Eurada News nº394 - November 2019

The Future of the Smart Specialisation Strategies

Smart Specialisation Strategies have evolved from a pioneer economic policy to one of the most popular when talking about regional development in Europe. According to many researchers, 4 will be the major challenges that policy makers will face in the next S3 generation: to manage regional disparities, to frame a common response to globalisation and technological change, to manage the R&I towards a closer coordination of the different areas and to improve effectiveness through innovation-led growth.

The Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and the council defines on its article 2.2:

‘Smart specialisation strategy’ means the national or regional innovation strategies which set priorities in order to build competitive advantage by developing and matching research and innovation own strengths to business needs in order to address emerging opportunities and market developments in a coherent manner, while avoiding duplication and fragmentation of efforts; a smart specialisation strategy may take the form of, or be included in, a national or regional research and innovation (R&I) strategic policy framework.

The European political framework of Horizon 2020 is coming to its end, during this period we can say that the Smart Specialisation Strategies have evolved from a pioneer economic policy to one of the most popular when talking about regional development in Europe. From an unknown economic package to a well-known internationally benchmarked programme. So, we can assure that the S3 is going to be an important part of the Old Continent’s discussions for a while. Now, when we are facing the new period 2021-2027 the analysis of what we did right and what can be improved, is in everyday discussions.

Until now, different researches pointed out the four biggest policy challenges for the next generation of S3. First, the European three geographical challenges keep up the competitiveness of leading regions, address the gap between the most prosperous and the rest of the EU (with a special mention to Southern and Eastern countries) and tackle and temper the frustration emerging from inter-regional inequalities; Second, frame a common response to globalisation and technological change, through the boosting of digitalisation and modernisation of the country without losing sight of social and education policies aimed to ensure resilience and fair distribution of wealth; Third, managing the R&I towards a closer coordination of the different areas; And last but not least, improving effectiveness through innovation-led growth looking after the R&I systems reform, innovation investments across regions, less-developed and industrial transition regions and the synergies and complementarities between EU policies and instruments.

To achieve these goals and tackle the challenges shown above, the changes should be made not just at regional level but at European level as well in order to apply new enabling conditions that can help to enhance the current strategies. For example, from now on the “ex-ante” conditions will turn into a more tailored process where the regions should be able to develop fewer, clearer and with tighter links to the policy-enabling condition; this needs to be monitored and applied throughout the period (not just at the beginning as in the current period) and which fulfilment would be mandatory for expenditure declaration. For this purpose, achieve a good governance of regional Smart Specialisation Strategies, the criteria has settled on: up-to-date analysis of bottlenecks, the creation of a competent institution in charge of Smart Specialisation Strategy management, monitoring and evaluation of the objectives (with the use of the most suitable tool), the effective functioning of EDP, foster national or regional R&I systems, concrete actions to address the industrial transition and international collaboration.

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Written by Ulises Pisano, Project Officer at EURADA