Competitive Europe

Credit: Garo Marukyan - NFP Bulgaria

The EEA and Norway Grants represent Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway’s commitment to stimulate more sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe, promote bilateral cooperation and tackle shared challenges together. This report highlights how the Donor States' contributions help to build a better future by making Europe greener, more competitive and more inclusive. This section takes a closer look at the Donors' contributions to making Europe more competitive.

The challenge

COVID-19 forced most of Europe to impose restrictions on the movement of goods and people that hit the economy hard. Now, economic and social recovery is a priority for Europe. While Europe is rebounding from the COVID-related recession faster than expected, efforts to improve the competitiveness of Europe are crucial.

Traditionally, competitiveness is linked to a country’s position in the global market and capacity to generate economic growth. More recently, the international academic economic community has agreed to include the concept of a country’s ability to raise living standards and generate social growth into the mix.

The Grants’ approach

The EEA and Norway Grants tackle these challenges by supporting small businesses, research, social dialogue, addressing youth unemployment, and by helping to improve judicial systems in the Beneficiary States.

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Funding competitive Europe

To increase Europe’s competitiveness, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway have defined these priority sectors: Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness, as well as Justice and Home Affairs. Additionally, two funds help fight youth unemployment and promote regional cooperation.

Programme areas under the priority sector Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness are as follows:
  1. Business Development, Innovation and SMEs
  2. Research
  3. Education, Scholarships, Apprenticeships and Youth Entrepreneurship
  4. Work-life Balance
  5. Social Dialogue – Decent Work (Norway Grants)
For the priority sector Justice and Home Affairs, the programme areas are as follows: 
  1. International Police Cooperation and Combating Crime
  2. Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Judicial System, Strengthening Rule of Law
  3. Disaster Prevention and Preparedness

Partnerships are at the heart of the EEA and Norway Grants.

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The EEA and Norway Grants take an integrated approach to support Europe’s growth and competitiveness in the world by tackling these priorities from several angles.

The Grants begin by investing in green technology, blue economy and innovative processes and services, thus stimulating the entrepreneurial environment in Europe and making the continent a more attractive place to do business. Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway support research - a shared European priority to further increase jobs and growth.

Innovation and business cannot, however, flourish without a strong focus on people and knowledge. That is why support for education, work-life balance and youth employment are also at the core of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway’s contributions to a competitive Europe. The Grants fund initiatives that promote quality working environment through work-life balance, which is critical for closing the gender employment gap. It also helps address the demographic challenges that both the Beneficiary and the Donor States face.

Credit: Innovation Norway

‘The Donor States share the EU’s innovation ambitions. The EEA and Norway Grants innovation programmes provide funding opportunities to green projects in industries where Norway has a high potential to contribute as a partner in the Green Deal. The Grants are also an instrument to help Norwegian businesses internationalise. The funding can open up new markets for Norwegian companies and increase their cooperation with European partners. This increases the potential for Norwegian companies to contribute to the green transition and green solutions that few other countries are better suited to provide. Our businesses gain partners and expand their network in Europe, enabling them to access new markets or take part in larger European projects and help closing the innovation gap in Europe’.

Magnar Ødelien
Programme Director, Innovation Norway

The Fund for Youth Employment

The Fund for Youth Employment contributes to sustainable and quality youth employment in Europe. Unlike the ordinary programmes that Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway finance, this €60.61 million fund has a transnational focus. It helps entities across Europe to pool their efforts and find new ways to reduce youth unemployment. In 2021, €52 million have been assigned to 32 projects empowering entrepreneurship, creating work opportunities for youth with disabilities or improving access to the labour market for migrants. And these are just a couple of initiatives that are currently taking shape across Europe.

Credit: Sandra Lielmeža
Credit: Cristophe Vander Ecken

Innovation in Romania

In Romania, the SME Growth programme focuses on greening and digitalising the industry. Besides investing directly in local businesses through the Grants, the Donors also encourage cooperation between the entities in Romania and the Donor States. As of the end of 2021, nearly one in two projects funded by the Grants in Romania have a partner in one of the Donor States.

In the 2014-2021 funding period, the programme funded by both the EEA Grants and the Norway Grants, will invest €45 million1 to create jobs, green the industry and enhance Romania’s competitiveness.

  1. 1. From the €45 million, €33.49 million is funded through the EEA Grants and €27.12 million by the Norway Grants.

A competitive Europe is also dependent on a sound business and investment environment. For that, public trust in judicial systems that are fair, predictable and timely is essential. To that end, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are helping the Beneficiary States establish systems and processes that tackle corruption within the justice apparatus and address excessive length of proceedings and non-enforcement of judicial decisions.

Furthermore, existing safety measures and risk management policies are essential to ensure sustainable development and economic growth. Without that, economies struggle to compete.

Do you want to see more data about the EEA and Norway Grants?

Visit our brand new Data and results portal!

