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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