Regional Competitiveness and Smart Specialization in Europe

Regional Competitiveness and Smart Specialization in Europe

Place-based Development in International Economic Networks

New Horizons in Regional Science series

Mark Thissen, Frank van Oort, Dario Diodato and Arjan Ruijs

Regions economically differ from each other – they compete in different products and geographical spaces, exhibit different strengths and weaknesses, and provide different possibilities for growth and development. What fosters growth in one region may hamper it in another. This highly original book presents an accessible methodology for identifying competitors and their particular circumstances in Europe, discusses regional competitiveness from a conceptual perspective and explores both past and future regional development policies in Europe.

Chapter 2: Smart specialization, regional innovation systems and EU cohesion policy

Philip McCann and Raquel Ortega-Argilés

Subjects: economics and finance, industrial economics, regional economics, geography, economic geography, urban and regional studies, clusters, regional economics


The smart specialization concept originated in the literature that was analysing the productivity gap between the US and Europe, a gap which had become evident since 1995 (Van Ark et al., 2008). The transatlantic productivity differences appeared to be paradoxical, in that they became most evident precisely when they were least expected. On the eve of the establishment of the EU Single Market in 1991/92, productivity levels on both sides of the North Atlantic had more or less completely converged, after adjusting for differences in the number of working hours, following a long period of European catching up. Deeper European integration and falling cross-border institutional and trade barriers were widely expected to enhance the EU’s growth performance. Moreover, this growth-enhancing integration process would also be bolstered by the new information and communications technologies which by then were coming on stream and which were assumed to reduce the costs of distance. From the early 1990s, the observed emergence of a rapidly-growing productivity gap in favour of North America therefore appeared to be something of a paradox, and a large amount of literature then developed seeking to understand the reasons why this had occurred (Ortega-Argilés, 2012) and what, if anything, could be done to help rectify the situation.

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