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Scant progress in closing Europe’s innovation gap according to annual scoreboard

This year’s EU innovation scoreboard shows big differences between member states remain

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The EU's overall record on innovation is slowly improving, but the gap between the best and worst remains as stubborn as ever, according the European Commission’s latest annual survey.

The annual innovation scoreboard compares the performance of the 28 EU countries with the US, Japan, China and several other nations, and scores them according to factors such as the number of science and engineering graduates, patents, research and development spending and exports of high-technology products.

Overall, innovation performance has improved in 15 countries, though large differences exist between member states.

Switzerland continues to set the pace for innovation in Europe. The survey finds that only five EU countries – Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK – can compete with the US and Japan in terms of innovation capabilities.

The UK jumped into the leader group for the first time in large part because of the rise of its high-tech firms.

A second group, Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Slovenia, are “strong innovators” which are slightly above or close to the EU average.

The largest group of countries, “moderate innovators” with performance between 50 per cent and 90 per cent of the EU average, includes Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain.

For Bulgaria and Romania, the countries that consistently score lowest on the annual index, performance declined.

The report says that the EU’s innovation record has improved between 2010 and 2016, but for those countries ranked near the bottom, climbing the ladder is a slow journey.   

“Between 2010 and 2016, there has been no convergence in innovation performance between member states performing at lower levels in 2010 and those performing at higher levels,” the report says.

The report also notes venture capital investments and the share of small businesses investing in R&D have been in strong decline over the last six years.

The EU recognises it has homework to do here, and in the report cites efforts to loosen up private capital through initiatives such as the European fund for strategic investments and the capital markets union.

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Related subjects: Innovation Union Scoreboard, Horizon 2020