Smart growth

Girl smiling in front of blackboard containing drawing of diploma and graduation cap © iStockphoto

Smart growth means improving the EU's performance in:

  • education (encouraging people to learn, study and update their skills)
  • research/innovation (creating new products/services that generate growth and jobs and help address social challenges)
  • digital society (using information and communication technologies)


EU targets for smart growth include:

  1. 1. combined public and private investment levels to reach 3% of EU's GDP as well as better conditions for R&D and Innovation
  2. 2. 75% employment rate for women and men aged 20-64 by 2020– achieved by getting more people into work, especially women, the young, older and low-skilled people and legal migrants
  3. 3. better educational attainment – in particular:
    – reducing school drop-out rates below 10%
    – at least 40% of 30-34–year-olds with third level education (or equivalent)

> All EU-level targets


How will the EU boost smart growth?

Through 3 flagship initiatives:

  1. 1. Digital agenda for Europe

    Creating a single digital market based on fast/ultrafast internet and interoperable applications:
    • by 2013: broadband access for all
    • by 2020: access for all to much higher internet speeds (30 Mbps or above)
    • by 2020: 50% or more of European households with internet connections above 100 Mbps.
  2. 2. Innovation Union
    • refocusing R&D and innovation policy on major challenges for our society like climate change, energy and resource efficiency, health and demographic change
    • strengthening every link in the innovation chain, from 'blue sky' research to commercialisation
  3. 3. Youth on the move
    • helping students and trainees study abroad
    • equipping young people better for the job market
    • enhancing the performance/international attractiveness of Europe's universities
    • improving all levels of education and training (academic excellence, equal opportunities)

> All Europe 2020 flagship initiatives


Why does Europe need smart growth?

Europe's lower growth than its main competitors is largely due to a productivity gap caused in part by:

  • lower levels of investment in R&D and innovation
  • insufficient use of information/communications technologies
  • difficult access to innovation in some sections of society

For example:

  • European firms currently account for just a quarter of the €2 trillion global market for information/communication technologies.
  • Slow implementation of high-speed internet affects Europe's ability to innovate, spread knowledge and distribute goods and services, and leaves rural areas isolated.


  • Some 25% of European school children have poor reading skills
  • Too many young people leave education/training without qualifications
  • Numbers attaining medium-level qualifications are better, but the qualifications often fail to match labour market needs
  • Under a third of Europeans aged 25-34 have a university degree (40% in the US, over 50% in Japan)
  • European universities rank poorly in global terms – only 2 are in the world top 20 (see Shanghai index (ARWU))

Ageing populations

  • As Europeans live longer and have fewer children, fewer people in work have to support higher numbers of pensioners, as well as fund the rest of the welfare system.
  • The number of over-60s is now increasing twice as fast as it did before 2007 – by some 2 million a year instead of 1 million previously.
  • A better knowledge economy with more opportunities will help people work longer and relieve the strain.