefit from sharing best practice and how to avoid the barriers and pitfalls in the process. 'Synergies' is becoming the buzz word of 2014 but interestingly enough it was one of the key demands of the first Wire conference in Granada in 2010. The conclusions from Granada included a plea for more synergies between EU programmes, more simplification, smart specialisation and strategies for multi-level governance - all of which have since led to the introduction of active policy measures.

So the Wire conference does have an influence on shaping policy and this year in Athens will be no exception as the conference will have the opportunity of putting forward some 'Athens ambitions' for 2015 as Europe welcomes the new commission and the mid-term review of Europe 2020 strategy.

About the author

Richard Tuffs is director of ERRIN

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