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From S3 to S4: Towards Sustainable Smart Specialisation Strategies

Mikel Landabaso Álvarez is Director for “Growth and Innovation” and Director of the Seville site of the Joint Research Centre in the European Commission. He has worked in DG COMM, as Director for Strategy and Corporate Communication under President Juncker’s Cabinet and within DG REGIO, including Head of Cabinet for the Regional Policy Commissioner, Acting Director for Inclusive growth, Urban and Territorial development and Northern Europe, Head of Unit for the Competence Centre on Smart and Sustainable Growth and Assistant to the Director-General. In this editorial, Mikel Landabaso Álvarez depicts his vision for Smart Specialisation today and tomorrow.

Ten years after the introduction of Smart Specialisation as a “Made in EU” approach to optimise research and innovation investments in EU regions and Member States, we have a timely and decisive opportunity and responsibility to draw lessons and move forward. When it was launched in 2010[1], Smart Specialisation was portrayed as a way to deliver more targeted support via the European Structural and Investment Funds and a strategic and integrated instrument to harness the potential for smart growth. A decade later, Smart Specialisation has embarked into a process of widening, which crucially needs to go hand in hand with one of deepening, thereby ensuring high-quality Smart Specialisation Strategies, consistently with all the fundamentals of the approach and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the past years, building on a series of success stories at EU level, more than 120 Smart Specialisation Strategies developed in EU regions and Member States and the dynamism of over 30 interregional partnerships on agri-food, industrial modernisation and energy, localised innovation policies inspired by Smart Specialisation have gained prominence beyond the EU. Not only are the Enlargement and Neighbourhood countries very committed to applying Smart Specialisation – particularly in the Western Balkans, Montenegro has been the first economy to adopt a Smart Specialisation Strategy and Serbia is advancing in the same direction – but more generally, Smart Specialisation is being exported to the five continents.

However, this widening trend should not overshadow the imperative of further deepening Smart Specialisation within the EU. First, in preparation for the next programming period 2021-2027, it is important to guarantee that all Smart Specialisation Strategies implemented by EU regions and Member States are anchored on a solid basis in terms of prioritisation, governance, stakeholder involvement, and monitoring and evaluation. Second, deepening Smart Specialisation also means encompassing the sustainability dimension, which is of key importance to deliver on the agenda of the European Commission and achieve competitive sustainability. In this respect, beyond its economic and social DNA, the green dimension of Smart Specialisation will be further enhanced, in line with the European Green Deal. Altogether, this will pave the way for economically, socially and environmentally robust and modern Smart Specialisation, in a nutshell sustainable Smart Specialisation.


[1] COM(2010) 553 final