In the Netherlands, innovation policy is primarily the responsibility of the national government. Research & development support on firm level is based on generic instruments like tax benefits (WBSO). In order to improve the competitiveness of nine designated industries, innovation programs in public-private partnerships are key ingredients in top sector policy-making. The NWO, the Dutch organisation for scientific and applied research, manages the research subsidies.
Regional economic policy has always called for close cooperation between the three levels of formal government, i.e. local, provincial and national. Since 2010, the involvement of the national government in regional economic policy was gradually phased out and formally handed over to the provinces. Innovation policy was absorbed into the national top sectors approach, and is based on making use of existing strengths instead of trying to develop lagging regions. Triple helix consortia have been put in place for the high priority sectors, including in top sector policy. This policy is inextricably linked to regions as spatial distribution of companies is often based on proximity to other companies (e.g. in the supply chain) and certain regional expertise or specialisation. This means that regional economic and industrial policy to an increasing extent became a responsibility of the provinces. The province has experienced a gradual return to the idea of the region as innovator and financer of innovation in recent years. The ‘MKB Innovation Stimulering Topsectoren (MIT)’, of which 50% of the budget is provided by the ministry and 50% by the province, exemplifies this shared responsibility. At the regional level, innovation policy is not linked to the top sector policy, but focuses on tackling a subset of ‘societal challenges’
Provinces get their funding from the national authorities as well as from EC funds, and receive tax income through provincial surcharges on motor vehicle tax (in 2016 these taxes amounted to €53,1mln). Due to the economic crisis and changing policy views at national level, regional budgets have decreased and the role of the province has shifted towards initiator and network supporter instead of project financer. Policies focus on connecting the regional economic strengths to national and EU priorities.
The Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation, RIS3, denotes the strategy for 2014-2020 for the Northern Netherlands, which contributes to the long-term goals of Europe. The strategy aims to stimulate research for realising innovations and stimulating entrepreneurship. This should contribute to higher economic growth in the Northern part of the Netherlands. The four major societal challenges that are tackled with RIS3 are health, demography and well-being; food security, sustainable agriculture and bio-economy; certain, clean and efficient energy; clean, safe water supply.
Furthermore, several collaborations between the northern provinces exist. Since 1992 the provinces Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe have combined their resources in Northern Netherlands Provinces (SNN) to strengthen the regional economy by pursuing joint policies and negotiation with national and European government on common northern interests. As part of the SSN the Northern Innovation Agenda 2014-2020 unites the provinces of Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen in their efforts to translate the strategy put forward by the RIS3 into a detailed policy agenda, which is then operationalized through the EFRO Northern Netherlands Operational program. In addition to this, the four large cities within the region - Leeuwarden, Groningen, Assen, and Emmen - collaborate as NG4, and SNN cooperates with NOM, an investment and development company seeking to stimulate employment and the economy in the north.
Moreover, the region Groningen – Assen is a collaboration between the provinces Drenthe, Groningen and several municipalities to stimulate the regional economy. The region has three pillars: developing the economic area, improving the internal cohesion and accessibility, and improving the quality of the city and surrounding area.
The city of Groningen also invests in innovation via a strategic alliance with RuG, Hanze UAS, and UMCG (Gemeente Groningen, RuG, Hanze UAS, UMCG, 2016. Akkoord van Groningen, ‘Groningen, City of Talent’).