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January 29, 2016 No tags

Project: European and national regional and innovation policies reproducing peripheries?

ESR 3 : Sebastian Schulz (Host: UT)


The promotion of innovation features distinctly on the European regional policy agenda and in its discourse as a means for regional development and, through that, a way to balance socio-economic disparities by inducing growth. However, there is evidence that regional innovation policies have a strong bias towards larger firms in core regions and focus mainly on R&D support, and are therefore not addressing e.g. low-tech industries in non-metropolitan and peripheral regions. The project’s aim is to examine the objectives of regional innovation policy on EU and national level and which innovation-related activities actually receive funding. More specifically, it reviews who and where the recipients of regional innovation policy are and, with regard to regional polarisation, it analyses whether core and peripheral regions both benefit equally from regional innovation policy.


An innovation-driven agenda in regional development policy has emerged in the European Union against the backdrop of current processes of regional polarisation, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). However, there is evidence that current innovation-based regional policies show a strong bias towards larger firms in central regions and a main focus on high-tech and R&D (Hansen & Winther 2011), which does not acknowledge the development contexts of peripheral regions in CEE.

The project attempts to understand the spatial implications of innovation-based regional policy set on European level in the Estonian and Slovak context. Drawing from a discursive analytical framework, the project looks into how the European discourse on ‘innovation’ is reflected in current regional policies in Estonia and Slovakia. Moreover, the project analyses whether those policies favour or neglect particular regions and thereby influence the persisting disparities between central and peripheral regions in the CEE context. These questions are answered by examining key policy documents and conducting expert interviews with policymakers and other relevant stakeholders.


Interim results suggest that any redistributive approach is largely absent in regional policies both in Estonia and Slovakia. Instead, the policies take the shape of a regional growth policy by the means of innovation, as it is promoted on EU scale. Their logic of intervention indeed tends to be more favourable to capital regions and metropolitan areas. A focus on growth, ‘return on investment’ and global competitiveness internationally is clearly visible. Neither the subnational socio-economic disparities as such, nor the economic and political legacies of many regions in the light of the dominant innovation narrative are posed as a high-priority policy problem by policymakers. The current understanding and application of ‘innovation’ as a policy concept is rather fuzzily defined and mostly focused on R&D and high-tech. It has – in terms of its discursive dimension – become a catch-all phrase for a variety of policy interventions, and in terms of its strategic dimension – a key requirement for EU Member States to access Structural Funds. Overall, regional disparities in Estonia and Slovakia are unlikely to diminish by the current intervention approach.

Interim results of the project were presented and discussed at internal RegPol2 meetings as well as at the following conferences and workshops:

  • RegPol2 Final Conference “Coping with uneven development in Europe: socio-economic and political responses to regional polarisation”, September 2017 in Leipzig, Germany
  • Doctoral Summer School in Economics and Innovation, June 2017 in Saka, Estonia
  • Tartu Planeerimiskonverents “Spatial Inequality and Planning”, November 2016 in Tartu, Estonia
  • 13th European Week of Cities and Regions – Open Days University Master Class, October 2015 in Brussels, Belgium
  • Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung (ARL) International Summer School “Winners and losers: why are the effects of regional policy so different?“, August 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic
  • Regional Studies Association Annual Conference, May 2015 in Piacenza, Italy

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Main Contact Persons
  • Lead Partner: Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography

    Thilo Lang (Project coordinator):

    Franziska Görmar (Project manager): F_Goermar@ifl-leipzig.de

    Franziska Weyrich (Financial manager): F_Weyrich@ifl-leipzig.de

    WP leader for Dissemination and Outreach activities: MEPCO

    Martin Guba:

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