The Malta Independent 17 August 2022, Wednesday

Smart specialization

Owen Bonnici Friday, 14 January 2022, 08:32 Last update: about 8 months ago

One of the questions which is most frequently being posed, either directly or indirectly, in the various opinion articles and editorials is:  how do we want our economy to grow?  The perspective and the way how the argument is put forward changes according to the author, but by and large the bottom line is constant and the same and it is all about the direction we need to take for the economy of the future.


Some authors criticise this or that aspect of our economic model and each one has his or her own different point of view.  But there is a point which everyone agrees upon – and that is the need to support research and innovation.

I am personally very critical of the Nationalist Party and the Opposition in general.  Their priorities are wrong, the style is complete disaster, their agenda is dictated by other satellite movements outside of the party and they simply do not have anything to communicate out there, let alone inspire hearts and minds.

However, I do have to congratulate Opposition MP Claudio Grech for the way he is shadowing the research and innovation portfolio.  He is constructive in his approach, provides support when it is needed for the national interest and he is truly a pleasure to work with.

I can safely say that there is therefore practical national consensus on the need to prioritise research and innovation, and this for an endless lists of reasons.  The decision to have a fully-fledged Ministry for Research and Innovation for the first time back in November 2020, albeit with a modest budget which is now slowly growing, was certainly a step in the right direction.

Theory and practice have shown, time and again, that turning challenges and opportunities into new products and services is the way to go if we want to keep pace with the top performing countries.  And one of the things which is very useful, if not essential, is precisely that of having a smart specialization strategy.

And that is exactly what we did, following extensive consultation with the stakeholders here and elsewhere and the European Commission in Brussels.

Smart specialization puts innovation-led growth at its core but encourages contextualization, such that actions and measures are adapted to a particular country or region’s realities and needs on the ground.

The smart specialization strategy (RIS3) which we launched this week provides Government’s clear priorities for investment in innovation over the coming years up to 2027. It identifies areas of potential growth where Malta has already shown that it has the possibility to develop further with the right level and type of support.

Some might argue that too many priority areas have been identified in the document. I believe that as a small, open economy, Malta cannot afford to put all its eggs in one basket. I am convinced that we have the right balance in terms of number and breadth of identified sectors.

Some sectors are more traditional. Others are relatively new. But in all sectors identified, Malta already has in place several of the building blocks necessary for more and better economic performance. Our researchers are excellent professionals with a hunger to succeed.  They now need the right kind of help to take them to the next level.

What this help will look like will depend on each area’s identified needs and potential, as the Strategy itself explains in a lot of detail. There will not be a one-size-fits all approach.

We will be spearheading a dedicated implementation structure for this RIS3, to ensure that all relevant stakeholders remain involved at the implementation stage and to ensure that the operationalization of the strategy remains on point to target each sector’s needs. It is also for this reason that I will seek to ensure that as wide an array of instruments as possible is available to make this strategy a reality.

National funds, European funds, procurement, training, upskilling and access to international opportunities will all be deployed strategically for the benefit of each specific area. It is for this reason that we will take a central coordinating role in this strategy’s implementation, to allow us to pool expertise, resources and instruments from different entities and ministries across government and channel them in a concerted manner.

We will of course rely on the continued technical input and support of the Malta Council for Science and Technology, who has spearheaded the development of this document and whom I warmly thank for their endeavours in this regard.

Smart specialisation is also a key principle underpinning the European Commission Cohesion Policy for the period 2021-2027 in the Research, Technology, Development and Innovation (RTDI) priority.

As the Strategy document itself explains, it is a place-based policy approach that foresees channelling of public and private investments in carefully selected priority areas, through an ‘entrepreneurial discovery process’ (EDP).

The Strategy identifies six areas of (6) smart specialisation areas for the period up to 2027. These are: Health and Well-being, with a focus on cancer, cellular therapy, drug development, digital tools to support healthcare, focusing on e-health and bioinformatics and biomedical engineering; Sustainable Use of Resources for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, with a focus on net-zero carbon buildings, renewable energy generation and energy storage solutions, resource efficiency in industry and turning waste into a resource; Smart Manufacturing, with a focus on sustainable manufacturing and flexible automation; Marine & Maritime Technology, with a focus on the valorisation of marine resources and maritime technology; Aviation and Aerospace, with a focus on avionics, composite materials and development of new technologies for maintenance of new products and Future Digital Technologies (this is both a vertical priority and a horizontal enabler for the former five areas), with a focus on big data and data analytics, open data, smart space applications, human-centric applications, digitizing industries and sustainable use of resources or climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The document of course has the full details of the rationale for each, as well as the innovation potential identified and I invite you to take a look at it here:

Some might question: how about the implementation?   The RIS3 Strategy takes a holistic approach to the implementation of the opportunities identified in the six thematic areas.   The RIS3 is itself an enabling condition for access to Structural Funds, but implementation of the strategy will require a wide array of different interventions that go beyond Structural Funds.

The document itself lists the breadth of instruments that are available and that will need to be contextualised to each thematic area’s needs and deployed accordingly. It also recommends a structure focused on implementation that ensures that the above-mentioned Entrepreneurial Discovery Process remains ongoing, and capacity building to support the eventual implementation of the identified RIS3 areas.

I look forward to the next years of hard work in making this Strategy a reality and in reaping the fruits of our efforts for a more prosperous economy built on innovation.

* * *

David Thake is, politically, a complete waste of space.  That we knew, and each time he opens his mouth we tacitly confirm it all over again.  Recently he even went as far as trying to politicize my presence at the Paulina Dembska vigil.  That is how shallow this “honourable gentleman” is.

The scandal surrounding his company’s EUR800,000 worth of unpaid VAT proves that apart from being, politically, a complete waste of space, he is also, undoubtedly, one big fat hypocrite.




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