Smart Specialisation, innovation and open knowledge economy emerge as the driving forces for regional development, growth and building competiveness in a time of economic recession. This has been the main outcome of the "Week of Innovative Regions in Europe", a two-day international conference which was successfully held in Athens (June, 12-13th). More than 60 speakers and 350 registrants from 30 countries participated in the event which highlighted the regional dimension of innovation. More than 1000 viewers watched the event web streaming live.
For the fifth year, high level officials from the world of research, enterprises and politics met in this significant forum to exchange ideas, recommendations and proposals regarding regional policies for development and growth. WIRE 2014 (www.wire2014.eu) was organised by the National Documentation Centre of Greece (EKT) and the European Commission, in collaboration with the General Secretariat for Research and Technology, under the auspices of the Greek EU presidency. With Europe’s attention to Athens, the conference succeeded in promoting the dialogue regarding how the Regions of Southern Europe design and implement regional policies during economic recession. The new Cohesion Policy for the programming period 2014- 2020 and the new funding opportunities for Regions provided the context for this year’s WIRE and a starting point for productive discussion.
During these two days, political agents of the European Union, Regions, academic/research institutions, enterprises and international organisations -such as OECD and World Bank- had the opportunity to share experiences and best practices leading to the design and effective implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies. Significantly, EU representatives presented the new funding opportunities for Regions: programmes such as Horizon 2020 (the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years) and European Structural and Investment Funds. Notably, Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 will go even further in terms of concentrating funding on research and innovation: in the developed regions, at least 80% of the Regional Development Fund will be invested in research and innovation and 50% will be the share for the less developed regions.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, addressed her keynote speech with a very clear message: Regions have to prioritise and countries have to reform their research and innovation systems in order to increase the quality and efficiency of public expenditure in these areas and re take the path to a strong and lasting recovery. The new funding scheme will contribute to tackling the research an innovation divide in Europe: Horizon 2020 couples research and innovation by focusing on excellent science and industrial leadership while the European Structural and Investment Funds are designed to ensure that this knowledge can be absorbed and used effectively. In this process, regions have a strong role to play: by identifying the most promising growth opportunities, they can reprioritise action and investments, build innovation frameworks using Smart Specialisation strategies and direct us towards solutions that foster growth and jobs. She also noticed that Research and Innovation is taking an increasingly prominent place in the broader EU policy framework and suggested that any reform of Member States' research and innovation systems should also encourage businesses to invest more in R&D and innovation.
In his welcome speech, the Greek General Secretary for Research and Technology, Dr Christos Vasilakos, emphasized that there is a need for regions to use funding under European and national programmes in Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will contribute to strengthening our competitiveness and create jobs. Greece targets to raise investment in Research and Innovation from a 0,69 of GDP (in 2012) to 1,2% in 2020. Finally, he invited Greek Regions to complete their policy planning based on Smart Specialisation Strategies and on the creation of synergies with the research and entrepreneurial world, and he assured that GRST will support Regions in their tasks.
The General Secretary of Decentralised Administration of Attica, Manolis Angelakas underlined a need for Regions to strengthen their partnerships with universities, enterprises and research centers. Key to this effort is the elimination of the bureaucratic procedures so that Regions can facilitate access to European funding. On behalf of the new Head of the Region of Attica Rena Dourou, George Karameros stated that Attica Region will make use of all the European and national funding tools with an aim to foster social security, productive reconstructive, sustainable management of natural resources and quality of life.
Dr Evi Sachini, the Director of the National Documentation Centre of Greece (EKT), emphasized that universities, research centres, enterprises and regional actors acquire a new, stronger role under the new perspective for innovation reflected in the programming period 2014-2020. She underlined that EKT actively supports regional actors, researchers and entrepreneurs, and plays a key role in the management of the value chain of knowledge by organising and distributing digital content, monitoring research activity in the country, providing R&D indicators and building networks and partnerships all over the country.
Referring to the main priorities for the 2014-2020 programming period, Rodi Kratsa (Greek MEP and Member of the Committee on Regional Development) stated that the EU regional policy will significantly contribute to the economic recovery since it offers the utmost source of investment in real economy. In her speech, she presented success stories of Regions which used European resources to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
The Ambassador of Greece to the OECD, George Stylianos Prevelakis, suggested that Greek Regions should become more extroverted and strengthen their connections with the Greek diaspora by cultivating a spirit of "regional patriotism" which demonstrates and promotes their unique cultural capital. The opening session closed with Dominique Foray (Director, Chaire en Economie et Management de l’Innovation, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) who presented the opportunities of Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) and challenges related to the gap between policy design and implementation.
In the concluding session, Richard Tuffs (Director, European Regions Research and Innovation Network) summarized the outcomes of WIRE 2014 and stressed that "we need concrete activities not sectors, joint actions not meetings. And all these need to be done quickly. Policy is the key." The conference highlighted the entrepreneurial dimension of innovation, the role of synergies, the significance of an open knowledge economy and networking in policy design and the transformative opportunities offered by the effective implementation of Smart Specialisation. Exploring methodologies for policy monitoring and evaluation remains a key asset in these processes.
For Wolfgang Burtshcer (Deputy Director-General for Research & Innovation, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission) the winner of WIRE 2014 is the Region. The Regions that will succeed in designing and implementing Smart Specialization Strategies for innovation in a fast manner are those that will experience growth. What also emerged from the fifth WIRE was a need for a broader definition of innovation.
WIRE 2014 website (www.wire2014.eu) and social webpages (#WIRE2014eu) -developed and maintained by the National Documentation Centre of Greece-, will soon host the speakers’ presentations and videos, exclusive interview footage with speakers and participants along with an extensive review of the conference’s outcomes. Our aim is to collect valuable resources and content material which was produced throughout the two-day conference, organise it and present it as a valuable guide for the Greek Regions which are currently designing and implementing their policies for research, innovation and growth.