Cross-macro-regional strategy meeting on smart specialisation

Smart specialisation (S3) is an important theme of innovation cooperation and projects in all EU macro-regional strategies (MRS). MRS policy area coordinators and action groups leaders from EUBSR, EUSDR and EUSALP have agreed on regular S3 related exchange and coordination with a common aim of promoting new cross-MRS partnerships, projects and events on the topic.

The cross-MRS exchange meeting was organized as an online meeting on 10 December 2021 at the initiative of EUSBSR Policy Area Innovation and as part of GoSmart&Excel BSR project. The meeting gathered 13 participants from EUSBSR, EUSDR and EUSALP (policy area coordinators, action group members, S3 experts and project representatives) to discuss S3 related experiences and cross-MRS cooperation opportunities on S3. The meeting was chaired by Esa Kokkonen, the Baltic Institute of Finland, main coordinator of EUSBSR Policy Area Innovation. At the meeting, general updates and project cases and experiences on S3 cooperation in involved three macro-regions were presented.

MRS S3 experiences and EU 2021-2027 related needs and ideas, especially with regard to ambitious goals and cooperation needs related to twin transition and post-COVID recovery, as well available macro-regional S3 tools such as Trans-S3, illustrate the need and new opportunities for further cross-MRS cooperation, learning and exchange on S3.

From EUSBSR, ‘GoSmart BSR’ project (2018-2020) with its extension ‘GoSmart&Excel BSR’ (2021) was presented by project leaders Wieslaw Urban and Robert Girejko from Bialystok University of Technology, Poland. The ‘GoSmart BSR’ project (2018-2020) and ‘GoSmart&Excel BSR’ (2021) aim to identify the joint strategic innovation fields with internationalisation potential in BSR and improve the access of companies to international markets. In practice, the project has developed a methodology to identify the joint economic priorities of various regions set in their S3. Based on the knowledge on priorities, competitive strengths and business cooperation needs of the partner regions, the project has created a ‘Transnational Innovation Brokerage System -TIBS’. TIBS is a network of trained innovation brokers in the Baltic Sea region that provide personal and practical help for SMEs to support innovations, strengthen their international efforts and guide their transnational cooperation offers.

From EUSDR and EUSALP, Judit Schrick-Szenczi, Coordinator of EUSDR Priority Area 8 (Competitiveness of Enterprises) and Michael Keller, Member of EUSALP Action Group 1 (research and innovation) of the Thematic Policy Area 1 (Economic Growth and Innovation), presented ‘Innovation Express 2021’, a successful recent cross-MRS pilot on coordination between regional innovation funding programmes’ (coordinated call). Innovation Express 2021 is based on EUSBSR ‘BSR Stars Innovation Express’ (2015-2018) instrument fostering the internationalization of SMEs through clusters or business networks and encompassing a cluster-to-cluster matchmaking event, a coordinated transnational call for proposals (where approved projects were funded through distributed regional/ national sources), and a number of capacity building and policy learning activities. Innovation Express 2021 was designed (through cross-MRS planning process) as a quick response to the economic recovery after Covid-19 offering SMEs the possibility to widen their markets and develop new products and services with partners in Europe. In its first call (summer 2021), Innovation Express 2021 represented a common approach for supporting SMEs at international matchmaking and joint R&D projects in the fields of ‘Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Applications’ and ‘Digital solutions in sustainable industry’. The call was funded by existing national/regional funding progammes and managed by participating funding agencies to initiate, develop or enhance transnational exchange activities among applicants and their project proposals to be funded.

The meeting participants agreed to continue S3 related exchange. Facilitation of joint cross-MRS proposals and partnerships in connection with Interregional Innovation Investments (I3) Instrument was especially seen as an attractive and feasible common goal already in 2022. Furthermore, the cross-MRS exchange and coordination on S3 could aim at facilitating exchange of information and good practices, and initiation of cross-MRS cooperation opportunities in connection with other relevant EU funding instruments such as Horizon Europe and Interreg Europe. EUSBSR PA INNO will include cross-MRS cooperation in general, and related S3 cooperation in specific, in its 2022-2024 action plan, and will allocate resources for related coordination in connection with its Interreg BSR funded coordination project for 2022-2024.

Trans-S3 methodology as part of policy learning and coordination by the EUSBSR PA INNO steering group

In line with the new EUSBSR action plan requirements, the role of policy area steering groups has been strengthened in EUSBSR PA INNO from 2021 onwards: to disseminate PA INNO/projects’ results, ensure policy impact, and actively contribute in strategic level to goals and new processes, projects and activities promoted in EUSBSR/PA INNO. The PA INNO steering group consists of representatives of the national or regional governments of EUSBSR Member States. Steering group members come from key ministries or authorities in the relevant field. Representatives of non-EU neighbouring countries are invited as members (Norway, Iceland). As EUSBSR PA INNO has prioritised S3 to secure that innovation measures are designed to better meet the local and subregional level need of actions, also subregional level is represented in the steering committee (represented by BSR regional networks such as CPMR-BSC and BSSSC). Finally, a representative of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG Regio) participates in steering group meetings as a strategic advisor.

GoSmart&Excel project and Trans-S3 methodology was presented in the EUSBSR PA INNO steering group on 17 December 2021. Trans-S3 methodology and its further macro-regional/cross-MRS utilisation will be further discussed in connection with EUSBSR PA INNO steering group meetings and in related dialogue and communication between/with the steering group members.