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International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems
International Journal of Transitions and Innovation Systems


Special Issue on: "Triple Helix Innovation in the EU New Member States and Candidate Countries: Catching Up, Muddling Through, Forging Ahead?"

Guest Editor:
Dr. Marina Ranga, Stanford University, USA

The 2004 enlargement of the European Union (EU) with ten countries from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus ), followed by the 2007 accession of two Eastern Europe countries (Romania and Bulgaria), and recently, in July 2013, of a Western Balkan country, Croatia, has been seen as a natural evolution of the political process on the “old continent”, bringing an end to the territorial divisions inherited from World War II and a start to a new zone of peace, stability and economic prosperity. Future enlargement with the candidate countries Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey is aimed to advance progress towards these goals. New assets, such a population of more than 500 million and the largest internal market in the world, have been expected to bring the enlarged Union significant economic, legal, environmental, cultural and social benefits, in addition to a stronger role in global governance affairs.

In order to narrow the disparities between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ Member States, a comprehensive process of EU integration has been put in place, at two key levels: (i) a political one, encompassing all the legislation, policies and programmes associated with the accession, and (ii) an economic one, driven mainly by foreign direct investment (FDI) and Structural Funds. Economic, trade, investment and la­bour mobility obstacles, in addition to legacies of a planned economy system, had to be (and still need to be) overcome to reduce the gap between the ‘new’ EU-10 and the ‘old’ EU-15. Today, years after the official accession to the EU, the “transition” is still ongoing on many fronts in the new Member States. Both the political and the economic integration are complex processes, far from straightforward and effortless, requiring political will, pragmatism and long-term visionary thinking in both European and national institutions. Adding to the already existing complexity, the global crisis has had profound consequences on the EU economy and made it clear that a more integrated economic union cannot be achieved without a deeper reform of economic policies, as well as political and governance structures.

The innovation field, in the entirety of its policies, programmes, institutions and actors across the EU, is part and parcel of the economic policies and governance structures that need a significant rethinking in order to boost economic growth. A cursory analysis of the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013 shows that although innovation performance in the EU has improved year on year in spite of the continuing economic crisis, the innovation divide between Member States is widening. Some new Member States, like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia recorded the strongest improvements over the 2008-2013 period, with Estonia being the unquestionable innovation growth leader (7.1%), while Poland and Bulgaria had the lowest positive innovation growth rates (0.4% and 0.6%, respectively), and Cyprus saw its innovation performance decline at an average annual rate of 0.7%.

Varying innovation performances place the new EU Member States and candidate countries in different country groups: Slovenia, Cyprus, Estonia and Iceland are among the I nnovation Followers, which show a performance close to that of the EU average. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Malta, Lithuania, Croatia and Serbia are part of the Moderate Innovators, whose performance is below that of the EU average, while Poland, Latvia, Romania and Bulgaria, next to Macedonia and Turkey are part of the Modest Innovators, with a performance that is well below that of the EU average. None of the New EU Member States and candidate countries are among the Innovation Leaders that have a performance well above that of the EU average.

Moreover, mobility among country groups is very limited, with only two new Member States changing their performance group due to marginal changes in their innovation performance: Lithuania, going up to Moderate Innovators, and Poland going down to Modest Innovators. The 2010 launch of the Europe 2020 Innovation Union flagship initiative boosted the innovation performance of all Innovation leaders and Innovation followers (except the UK), but similar effects were observed only in a few of the Moderate Innovators (Lithuania, Slovakia) and Modest Innovators (Latvia). In fact, the majority of new Member States, like Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta saw deteriorations of their innovation index. Most worryingly, the process of convergence and catching-up in innovation performance within the EU has been shown to have come to a halt and a mismatch between the innovation performance, the policy models being implemented in the countries and the country specific innovation challenges has been reported. A diverging trend appeared over the crisis period 2008-2012, with the Innovation Leaders and Followers increasing their innovation growth rates and becoming even stronger, while the Moderate and Modest Innovators went in the opposite direction and failed to catch up (Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013).

A reorientation of the innovation policy mix and strengthening of framework conditions and institutional environment are much needed in order to enhance the innovation performance of the countries lagging behind. At the same time, the role of RDI i n the country’s economic revival needs to be significantly strengthened, departing from the marginal RDI impact on economic growth caused by the slow reform of national RDI systems that has ambiguously evolved between restructuring and erosion of potentially viable R&D and technology capacities (Radosevic, 1998)1. A closer connection between RDI policies and actors, on the one hand, and the market, on the other, is needed to stimulate business investments in RDI and enhance the absorptive potential of the local business community. Also, closer synergies with other strategic policies at the national and regional level, such as education, employment, environment, digital agenda, etc. are also needed.

A rethinking of the main models for conceptualising innovation is a lso necessary to better capture the interactions between various innovation actors, the mechanisms, sources and development paths of innovation. Most reform and restructuring efforts in the new Member States have been guided by the theoretical framework of National/Regional Innovation Systems, which highlights various innovation actors and the interactions between them at the regional and national levels (e.g. Freeman, 19872; Lundvall, 19923; Nelson, 19934; Edquist, 19975). In contrast, the Triple Helix model of university-industry-government relations (e.g. Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff 19986; 20007), has been much less visible and had significantly less impact in these countries, mainly because of some structural characteristics that impeded the diffusion and use of the model. Among them, one can mention universities being primarily teaching institutions and having relatively low levels of academic research and entrepreneurial activities (patenting, licensing, formation of academic spin-offs and incubation, etc.), weak RDI capacity of domestic firms and internal RDI demand, low public and private RDI expenditure, virtual absence of seed capital, relatively weak horizontal policy co-ordination, etc. However, many of these aspects have changed dramatically, especially over the last decade. This raises the question of whether the recent transformations within and among university, industry and government institutional spheres can now provide a good basis for the application of a Triple Helix-based innovation strategy in the new Member States, as well as in the candidate countries. The recent vision of Triple Helix Systems (Ranga and Etzkowitz, 20138) as an analytical framework that bridges innovation systems theory and the key features of the Triple Helix model could provide useful insights for this analysis.

