This report by a group of independent experts established by DG Research and Innovation has set out to assess the contribution of “Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation” (RIS3) to the Europe 2020 Growth Strategy in the wider context of research and innovation policies. Reflecting this context, Smart Specialisation has been highlighted by the Innovation Union Flagship and the Communication “Regional Policy contributing to smart growth in Europe 2020” and forms a key element of the European Commission’s current Cohesion Policy.

Given the residual challenges from the economic and financial crises of the last years, and the uneven progress towards the targets of the Europe 2020 Growth Strategy, “business as usual” is just not an option for national and regional administrations seeking to re-ignite economic growth, and to ensure sustainable high-quality employment and quality of life in their regions.

Moving to an open and forward looking trajectory, strengthening strategic competence, introducing resilience into the innovation management systems, and proactively and competently seeking synergies between all EU, national and regional support programmes offers new perspectives for improved place-based growth in Europe’s regions. Moreover, it also offers an unprecedented possibility for an innovative Europe – including a renewal of the Innovation Union and of other large Initiatives directed towards Europe 2020.

Important changes in this respect have already been enacted, including the fundamentally new direction and the structural reform of the EU Cohesion Policies for the 2014-2020 Programming Period.

After reviewing Research & Innovation Strategies or related Action Plans of the regions and Member States of the EU-28 submitted to the European Commission in 2014, our conclusion is that the high-level political decisions already taken are moving the EU in the right direction, and that many motivated and motivating initiatives have started in the regions. Given the fundamental changes, it comes as no surprise that there is still much to be achieved, going beyond operational and policy aspects, and including not only a change of mind-sets but also significant strategic capability building within the regional innovation eco-systems at large.

Based on our findings, we offer a broad spectrum of suggestions for the way forward – accompanying the 2015-2020 Cohesion Policy implementations and contributing to the base for the subsequent Programming Period.