Global Crises – Searching for Solutions

New Options Emerging from the 2014-2020 Programming Period of the European Cohesion Policy: the Italian Experience

General Director
Italian Agency for Territorial Cohesion


With the programming period 2014-2020, for the first time the Cohesion Policy has been embedded in a vision, the Union strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, representing a stock of shared assets, a common space made up by priorities, targets, initiatives. Formerly, the Cohesion Policy was requested to face three macro-objectives: convergence, regional competitiveness and employment, and territorial cooperation, entrusting only the national level with the design of the strategic reference framework.
This change is associated with a strong relaunch of the place-based approach to regional development. Actually, the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2010 added the territorial dimension to the Cohesion Policy.1
The place-based approach includes local and urban authorities together with regional and national authorities, and conveys a new concept of territory very close to the concept of Triple Helix Spaces [Etzkowitz and Ranga 2011]: endogenous material and immaterial assets and networks of economic, social, cultural, institutional relationships and interactions.
The territory is the place where economy and society meet each other and where become possible to re-build trust and create growth. The main implementation of this approach has been carried out by innovation driven growth policies known with the name of smart specialization strategies,2 a leading idea of the Knowledge for Growth expert group (K4G),3 an advisory group to the EU Commission working from 2005 to 2009. Their main conclusions can be summarized by their own words:
“ [ … ] there is a better alternative to a policy that spreads that investment thinly across several frontier technology research fields [ … ] to encourage investment in programs that will complement the country’s other productive assets to create future domestic capability and interregional comparative advantage.”
As smart specialization strategies try to accumulate new knowledge to put in productive use in order to build innovative applications, goods and services, and even new sectoral domain by fostering cross-sectoral links, cooperation and creating new capabilities for future economic evolution, the same interactions and new capacity building should characterise policies.

Identifying and mobilising endogenous resources, knowledge, skills, and capabilities to build a shared vision about the future of a region and then co-managing its implementation with stakeholders required to increase the quality of governance capability both in public and private spheres.
Smart specialization strategies are based on an innovative governance system which potentially represents a way to deal with the crisis by furthering the innovation driven dynamism of our economies and considering the sustainability related issues of development trajectories.
For a long time, Europe haven’t proposed its own specific gover-nance models for growth.
The birth of European research and innovation policies dates back to 1985 with the EUREKA initiative, to assure the technological independence of Europe in the key domains of the future and to encourage, wherever possible, co-operation between European businesses and researchers [Mitterrand, 1985].
EUREKA did not deal with the governance related aspects of the European research agenda. It was a replay of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), an extensive research programme set up by the US government in 1983, with a ten year budget of $ 44 billion.
Nevertheless, EUREKA brought about the creation of a cooperative environment in the R&I field which led to the establishment of the European Research Area, some years later.
The European Union has been a driven force for the globalization of the economy. Each main stage of the European integration process has opened new GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) rounds. For instance, the process of a radical re-design and re-launch of a large European market in the late 1980s coincided with the Uruguay round that led to the creation of WTO, the entering of new economies in a global market and the integration of multinational supply chains. However, while the EU contribution to the change of the global economy structure has been relevant, for years Europe has suffered from a lack of a growth model able to cope with these changing patterns.
Smart Strategies merge the knowledge production of the Helix model and the entrepreneurial discovery process. According to the Common Strategic Framework, smart specialization strategies “shall be developed through involving national or regional managing authorities and stakeholders such as universities and other higher education institutions, industry, and social partners, in an entrepreneurial discovery process” [CSF, section 4.2, paragraph 2].
In the current programming period, Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation [RIS3] are an ex-ante conditionality for the use of ‘European Structural and Investment Funds’, resources devoted to the thematic objective of “strengthening research, technological development, and innovation”.
The governance scheme relies on a few fix elements, but it remains a space of experimentation and exploration. This explains the great success of RIS3 far beyond being an ex-ante conditionality. In Italy, for instance, twenty-two RIS3 have been developed, one national and twenty-one regional. Dynamism is a fundamental variable for growth as for organizational aspects.
The fix elements coincide with the criteria for the ex-ante conditionality fulfillment and reflect the need to be aware about the strengths, weaknesses and territorial distribution of entrepreneurial knowledge; activate a clear mechanism for reassembling fragmented knowledge and capabilities in new stocks and flows of productive knowledge and building an innovation matrix; and combine programming with financing,, enhance structured and interactive learning processes based on monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Designing RIS3 in this programming period has been an extraordinary experience of resource mobilization but the success now relies on the implementation phase, specifically on transforming the co-designed priorities into co-managed initiatives.
Implementation phase governance should ensure a dynamic and collaborative process of decision-making relationships and interactions able to express a leadership representing all levels of government, and all stakeholders, in order to integrate and exploit territorial strengths, widen the industrial and technological components competing in global markets, and strengthen activities and subjects that can support the development and qualification of domestic demand, contributing to its growth.
In Italy, all RIS3 establish implement governance systems where stakeholders play an active role to move into the action phase. However, monitoring and communication will be crucial to make this process effective.
In the Italian institutional framework, the Agency for Territorial Cohesion (ATC) is in charge of the implementation phases of the national and EU Cohesion Policy programmes, by performing a systematic and continuous monitoring function, supporting the improvement of a projects quality and effectiveness, providing accompanying measures, as well as support and technical assistance, and promoting special and innovative projects, playing the role of Managing Authority of specific Operational Programmes with the NOP for Governance and Institutional Capacity.
The Agency is also directly involved in the National RIS3 governance mechanism, as part of the governing body (Cabina di Regia) for competent issues, performing technical functions within the governing body itself and working closely with the relevant central, regional, and local authorities, to boost administrative actions and promoting convergence of public and private resources on development trajectories.
A large part of Agency activity is devoted to governance issues, since a country’s success is mainly based on its institutional competitiveness. Some projects specifically concern institutional experiments on the implementation of the European code of conduct on partnership in the framework of the European Structural and Investment Fund. The Agency intends to develop pilot projects focused on the consensus space combining the Helix model with the behavioral insight approach to improve information flow management in the decision making process in a multilevel and multi-stakeholder environment and to design regional development policies able to maximize the private and social actors participation to improve the economic and social outcomes of public actions.


1 The article 174 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union provides that in order to promote overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue actions leading to the strengthening of economic, social and territorial cohesion.