The release of the 2021 European Innovation Scoreboard has shown that Scandinavian countries are by far the most innovative, with Sweden, Finland and Denmark topping the rankings this year. These nations were classified ‘innovation leaders’, with Belgium the only other EU nation to receive this ranking which is granted to those with an Innovation Index (II) of more than 125, which is in turn 125% of the EU average.
In 2021 strong innovators include Estonia, France and Germany, whilst the third category of countries that are judged to be moderate innovators includes Cyprus, Italy and Spain. Moderate innovators are judged to have innovation scores between 70% and 100% the EU average, whilst those below 70% are categorised as emerging innovators. This final group contains exclusively nations that have joined the EU since 2004, with Poland, Slovakia and Hungary all featuring.
The EU’s performance was found to have improved by 12.5% points since 2014, with improvements made in all member states. The most notable improvements were in Estonia (35.4%), Cyprus (33%) and Lithuania (30.9%), with these countries all seeing an increase in their innovation level. Lower performance countries typically improve more than those that are more innovative, although Estonia’s results are incredible given that since just 2020 it has improved by more than 20%. Estonia is particularly highly ranked in terms of innovators and linkages, explaining this increase in RII.
Sweden’s RII of almost 160 comes from its continent leading performance in human resources and employment impacts, whilst also being ranked above the EU average in every other category except environmental sustainability. Interestingly, this category is the only one where innovation leaders rank behind strong innovators, suggesting potential room for improvement here.
On a continental level, the EU average ranks ahead of neighbouring nations such as Turkey and Ukraine, with only Switzerland, Iceland and the UK scoring higher. In fact, Switzerland’s best performance on seven indicators means it outscores even the EU’s most innovative nation, Sweden.
Globally, the EU average of 113 is dwarfed by Korea (136), Canada (127) and Australia (125), with the US also scoring higher with an II of 120. It must be noted, however, that the US does not rank as an innovation leader and is thus outscored by many EU nations including Estonia and Denmark.
The BRICS nations rank below the EU average ranging from 26 (India) to 84 (China). In these countries performance has actually decreased compared to the EU27, with South Africa for example particularly struggling due to a decline in the development of environmentally-friendly technologies.
One important thing to take into account is that despite a country having a high or low innovation score, this can vary hugely by region. Most nations’ regions span two innovation levels, whilst some are even more extreme, with the Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2021 showing that some countries such as Spain and Norway have regions spread across three innovation levels; in France for example, the range of the Regional Innovation Index (RII) is from 47.8-130.
Unsurprisingly, in 20 of the 26 European nations analysed, the region in which the capital city is located is the highest rank. In less developed EU nations this trend is particularly obvious, with both Serbia and Slovakia having their capitals an entire level above other regions in the country. The Regional Development Fund aims to transfer money from richer (and thus more innovative) regions to poorer (and less innovative) regions, meaning this imbalance is likely to be addressed in the coming years.
The readdressing of these imbalances will hopefully be reflected in the next Innovation Scoreboard, which will be released later this year.