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EU regions doubled research spending from structural funds in last decade

European regions have more than doubled their R&D and innovation spending from EU structural funds in the last decade.

Expenditure has increased from €29.5 billion in the period 2000-2006 (15 per cent of total available structural funds) to about €70bn in 2007-2013 (25 per cent), says the report “Cohesion policy and regional research and innovation potential”, released earlier this month by the European Commission.

This corresponds to the money spent or earmarked by regional and national governments according to their own classification, as the European Commission cannot control how regions spend structural funds, notes study author Lorena Rivera León, a consultant at the Technopolis Group in Brussels.

In 2000-2006, regions in the older member states such as Ireland and Germany invested most in research and innovation, with the highest investment rate being €27 per capita per year.

In 2007-2013, the situation has changed radically, the report says. The regions in newer EU member states now have much higher investment rates (€25 per capita per year) than older member states (€7).

In particular, the strongest shift between the two periods was in investment in R&D infrastructure, which grew from €2.8bn in 2000-2006 to €9.6bn in 2007-2013. “This is mainly a consequence of planned investments in Czech, Lithuanian, Polish and Slovakian regions,” the report says.

However, the authors note that “some regions will have problems to spend allocated resources,” because of the sheer scale of the increase and because governments have to manage more complex policy tools.

For instance, some regions that build a research facility may not have the researchers necessary to exploit it fully. “The idea is not only to invest [in a facility], but to have coherent policy mix,” Rivera told Research Europe. “This requires continuity on the medium and long-term, and that’s a challenge because of changes of government.”

In addition, the study has found no conclusive link between the use of structural funds for research and innovation and participation in the Framework Programme.

However, there is a time lag “between investment in infrastructure or teams in a region and the ability to compete in international programmes such as [Framework],” the report says. “This should be analysed in 10 or 20 years,” Rivera suggests.