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The EEA and Norway Grants in numbers

By the end of 2021, the EEA and Norway Grants have supported over 4 000 projects. Of those, 1 333 target challenges the countries are facing to improve their position on the global market and improve living standards for their communities.

Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness2
€619 million
5 programme areas
24 programmes
14 countries
1 233 projects
60% of projects have a donor project partner
Justice and Home Affairs3,4
€121 million
3 programme ereas (out of 6)
12 programmes
8 countries
49 projects
Fund for Regional cooperation5
31.9 million
19 projects
Fund for Youth employment6
€61 million
32 projects
  1. 2€414 million is funded through the Norway Grants and €204 million by the EEA Grants. Through this funding, 669 projects have been supported by the EEA Grants and 564 by the Norway Grants.
  2. 3Through the allocation for justice and home affairs, €24.5 million was funded by the EEA Grants and €96.5 million by the Norway Grants. 7 projects were supported by the EEA Grants and 42 by the Norway Grants.
  3. 4Justice and home affairs priority sector is part of both the competitive and the inclusive pillars. International police cooperation and combatting crime, effectiveness and efficiency of the judicial system, strengthening rule of law, and disaster prevention and preparedness are counted under the pillar ‘Competitive Europe’.
  4. 5€17.6 million from the EEA Grants and €14.3 million from the Norway Grants is supported to the Fund for Regional Cooperation.
  5. 6Through the Fund for Youth Employment, €33.5 million is funded by the EEA Grants and €27.1 million by the Norway Grants.

All EEA and Norway Grants programmes are results-based to ensure that they address the key areas driving the competitiveness of each of the Beneficiary States. With some projects just starting, and implementation running until 2024, we are only now starting to see some results towards our targets for the current funding period.

By the end of 2021, the following achievements had been made:

Indicator Target Achievement
Number of SMEs supported 886 5317
Number of new products/technologies developed 373 588
Estimated annual CO2 emissions reductions (in tonnes) 423 000 9209
Number of jobs created 5 159 1 28310
Number of researchers supported 2 238 2 77211
Number of young people aged 15-29 completing vocational education or work-based learning 19 079 12 22712
  1. 7Among the 531 SMEs, 181 were supported by the EEA Grants and 350 were supported by the Norway Grants.
  2. 8Out of 58 new products/technologies developed, 26 were developed through the EEA Grants and 32 through the Norway Grants.
  3. 9157 by EEA grants and 763 by Norway Grants
  4. 10643 jobs were created through the EEA Grants, and 640 through the Norway Grants.
  5. 11853 researchers were supported by the EEA Grants and 1919 by the Norway Grants.
  6. 126 357 by the EEA Grants and 5 870 by the Norway Grants.

Competitive Europe and the Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect a shared global vision for a peaceful and prosperous world through sustainable and fair development.

Working towards each goal helps to improve countries' global market position, raise living standards, and increase competitiveness. Some of the SDGs that the EEA and Norway Grants contribute to under the umbrella of a Competitive Europe are:

SDG 5 Gender equality

To combat gender inequality, the Grants support projects that help increase women’s economic independence, promote gender equity and close the gender pay gap. While significant progress has been made in the recent decade, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway invest in the continued improvements in this area.

Let’s name a few examples. A project carried out by the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights battles the misinformation surrounding gender equality and promotes the value to the society brought by gender parity and work-life balance. In Poland, a project works towards improving work-life balance and enhancing gender equality in industrial sectors, such as mining in the industrial region of Małopolska. To achieve that, they are working on a technological platform for specific training and knowledge-building activities.

These are just a couple of projects that, through empowerment, social dialogue and technology, help the progress towards gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. And by doing so, they are contributing to a more competitive Europe.

7: Affordable and clean energy
7: Affordable and clean energy

SDG 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure

Building a resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and fostering innovation is at the centre of the EEA and Norway Grants. Our innovation programmes invest in digitalising and greening the industry, promoting sustainable blue growth, and encouraging innovation and the uptake of innovative practices.

For example, with funding from the Grants an Estonian company is building a comprehensive office building management and control system that will help achieve the carbon neutrality targets in office buildings. A Romanian packaging company has designed several innovative environmentally friendly packaging materials and developing greener manufacturing technologies. In Portugal, the Grants support researchers, regrowing seaweed forests that are decreasing at an alarming rate around the globe.

Again, these are just a few examples illustrating the commitment to improve industrial practices and investing in innovation, and thus taking concrete steps towards more sustainable growth in Europe.

Other SDGs that are supported by efforts to promote a Competitive Europe:

SDG: 03 SDG: 04 SDG: 08 SDG: 10 SDG: 11 SDG: 12 SDG: 13 SDG: 14 SDG: 16 SDG: 17
Credit: Confederation of Portuguese Businesses

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Credit: Maciek Jaźwiecki - POLIN Museum
Credit: Garo Marukyan - NFP Bulgaria