Research and innovation

Links with EU cohesion policy

Under the first thematic objective of 2014-2020 cohesion policy, (strengthening of research, technological development and innovation), the European Commission asks that regional authorities establish a strategy for research and innovation for smart specialisation (identifying regions’ competitive advantages in order to promote them by assembling socio-economic actors around a common vision). The realisation of this strategic document is for 2014-2020 a pre-requisite (known as ex-ante) to the use of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) in RDI and the digital sector, which includes Interreg VA, allocated for cross-border cooperation. Research and innovation are called to occupy an important place in Interreg VA: this is an opportunity that regions can take, especially when determining their approach to smart specialisation.

During the preparation of these "Regional smart specialisation strategies in research and innovation" (SRI-S3) particular care should be taken to define the cross-border potential existing in the border regions, as well as taking into account the SRI on all sides. Smart specialisation can indeed be accompanied by a cross-border component when similar potential is identified on both sides of the border, even when a genuine strategy for research and innovation is reflected in a specific area by partnerships or cross-border clusters, like the Franco-German-Swiss tri-national cluster Biovalley.

SRI were tested as early as 2007 by the French regions, at the invitation of the Commission and following a common methodology proposed by the national level. They were successful for the territories (identification of development opportunities, avenues for further exploration and work to increase the effectiveness of innovation systems), but rarely emphasized cross-border potential. However, the SRI in the Alsace region, approved by the Regional Council in 2009, stated in its third strategic action lever support for "cluster" initiatives for convergence, open to the cross-border area.

Beyond the clearly identified projects for cross-border clusters, research and innovation can also cover more traditional dimensions of encouragement for research and relate to all forms of innovation (product, process, procedure, organization, social innovation). Smart specialization is inherently linked to the territorial dimension of innovation. Thus, the strategic areas that can lead to innovative actions also cover many advanced technologies of the above clusters, projects relating to agriculture, wood industry, crafts or local services. Cohesion policy aims in all cases to highlight projects that create links between government, researchers, businesses and citizens.

In this context, the concept of "Living Labs" is a new form of innovation: tested in the Franco-Italian program ALCOTRA, this method puts the user at the heart of the design process and decision-making, testing and optimizing solutions in the field rather than in a laboratory, hence its name. It allows the networking of all socio-economic actors involved in innovation, in a cross-border context: pilot actions in the context of cross-border procurement (Aoste Valley) or Intelligent Mobility (Piedmont and Liguria).

Photo copyright: European Community 2005