How Structural Funds can support Research and Innovation

February 14, 2006

Brussels, 13 February 2006

Today Commissioners Danuta Hübner and Janez Potočnik will participate in a conference in Warsaw called "Research and Innovation - an Opportunity for Convergence Regions” looking at the role of convergence regions (regions eligible for funding to support development) in the EU’s research programme and also how these funds can be used to develop research and innovation within that region ( SPEECH/06/79 and SPEECH/06/77 ). This background note gives some examples where the Structural Funds are already being used in this way.

Structural Funds support for research, technological development and innovation (RTDI) now amounts to €10.5 billion in the form of grants. 97% of this support is made through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Around 8% of total ERDF resources are invested into research and innovation.

Structural Funds support for RTDI falls into four types of activity:-

  • research projects based in universities and research institutes receive about 26% of total RTDI investment (some €2.7 billion)
  • research and innovation infrastructure (public facilities, but also technology transfer centres and incubators) receives slightly over 25% of the total, amounting to some €2.8 billion
  • innovation and technology transfer and setting up networks and partnerships between businesses and/or research centres receives about 37% of the total (some €3.6 billion)
  • training for researchers (co-financed by the ESF) receives about 3% of the total (around €350 million). This type of project is supported through the European Social Fund (ESF).
There are two things to note regarding these figures. Around 10% of total expenditure is not attributed to a specific project category and also Structural Funds RTDI spending is relatively narrowly defined and does not include investment in other areas favourable to innovation such as the information society.
Around 70% of this investment, or €7.8 billion, is in Objective 1 regions, that is those with GDP per head below 75 per cent of the EU average (in purchasing power standards).

Examples of research and innovation projects financed by the Structural Funds in Objective 1 areas

Programmes in Advanced Technologies - Ireland

These programmes foster technology transfer between university research departments and private enterprise. Initiated in the early 1990s in partnership between Entreprise Ireland, industry and universities, the PATs have benefited from ERDF support since 2000 to improve the quality of their services and their capacity to respond to emerging technologies. In ensuring more effective links between the academic and industrial sectors, the PATs (now termed “initiatives in specific advanced technologies”) aim to provide better commercial results from public investment in research. The ERDF provided support of around €76 million, about one third of total project costs.

For more information, see

Charleroi Biopole - Belgium

In Belgium’s Hainault province, formerly known for its heavy industry, ERDF support in the programming periods 1994-1999 and 2000-2006, amounting to some €19 million, has enabled the creation of the Charleroi Biopole, focused on the creation of commercially applicable knowledge in the area of biotechnology. The Biopole has close links to the ULB (Free University of Brussels). ERDF financing initially enabled the construction and equipment of the Institute of Biology and Molecular Medecine (IBMM) and has subsequently supported research projects and their commercialisation.

For more information, see

Digital Technologies in Merseyside - UK

In the deprived urban area of Merseyside in the UK, a highly successful incubator for digital technologies (DigitalINC) has been received around £6.7 million (€9.8 million) of investment from the ERDF (total cost as around £24 million). The incubator fosters start-up companies and has close links to Liverpool’s John Moores University. Since its launch in April 2002, DigitalINC has fostered around 20 businesses in sectors from graphic design, distance learning, animation and computer games to security systems.

For more information, see

Digital Image Processing in Catania - Italy

In Sicily, the ERDF – via Italy’s National Operational Programme for Research - has supported the work of a group of dynamic young researchers and engineers from local universities. The project consists of improving the stability and quality of digital images, as well as their encoding for transmission via equipment such as mobile phones, digital video cameras, printers etc. The scientific and commercial success of the group’s work has contributed to making the area of Catania a centre of excellence in the field of digital image processing. The ERDF contributed around €1.1 million, some 50% of total project costs.

For more information, see

Bio-technology centres in Saxony - Germany

In Saxony, ERDF support has helped to build up bio-technology centres in Dresden and Leipzig. University research groups and young businesses work together under one roof, with the most modern infrastructure and equipment. Leipzig’s BioCity, opened in May 2003, and focuses on bio-medicine. Dresden’s BIOZ centre, opened in May 2004, focuses on molecular bio-engineering. The projects cost around €35 million each, with the ERDF contributing around €17 million to each one.

For further information on these projects and others co-financed by the Structural Funds, see

Aeronautics material testing lab – Poland

This project is part of the “Improving the Competitiveness of Enterprises” objective and receives a total amount of 25.506.000 PLN (€6.7 million), 75% from the ERDF (about €5 million) and 25% from the public funds of the Ministry of Education and Science). The main aim of the project, which will start in May 2006, is to improve competitiveness and innovation by setting up a modern laboratory for R&D activities in the area of aeronautical material testing. This project will be realized as a joint initiative of the Advanced Technology Center “AERONET” coordinated by Rzeszow University of Technology. Other Technical Universities are members in the consortium, as well as the association of aeronautical industry producers "Aviation Valley" and the Polish Institute of Aviation.

Innovative actions

Through the “innovative actions” programmes, the Structural Funds have also supported the development of strategies as well as funding RTDI projects. In addition to the regional programmes, the “innovative actions” have supported networks on three strategic themes, one of which is knowledge-based technological innovation: ERIK (the European Regions Knowledge-based Innovation Network). Here partner regions deal with fundamental issues related to knowledge based technological innovation, such as clusters and business networks, regional innovation benchmarking and foresight, services and support to start-ups and spin-offs, the relationship between science and industry. Conclusions reached in such networks feed back into mainstream Structural Funds programmes and further improve their quality.
For more information, see:

Links between convergence regions and research from 2007

The Commission’s proposals for cohesion policy in 2007-2013 aim to increase coherence between cohesion policy and the Lisbon agenda and between cohesion policy and other Community policies. The synergy with research and innovation policies have therefore received considerable attention. In general terms, the Structural Funds will build up research and innovation capacity in all regions, thereby increasing their competitiveness and enabling their participation in Community programmes such as the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7) and the new Competitiveness and Innovation Programme. In addition, there will be specific complementarities with the Framework Programme in terms of:

  • certain areas of investment (e.g. complementary Structural Funds support for FP7 projects to increase the potential of research teams in convergence regions, or for the construction of major European research infrastructures receiving initial support from FP7, where these are located in convergence regions;
  • implementing in Structural Funds’ programmes the research strategies developed under FP7’s 'Regions of Knowledge'.
The Commission’s proposal for the Seventh Framework Programme for Research includes an instrument to unlock the research potential of the EU’s convergence and outermost regions, to stimulate their greater participation in EU research activities. Such measures could include twinning, networks for exchanging know-how and expertise, secondments, acquisition of research equipment, and awareness-raising activities.

Item source: MEMO/06/71 Date: 13/02/2006

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