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EU calls on regions to help boost Europe's innovative capacity

Actions undertaken by regional governments and authorities throughout the EU have a major contribution to make in developing Europe's competitiveness. Almost 100 EU regions have already received EU funding to develop policies to encourage innovation in their regions. A recent ...
Actions undertaken by regional governments and authorities throughout the EU have a major contribution to make in developing Europe's competitiveness. Almost 100 EU regions have already received EU funding to develop policies to encourage innovation in their regions. A recent conference brought together representatives of these regions to exchange ideas and learn from each others' successes, and to discuss how regions can contribute to lessening Europe's "innovation deficit".

Two EU initiatives, the Regional Innovation Strategy (RIS) and the Regional Innovation and Technology Transfer Strategy (RITTS), have between them helped almost 100 regions in the EU to look at their innovation strategies. After assessing their existing innovation policies, these regions are able to focus on areas for improvement and implement policies to encourage local firms to be more innovative. The goal is to make these regions more innovation-friendly, allowing existing firms to develop and new firms to be set up. In particular, RIS and RITTS aim to promote innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and help to turn technologies developed in universities and research institutes into business opportunities.

During two days of discussions, participants looked not only at the development and implementation of innovation strategies in individual regions, but also at how regions can work together in the development of innovation strategies. This second point was taken up strongly by Edith Cresson, the EU's Commissioner responsible for research and innovation, in her closing address to the conference. She outlined five themes for action to boost innovation in Europe, noting, for each, areas in which regions could make a particular contribution. Firstly, Europe doesn't spend enough on research, and what it does spend is spread too thinly. According to Mrs. Cresson, cooperation between regions will both help to avoid duplication of efforts, and provide the critical mass needed to exploit new technologies. Regions need also to ensure, however, that their innovation strategies are based on the needs and skills of companies in that regions, in order to achieve the most.

The second theme, that of the education and training systems and the links between education and industry, is essentially one for which action is required at regional or national level, Mrs. Cresson noted. Regions have already implemented many initiatives which could be integrated into the strategies of other regions. The third area, that of improving the patent system in Europe, could benefit from regional action in areas such as informing SMEs of the value of patents and encouraging them to use the system, both for protection and to explore existing technologies.

A fourth theme, that of financing innovation, is of particular interest, according to the Commissioner. Whilst venture capital is now more available in many countries than ever before, too little goes to early-stage investment and too little goes to technological firms. Regional investment funds have already been set up in some European regions, and these have proved successful in directing funds to technological companies. Another area where regions can have an impact is through encouraging inventors of new technologies to seek funding to exploit them, and assisting in linking them with investors.

The fifth theme addressed by Mrs. Cresson was that of disseminating new technologies, in particular to those small companies which do not have a high technology base but could use new technologies in their manufacturing. Certain regions have set up initiatives to help SMEs find the new technologies which will help them, and to search for researchers who can fulfil their requirements.

Source: European Commission, Service du Porte-parole

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