€100 billion for innovation in EU’s regional funds to end research divide and brain drain

Billions in EU regional development funds – used to help poor regions catch up – will now be targeted to support innovation as part of a major reform of EU regional policy, according to an article in Science|Business.

The aim is to bridge the research divide and halt the brain drain from east and south Europe while helping low-income regions to innovate, according to Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy, quoted in the article.

Europe is “divided into a research zone and a non-research zone”, which is driving brain drain, said Hahn.

The brain drain from east and south Europe makes it difficult to attract investment – given that business looks for the quality of the talent pool in a region, the article explains.

“To reap the full potential of the internal market, we have to close its innovation divide,” Hahn told Science|Business last week (5 February).

“Latvia and Lithuania have lost 10 percent of their workforce over the last 10 years,” Hahn said, with Bulgaria, Romania and the Balkan countries suffering a similar brain drain. “These figures account for 15-20 percent of a year’s age group in a country – and these are the best ones that leave. None are likely [to] return for work.”

These issues, he said, “can only be tackled by innovation”.

Although a separate programme, the €80 billion Horizon 2020 (the EU’s flagship R&D programme for the next seven years) includes innovation, it is driven by excellence criteria and not geographic criteria.

“That’s why we need regional policy to spread innovation,” Hahn said.

So, under the new 2014 – 2020 regional development budget, some €100 billion will be spent on research and innovation, information and communications technology, small and medium enterprises and the low-carbon economy, the article says.

And the European Commission will try to link Horizon 2020 and regional development funds, it says. One way of doing this, it suggests, would be to use structural funds for buying new equipment and infrastructure, and providing higher salaries to attract outstanding researchers to regional universities [that would then, presumably, be better placed to compete for Horizon 2020 funds].

The funding is expected to funnel through ‘smart specialisation strategies’ that use local know-how to identify and build on a region’s existing strengths, and are expected to challenge policymakers to talk to business leaders and universities to draw up them up.

Policymakers from Europe’s 274 regions will have access to experts from the Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Seville to help them design these innovation strategies, the article says.

Link to full article in Science|Business

Mićo Tatalović

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