Romania has recovered relatively well from the global financial crisis, although its growth rate over the recent years remained well below the pre-crisis levels. After a notable 9.3% GDP per capita growth rate in 2008 and sharp drops to negative values in 2009-10, the country reverted to positive growth rates from 2011 and continued to grow to a maximum of 7.3% in 2017, with a new drop to 4.5 - 4.2% in 2018-19 (EUROSTAT data). In 2020, the Romanian GDP contracted 10.3% year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020, after a 2.4% expansion in the first quarter. This was the first contraction in the GDP since the fourth quarter 2010 and the steepest contraction since the first quarter 1996 (National Institute of Statistics).  

Unemployment had an increasing trend over 2008-13 from 5.8 to 7.1% but declined to approximately 4% in 2017-19. Employment in high- and medium-high technology manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services has grown continuously from 24% to 29% during 2008-19, but remains at approximately half of the EU average, and is unevenly distributed across the national territory, with a large proportion of such jobs found in the capital region Bucharest-Ilfov (EUROSTAT).  

Romania had a GERD (gross domestic expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP) of around 0.5% during 2012-18, of which the greatest proportion came from the business sector at 57.1%, followed by government at 33.31% in 2018 (EUROSTAT).

Romania is a Modest Innovator according to the 2019 European Innovation Scoreboard. Seven out of its eight regions are classified as Modest - Innovators, while the capital region Bucharest -Ilfov (RO32) is a Moderate - Innovator. Regional performance differences are high in Romania. The best performing region, Bucharest – Ilfov (RO32) performs more than 3.6 times as well as the lowest performing region, South-West Oltenia (RO41). Regional innovation performance has declined strongly for all regions, according to the 2019 Regional Innovation Scoreboard.

Smart Specialisation implementation in Romania

In the programming period 2014-2020, Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) in Romania have been implemented both at national and at regional level, each level being guided by specific methodologies for the identification and operationalisation of priorities, and performing distinct activities: 
  • At national level, the National Research and Innovation Strategy 2014-2020 includes four national S3 priorities: (i) Bioeconomy; (ii) ICT; (iii) Space and security; (iv) Energy, environment and climate change, eco-nano-technologies and advanced materials. These priorities were identified through a wide 3-step consultation of the national research and innovation community conducted in 2013. The National Research and Innovation Strategy 2014-2020 is coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Research (MER), as the national government body responsible for research and innovation policy making and implementation. S3 projects related to the national S3 priorities have been eligible for funding from the main funding instruments linked to the National Research and Innovation Strategy  that are coordinated by MER, as well as from other EU programmes coordinated by other ministries (e.g. the Regional Operational Programme, managed by the Ministry for Public Works, Development and Administration, and the Human Capital Operational Programme managed by the Ministry of European Funds). A new National Strategy for Smart Specialisation 2021-2027 is currently in progress under MER coordination, and will be completed by December 2020. The strategy will identify new S3 priorities and will define new mechanisms for S3 governance at national and regional level in the period 2021-2027.
  •  At regional level, S3 priorities have been defined in the regional S3 strategies  elaborated by seven out of the eight  development regions of the country. Romania has eight development regions at NUTS 2 level (Centre, North East, North West, South East, South Muntenia, South West, West and the capital region Bucharest-Ilfov). The regions have no legal and administrative status and only serve for the distribution of EU Structural Funds and regional statistics. The regional S3 strategies have been elaborated and are implemented by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) that are operational arms of the Regional Development Councils, the leading regional administration bodies. The S3 strategies define areas of local strength and priority for each region, in correlation with the Regional Development Plans 2014-2020. The elaboration of the S3 strategies evolved at different speeds in the eight regions. Most regions finalised their strategies during 2013-2018 (some of them, such as West and North East, started to develop regional innovation strategies even before the start of regional S3). The capital region Bucharest-Ilfov started to develop its S3 strategy in 2019 with JRC support and is expected to complete it by December 2020. 

JRC support to Smart Specialisation in Romania

The main instrument for JRC support has been the project "Targeted Support to Smart Specialisation in Romania", coordinated in close collaboration with DG REGIO. The project operationalises a Preparatory Action of the European Parliament called "The economic competitive advantages and the potential for smart specialisation at regional level in Romania". 

The project was originally designed for 24 months (July 2016-June 2018) and had an initial focus on two regions: North-East and North-West. After a successful two-year initial period, four extensions have been operated. A first one, of one year (July 2018-June 2019) introduced a project rollout to all eight Romanian regions (North-East, North-West, Centre, South-East, South Muntenia, South-West Oltenia, West and Bucharest-Ilfov). The next three extensions, of six months each (from July 2019 to December 2020), allowed the continuation of rollout activities and the development of new ones, in response to concrete needs of the Romanian partners and with the active engagement of national government agencies involved in S3 coordination.

The project "Targeted Support to Smart Specialisation in Romania" has been carried out in close synergy with other parallel projects coordinated by JRC, such as:
  • "Targeted Support to Smart Specialisation in Lagging Regions", which covered nine countries from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, including Romania.
  • “Higher Education and Smart Specialisation” (HESS), which included North East Romania as a case study in the 2016-2018 pilot phase.
  • Stairway to Excellence .
  • Peer Exchange Learning (PXL).

Assistance has been provided along four main action lines, each with specific activities (Fig. 1): 
  • Support to improving national and regional S3 governance and coordination, and institutional capacity-building
  • Support to the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) 
  • Support for engaging Quadruple Helix innovation actors in S3 implementation 
  • Industrial Transition review of Romania