European Union

These are the top 5 most innovative countries in the European Union

European Union most innovative countries EU Innovation Scoreboard

The EU says innovation is crucial to build a sustainable and resilient future. Here are the EU's most innovative countries. Image: Unsplash/ALEXANDRE LALLEMAND

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Sweden continues to be the European Union’s most innovative member state, according to the European Commission.
  • Other EU countries named as ‘Innovation Leaders’ are Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • The EU says innovation is crucial to build a sustainable and resilient future.

Personal computers, mobile phones, email, DNA testing. These are all innovations that built on what has come before to help revolutionize the way we live today. They can also power productivity and fuel economic growth.

The European Union’s Innovation Scoreboard provides a comparative analysis of the performance of member states. It “assesses relative strengths and weaknesses in national innovation performance and helps countries identify areas they need to address,” according to the European Commission.

This year’s Innovation Scoreboard reveals that the EU’s innovation performance has grown by around 10% over the past eight years.

Member states are categorized into four performance groups: Innovation Leaders, Strong Innovators, Moderate Innovators and Emerging Innovators.

Here are the EU’s five most innovative countries

A bar chart showing the performance of EU member state's innovation systems.
Sweden is the most innovative member state of the European Union. Image: EU

1. Sweden

Sweden’s innovation performance is 135.7% of the EU average, according to the scoreboard data. It says the country’s innovation lead over the EU is increasing. Its relative innovation strengths are listed as public-private co-publications, lifelong learning, international scientific co-publications, employed ICT specialists and foreign doctorate students.

2. Finland

Finland is an innovation leader performing at 135.5% of the EU average. Its performance is increasing at a higher rate than that of the EU (19.5 percentage points compared to 9.9 percentage points). Its relative innovation strengths are public-private co-publications, lifelong learning, innovative small and medium enterprises (SMEs) collaborating with others, employed ICT specialists and enterprises providing ICT training.

3. Denmark

Denmark’s innovation performance is 134.8% of the EU average. Its performance is just above the average performance of the EU innovation leaders which is 134.4%. Its relative strengths are public-private co-publications, international scientific co-publications, lifelong learning, foreign doctorate students and environment-related technologies.

4. Netherlands

The Netherland’s innovation performance is 129.3% of the EU average. The country’s lead over other member states has remained stable, according to the scoreboard. Its relative strengths are public-private co-publications, foreign doctorate students, lifelong learning, people with “above basic overall digital skills”, and employed ICT specialists.

5. Belgium

At 128.8% of the EU average, Belgium sits below the average of its fellow innovation leaders. However, its lead over the EU overall is growing. Its relative strengths are public-private co-publications, innovative SMEs collaborating with others, foreign doctorate students, enterprises providing ICT training and international scientific co-publications.

How innovative are EU countries compared to the rest of the world?

Just one European country outside the EU has also been classified as an innovation leader. Switzerland has a performance ranking of 142.4% of the EU average, which is significantly higher than the EU’s top performer, Sweden. Norway and the UK are classed as strong innovators, ranking 122.3% and 117.8% above the EU average respectively.

The Commission says there is an innovation divide within the EU. All the Innovation Leaders and most of the Strong Innovators are in Northern and Western Europe. Whereas most of the Moderate and Emerging Innovators are located in Eastern and Southern Europe.

However, it says “the Commission will focus on bridging the innovation divide across the EU and positioning Europe as a leading player on the global innovation landscape”.

The most innovative countries in the EU are in Northern and Western Europe.
The most innovative countries in the EU are in Northern and Western Europe. Image: EU

Looking further afield, the Commission says that compared to the EU average: “global competitors such as Australia, Canada, Republic of Korea and the United States continue having a performance advantage over the EU”. However, it says the performance gap is closing, and points out that the EU has recently surpassed Japan.

A graphic showing innovation broken down.
Innovation is the process of turning new ideas into value. Image: World Economic Forum.

Why innovation matters

The World Economic Forum believes innovation is becoming increasingly vital, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is a critical moment for innovative companies to bring forward new ideas and innovations to help protect the lives and livelihoods of communities and industries around the world,” the Forum says.

Its Global Innovators initiative is a community of the world’s most promising start-ups and scale-ups focusing on ethical technological and business-model innovations. Companies who are invited to become Global Innovators will be able to engage with public and private sector leaders to contribute new solutions, and help define the global agenda on key issues.


Who are the World Economic Forum's Innovator Communities?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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