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Innovation, whether it relates to the development of new products, processes or organisational techniques, can help give economic operators a competitive edge. The European Union is acutely aware of this and places the fostering of innovation at the centre of its Europe 2020 strategy with the flagship initiative of the Innovation Union.

To complement the strategy, the EU's cohesion policy for 2014-20 has given innovation a high priority, with research and innovation as one of the thematic objectives of the revised cohesion policy. It seeks to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and growth of the knowledge economy across all EU regions. A key aim is to help less developed regions foster their innovative capacities.

To achieve these goals, more money from the EU's regional funds has been committed to innovation than ever before. Innovation is also a key element of the strategies for smart specialisation that every region has to adopt in order to be able to receive funding from the EU.