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Smart specialisation in the tangled web of European inter-regional trade

Carlo Gianelle (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission, Seville, Spain)
Xabier Goenaga (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission, Seville, Spain)
Ignacio González Vázquez (Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission, Brussels, Belgium)
Mark Thissen (Department of Urbanisation and Transport, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, The Netherlands)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to present a new methodology to assess the outward connectivity among regional economies in the European Union (EU) and derives policy lessons for the design of regional innovation and competitiveness-enhancing strategic frameworks, with particular reference to research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3).


The authors study the network of inter-regional trade flows in the EU25 in the year 2007. Trade data are taken from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency database and mapped onto weighted directed networks in which the nodes represent regions and the links are flows of goods. The authors measure several structural characteristics of the networks, both global properties and centrality indicators describing the position of individual regions within the system.


European regions appear to be mostly integrated in the European single market. Strengths and weaknesses of individual regions are discussed based on rankings obtained from network centrality indicators. Specific policy implications in the context of RIS3 are derived in the case of the Spanish region of Andalusia.

Practical implications

The authors show the potential of the methodology for providing a new family of indicators of the external connectivity of regional economies that can be used by regions wishing to develop their own RIS3 for 2014-2020, as required by the EU in the context of the new cohesion policy framework.


The characteristics of a EU-wide inter-regional network of trade flows are obtained and thoroughly discussed for the first time. A unique and original instrument suitable for inter-regional comparison is developed and tested.



The authors would like to thank Alessandro Rainoldi and the members of the S3 Platform team at IPTS for constant support and helpful comments. The authors also thank the participants to the workshop “Economic Indicators and Monitoring and Evaluation Tools for Smart Specialisation Strategies (RIS3)” held in Groningen (NL) on 24-25 January 2013 and to the ERSA Conference held in Palermo on 27-31 August 2013 for the suggestions provided.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are purely those of the authors and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.


Gianelle, C., Goenaga, X., González Vázquez, I. and Thissen, M. (2014), "Smart specialisation in the tangled web of European inter-regional trade", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 472-491.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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