This Special Issue aims to examine recent innovation developments in the new EU Member States and candidate countries from a Triple Helix perspective, in the context of transformations induced by the EU integration, or the preparations in view of this process, respectively. The main objective is to assess the impact of EU integration on the reform and modernisation of national RDI policies, programmes, actors, infrastructures, institutional framework, strengthening of science-industry links and research commercialisation, internationalisation, etc. The impact of the economic crisis on the three major Triple Helix actors: university, industry and government, and the overall effect at the national and regional level will be also examined.

1 Radosevic, S. 1998.’ The Transformation of National Systems of Innovation in Eastern Europe: Between Restructuring and Erosion ’, Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 77-108.
2 Freeman, C. 1987. Technology Policy and Economic Performance: Lessons from Japan. Pinter, London.
3 Lundvall, B.-Å. 1992 (Ed.) National Systems of Innovation. Pinter: London.
4 Nelson, R. 1993 (Ed.) National Innovation Systems. Oxford University Press, New York.
5 Edquist, C. 1997. Systems of innovation approaches—their emergence and characteristics. In: Edquist, C. (Ed.), Systems of Innovation: Technologies, Institutions and Organizations. Pinter Publishers, London.
6 Etzkowitz, H., Leydesdorff, L.1998.The endless transition: A "triple helix" of university-industry-government relations. Minerva 36: 203-208. 
7 Etzkowitz, H., Leydesdorff, L. 2000. The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and "Mode 2" to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy 29 (2): 109-123.
8 Ranga, M. and H. Etzkowitz. 2013. ‘Triple Helix Systems: An Analytical Framework for Innovation Policy and Practice in the Knowledge Society ”, Industry and Higher Education 27 (4), Special Issue (August 2013).

Subject Coverage
Topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Reform of the national/regional RDI policy mix, programmes, actors, infrastructures institutional framework and mechanisms, in the context of the EU integration, from a Triple Helix perspective, absorption and impact of EU Structural Funds, articulation between national and EU funds for financing RDI objectives;
  • The role of the Triple Helix in helping universities, businesses and government meet innovation challenges: enhancing the role of universities as innovation actors, increasing the absorptive capacity of academic knowledge within firms and by other users, increasing RDI in the private sector, stimulating innovation in the public sector, stimulating public procurement for RDI and intellectual property management and policies, increasing international collaboration within the EU and beyond, stimulating the role of government as an entrepreneur;
  • Emergence of the Entrepreneurial University: development of university technology transfer and commercialisation structures, academic patenting and licensing, academic entrepreneurship education and practice for students and faculty, creation of university start-ups, increasing role of university as partner in regional systems of governance and player in regional technological and commercial advances, e.g. leading and supporting sector-specific initiatives, etc.;
  • Triple Helix Systems and regional development: drivers, dynamics, policies, research-intensive clusters, sciencesCities, innovative SMEs, spin-offs, development of and articulation between the knowledge, innovation and consensus spaces;
  • The role of the Triple Helix in enhancing human resources for innovation: education, retention, mobility, stimulating the return of diasporas and using them as support for entrepreneurs or as path to international markets, providing more skills for innovation, management and leadership for high growth firms, dual careers (recruitment of staff from industry and the public sector by universities and recruitment of staff and students from universities by industry and by the public sector), building careers in innovation and tech transfer;
  • The role of the Triple Helix in identifying new forms of financing innovation: building more innovation-friendly financial institutions, strengthening links with business angels and venture capital investors (government venture capital interventions for regional innovation, university venture capital funds, regional venture capital funds).
  • Triple Helix and ’smart specialisation’ for regional innovation strategies: how to construct comparative advantages, changing patterns of R&D and technological specialization (is there a shift from the stronger natural resource-driven sector to the knowledge-driven sector, is the much stronger bias towards labour-intensive and manufacturing-driven cluster categories in the EU-10 still present, while being relatively weak in advanced services and knowledge-intensive cluster categories9), role of institutional settings for research, education and innovation, relationship between regional clusters and innovation performance;
  • Triple Helix indicators: indicators of mobility across Triple Helix institutional spheres (local, national, international), indicators for the measurement of the knowledge, innovation and consensus spaces;
  • Impact of the global economic crisis on national and regional Triple Helix actors and overall effects on the innovation performance, government intervention to support innovation as a strategy of recovery from crisis.
9 Ketels, C. H.M., and Ö. Sölvell. "Clusters in the EU-10 New Member Countries" Report, European Commission, Enterprise and Industry Directorate-General, Brussels, July 2006.

Notes for Prospective Authors

Submitted papers should not have been previously published nor be currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. (N.B. Conference papers may only be submitted if the paper has been completely re-written and if appropriate written permissions have been obtained from any copyright holders of the original paper).

All papers are refereed through a peer review process.

All papers must be submitted online. To submit a paper, please read our Submitting articles page.

Important Dates

Submission of Manuscripts: 15 October, 2013

Notification to Authors: 1 November, 2013

Final Versions Due: 1 December, 2013