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Smart specialisation and regionalisation: the new challenges of industrial investment in Europe

In order to become more competitive, the European Union is gradually developing new tools: bringing together the strategic priorities of the regions, calls for projects, participative platforms… These are all means deemed necessary to ensure that the investment offer meets a demand that has hitherto been very (too?) dispersed and far from what the authorities identify as a priority.

Specialisation at the service of regional competitiveness?
Revised in 2013, the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) aims to make European industrial investments smarter, more specialised and strategic.
Since 2014, the allocation of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) has been conditional on regions defining strategic areas of activity that can demonstrate potential for innovation in research and technological development. The part of funds dedicated to R&I projects in the S3 represents 10,3% of the ESIF at EU level. The programming rate of these funds for strategic areas varies greatly by region, which does not allow any impact measurement up until now.

A strategy to be Europeanised
In July 2017, the Commission decided to revisit the S3 through a Communication on strengthening innovation in Europe’s regions. The idea is to improve the establishment of links between industry, research and innovation actors and facilitate the joint use of public and private funds to move from product development to market launch.
In order to initiate this transition, two calls for expressions of interest for pilot actions were launched in September 2017, the second of which aiming to create new strategic partnerships in the areas of the S3. The five to ten interregional innovation projects selected will strengthen the 20 others already active under the three S3 thematic Platforms (Energy, Agri-Food and Industrial Modernisation).
Between high-performing companies already working together and younger local structures struggling to keep up with the dynamic, this solution may eventually lead to the perpetuation of a two-speed Europe.

Several funds, a single strategy
In order to ensure that the industrial objectives formulated in the Report on the State of the Union 2017 are in line with the new investment strategy of the EU, it is necessary to better articulate political wills and their implementation instruments (ESIF, COSME, Horizon 2020). In fact, in order to ensure that intelligent specialisation does not remain a prerogative of the Structural Funds, a call for proposals has just been launched under the COSME programme. It should make it possible to strengthen cross-sectoral cooperation in a joint development strategy. This is all the more necessary since British expertise is likely to be inaccessible in the event of a hard brexit.

Aware of its difficulty in reducing development deficits in its regions, the European Union, since July 2017, has been seeking to strengthen its strategy of intelligent specialisation at Community level. However, the Member States are still struggling to keep up with this trend, to the detriment of an industrial network that is not shrinking. While some legal constraints towards other economic unions are becoming more stringent, wouldn’t the focus on a few very particular sectors obscure others in full expansion (e.g.”blockchains”)?


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