Relations with neighbouring countries have been a central concern for the EU throughout the regional integration process. Every round of EU enlargement has created new 'neighbouring' countries and triggered the desire of states to join the EU. Research and innovation policy has become an increasingly important area of activities with partner countries associated to Horizon 2020.
In 2016, seven priority areas of mutual interest for collaboration were identified between DG NEAR, DG REGIO, DG RTD and JRC, with regional development and particularly smart specialisation being one of them. The IPA II regulation clearly mentions smart specialisation as a thematic priority for assistance to enlargement countries. Smart specialisation and the accompanying ex-ante conditionality have a clear legal basis in the acquis communautaire and will be relevant fur future accession countries. The EU Strategy for the Danube Region mentions smart specialisation specifically as a milestone for reaching the targets of Priority Area 7 (Knowledge Society). Eastern Partnership countries have committed to adopt at least one S3 by 2020. To support participatory and evidence-based processes outside the EU, the S3 Platform supports the development of innovation strategies for smart specialisation in a pilot project covering Serbia, Moldova and Ukraine.
As a part of the pilot project on supporting the initial preparatory steps for the development of the smart specialisation strategies within the JRC's Enlargement and Integration Action (E&IA) the S3 Platform provides a specific support to the few selected Horizon 2020 Associated Enlargement and Neighbourhood Countries.
The pilot project is currently entering the operational phase. The S3 Platform together with an expert team and local partners is preparing a mapping of economic, scientific and innovation potentials with the three target countries. At a three-day meeting in Chisinau (MD) on 5-7 April 2017, policy-makers and analysts from partner countries confirmed their strong commitment for this evidence-based and participatory process. The mapping results will serve as a basis for planning and implementing a series of stakeholder dialogues to jointly develop detailed priority domains and cross-sectoral niches.
 "Improving the private-sector environment and competitiveness of enterprises, including smart specialisation, as key drivers of growth, job creation and cohesion. Priority shall be given to projects which improve the business environment." http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/financial_ assistance/ipa/2014/231-2014_ipa-2-reg.pdf.
 Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013.