Territorial cohesion, innovations and regions lagging behind

Ivan Bartos, Deputy Prime Minister for Digitisation and Minister of Regional Development

During the 2022 Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU, in the field of territorial cohesion and urban matters, Czechia is focusing on regional innovation capacity, or the ability of regions to build innovative environments and innovative approaches to regional development.

These priorities were chosen in the context of one of the five cross-sectoral flagship areas of the Czech Presidency: strategic resilience of the European economy. The overall objectives of the Czech Presidency are to contribute as much as possible to creating the conditions for the EU’s security and prosperity and to find the right policy mix that will ensure peace on our continent, to lead the EU towards its long-term goal of a green and digital transformation, and at the same time to enable it to effectively address the security, energy and humanitarian challenges partly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Europe. 

The Czech Presidency was inspired by one of the speeches of former president Václav Havel, in which he reflected on the future of Europe. He called his speech ‘Europe as a task’ and encouraged Europeans to rediscover their responsibility for global environmental, social and economic problems.

Territorial cohesion has been a priority since 2010, when it was introduced in the Lisbon Treaty (Article 2) as an official goal of the EU alongside economic and social cohesion. At the Czech Ministry of Regional Development, we are aware that, if we want to achieve territorial cohesion, we, together with other ministries, have to develop place-based policies that reflect the specific needs and challenges of different regions, especially those lagging behind.

We must simply realise that not only states, but also regions, are important actors in promoting innovation 

The Czech government is committed to helping economically and socially vulnerable regions and to finding ways to boost their development potential. It is well known there is a close correlation between economic performance and innovation. It is, therefore, logical to find out how to strengthen the use of innovation in regions lagging behind to unleash the untapped potential of these territories.

During the Czech Presidency, we are focusing on the possible role of societal innovations in helping regions lagging behind. We have engaged the ESPON European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation to help us find out how regions lagging behind can make use of innovations. Together with this grouping, we conducted a study called ‘Entrepreneurial Regional Governance’.

The study considered that European regions exhibit strong disparities in relation to their innovation capacity in terms of both the development of innovation and the appropriation of social, economic and environmental benefits of innovation. While the former is associated with the quality of regional innovation systems, the latter is spatially independent.

if we want to achieve territorial cohesion, we have to develop place-based policies that reflect the specific needs and challenges of different regions, especially those lagging behind.

The study aimed to assess and explain the ability to benefit from innovation and suggested that regional governance might be able to forge links with regions with stronger performance in cross-regional sectoral innovation, adopt external know-how and ‘pollinate’ regional markets with new opportunities.

We must simply realise that not only states, but also regions, are important actors in promoting innovation and that we need committed local and regional leaders who will connect all relevant actors of innovation ecosystems and enable use of innovations.

One of the conclusions of the ‘Entrepreneurial Regional Governance’ study is that the role of regional governance in introducing innovations into regions is essential. At the same time, it is crucial to collaborate with regions with higher innovation capacity. In regions with no or negligible research and innovation systems of their own – often vulnerable regions or regions lagging behind – it might not be reasonable to build new research and innovation centres.

It is often more effective and less costly to ensure access to cutting-edge knowledge and research results from other regions and to enable the transfer of these to local entrepreneurs and other actors.

We plan to further disseminate outcomes of the study and motivate local and regional leaders to apply the knowledge gained and enable use of societal innovations in their regions. It is vital to share good practices and for regions with lower innovation capacities to learn from other such regions that have benefited from connecting to regions with more advanced regional innovation ecosystems.

We will also take the findings into account when preparing future Regional Development Strategy of the Czech Republic and other development documents.

This article appears in Regional innovation

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