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Reinforcing cohesion in the EU through RTD and innovation

Boosting the development of Europe's less-developed regions through research and innovation is the aim of a new communication from the European Commission. "Reinforcing cohesion and competitiveness through RTD and innovation policies" will raise awareness and encourage the dev...
Boosting the development of Europe's less-developed regions through research and innovation is the aim of a new communication from the European Commission. "Reinforcing cohesion and competitiveness through RTD and innovation policies" will raise awareness and encourage the development of the research and innovation capacity of less-favoured regions in the EU in order to increase their overall competitiveness, and lessen the gaps between these regions and Europe's more developed areas.

The strategy set out by the Commission encompasses three main elements:

- The promotion of innovation at regional level, including through focusing innovation strategies on demand-side schemes, promoting total quality management, developing new financing and management mechanisms, and learning from best practice where clustering in centres of excellence, such as science parks, occurs;
- The promotion of networking and industrial cooperation, through developing channels for communication between firms and encouraging collective activities, for example training or sub-contracting. EU networks such as Innovation Relay Centres have a valuable role in facilitating the participation of local companies in Community programmes, but need to become more responsive to local conditions;
- The development of human resources: here the focus should be on training and building links between universities and research institutes on the one hand, and industry on the other. There is also a need for management support for SMEs, to allow them to adopt new technologies and methods more easily.

The regions concerned - those which are eligible for support from the Structural Funds - are invited by the Commission to formulate and implement "integrated RTD and innovation strategies" which are directly linked to the economic development process in the region, and are integrated into the wider European perspective. These strategies would be implemented through coordinated action at local, regional, Member State and EU levels. In view of the future enlargement of the EU, the Commission is also calling on the candidate countries' regions to adopt these strategies as well.

At EU level, the Commission aims to identify practical ways in which the Structural Funds, the Fifth RTD Framework Programme and the Action Plan on Innovation can contribute to the economic growth of less-favoured regions. In particular, the Commission:

- Favours the integration of RTD and innovation into the next set of structural programmes, currently under negotiation and due to be implemented from 2000. The communication forms the basis for establishing guidelines for structural interventions in the area of RTD and innovation;

- Intends to build on the experience gained from existing regional innovation and Information Society strategies, in order to consolidate a demand-led, bottom-up approach;

- Invites each Member State to develop jointly, in advance of the next programming period for the Structural Funds (2000-2006), a set of performance indicators for RTD and innovation against which to evaluate and monitor structural interventions;

- Proposes strengthening trans-national partnerships between centres of excellence in less technologically-developed regions and other regions. Various forms of cooperation, for example in vocational training, and the reinforcement of structures and scientific equipment, as well as the creation of consortia for conducting research projects in the Fifth Framework Programme, could all be supported;

- Invites candidate countries to develop appropriate RTD and innovation strategies at regional and national level, within their pre-accession frameworks. The Commission will stimulate exchange of experience between these candidate countries and the Member States;

- Intends to create a "European RTD and Innovation" interactive Website to interlink regions, Member States and candidate countries.

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