Shared knowledge will boost EU regional innovation

The period 2014-2020 presents Europe with a ‘unique chance’ for interregional cooperation to play a leading role in innovation policies, argues Nicolas Singer.

By Nicolas Singer

13 Jun 2014

Very often, regions face similar challenges. They can save a lot of time and money if they look more closely at experiences from elsewhere. Learning about how others tackle similar issues can help regions adopt new approaches and improve their policies. That is what interregional cooperation is, it’s not about reinventing the wheel.

From 2007-2013, over 14,000 organisations applied to INTERREG IVC. Innovation was a popular topic from the very start. Out of 204 approved projects, there are 39 on innovation, involving 395 partners from 26 EU member states and Norway. These projects address a wide range of issues related to innovation, from technology transfers or cluster support to commercial use of research or the triple helix. Thanks to the projects, more than 1100 staff members of public authorities have already built up their professional capacity and expertise. The project partners transferred 63 good practices among their regions and improved 75 policies in the field of research and innovation.

"The fact that all regions in Europe now have to work on similar policy fields greatly improves the opportunities for exchange and transfer of experience"

Innovation will remain a key topic under the future interregional cooperation programme. One fourth of its budget, approximately €80m, is dedicated to this topic. In terms of actions, INTERREG Europe will continue supporting the ‘traditional’ projects, in which a limited number of regions exchange and transfer their experiences in a specific field of regional development. But the programme will also develop a new type of action called ‘policy learning platforms’. Following the example of the smart specialisation strategies (S3) platform of Seville, INTERREG Europe platforms will optimise policy learning for all interested regions in Europe including those that are not involved in the projects.

The 2014-2020 period presents a unique chance for interregional cooperation to play a greater role in the EU cohesion policy in general and in regional innovation policies in particular. First, the focus of interregional cooperation has shifted. During the past 20 years, interregional cooperation was aimed at improving regional development policies in general. Now, EU regulation requires interregional cooperation to improve cohesion policy specifically. In other words, INTERREG Europe is there primarily to make the implementation of structural funds programmes, particularly those for the investment for growth and jobs, more effective. Furthermore, the concentration principle developed in the regulation established that a bulk of structural funds is channelled into only a few priorities, one of them being innovation. The fact that all regions in Europe now have to work on similar policy fields greatly improves the opportunities for exchange and transfer of experience. Finally, cooperation plays an important role in the concept of S3. Getting inspiration from other regions and ensuring effective benchmarking are key elements of a good S3.

Yet, there are some challenges interregional cooperation will face in the future. One of them is INTERREG Europe’s ability to reach the bodies in charge of structural funds, more precisely the managing authorities of the investment for growth and jobs goal programmes. In the specific field of innovation, this means that future applicants will have to explain how their project fits into the smart specialisation strategy of each participating region. In complementarity with the Seville platform, INTERREG Europe will offer an excellent learning opportunity for all those involved in these strategies.

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