EU Science Hub

The Specialisation of EU Regions in Fast Growing and Key Enabling Technologies

In the context of the Europe 2020 objective of establishing in the EU a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, European regions have been called to design and implement national and regional 'Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation' (RIS3). The rationale behind the concept of smart specialisation is that, in a context of global competition for talent and resources, most regions can only acquire a real competitive edge by finding niches or by mainstreaming new technologies into traditional industries and exploiting their ‘smart’ regional potential. Although the most promising way for a region to promote its knowledge-based growth is to diversify into technologies, products and services that are closely related to existing dominant technologies and the regional skills base, the European Commission puts special emphasis on a set of technologies labelled as 'Key Enabling Technologies' (KETs). Despite the great emphasis on KETs, there is only very limited evidence on the capability of EU regions to specialise in these fields and there are no studies directly investigating the actual impact of these technologies on regional innovation and economic growth. This report aims at filling these gaps by: i) looking at the relationship between KETs and 'Fast Growing Technologies' (FGTs); ii) providing empirical evidence on the EU regional specialisation in KETs and FGTs; iii) relating technological specialisation to regional innovation and economic growth. In particular, the report aims at answering these questions: 1) Which technologies have emerged as the fastest growing ones in the recent decades? 2) Is there a relationship between fast growing technologies and KETs? 3) Which regions are specialised in FGTs and KETs? 4) Are there convergence and polarization phenomena observable in the evolution of EU regions’ innovative activities in fast growing technologies and KETs? 5) Do EU regions specialized in fastest growing technological fields and key enabling technologies exhibit higher innovation and economic performances? The main results of the report can be summarised as follows. First, only a small share of KETs are also fast growing technologies, although the degree of overlapping between KETs and FGTs varies substantially across different KETs fields. Second, while KETs are concentrated in Central Europe, FGTs prevail in Scandinavian countries and the UK. Third, while there is evidence of some regional convergence in KETs and, to a less extent, in FGTs, spatial correlation increases over time, showing that diffusion often occurs across contiguous regions. Finally, the results of the estimations of the effects of FGTs and KETs on innovation (patents) and economic (GDP per capita) growth show that only specialisation in KETs directly affects economic growth, while specialisation in FGTs has an impact on growth only indirectly, that is through its impact on regions’ innovation performances. Overall, these results confirm the pervasive and enabling role of KETs pointing to the importance for European regions to target these technologies as part of their RIS3 strategies.