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Eastern and southern nations fall behind in innovation

The gap in innovation performance between EU member states has begun to widen after more than a decade of convergence, according to figures from the 2013 Innovation Union Scoreboard.

The European Commission’s annual comparison of innovation across the member states shows that nations in the east and south of Europe are for the first time failing to catch up with innovation leaders such as Sweden and Germany. In all previous editions of the scoreboard since 2001, the differences between countries decreased. 

The latest scoreboard, published on 26 March, compares countries across 25 indicators including the quality of their research systems and levels of public and private investment, and uses data up to 2011. Innovation growth has slowed in 15 member states, contributing to a slowdown in growth for the EU as a whole. Greece and Cyprus have shown significant declines in performance, and Poland and Bulgaria also ranked low on innovation progress.

“Due to tighter budget constraints, governments and companies are making less funding available for research and innovation,” says Hugo Hollanders, senior researcher at the United Nations University Maastricht’s Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology, who co-wrote the report. The biggest effect was seen in business and venture capital investments, with non-R&D innovation expenditure dropping by 5 per cent annually, and venture capital dropping 3 per cent.

“The widening innovation gap will probably persist for another two to four years,” says Hollanders. “Until the economy starts improving, we will not see a reversal of this trend.”

The report says that progress to improve innovation in the worst-performing countries has been insufficient since the Commission’s Innovation Union initiative launched in 2010. In a review released to coincide with the scoreboard, the Commission acknowledged that the ongoing economic crisis has exposed structural weaknesses in Europe’s innovation performance, creating a “clear risk of an increasing innovation divide”.

However, a Commission spokesman told Research Europe that the increasing gap between member states was no surprise. “We saw this coming—and that’s partially what some of the widening participation measures proposed under Horizon 2020 and captured under the European Research Area are about,” he says.