Competitive Europe

Credit: Laura Pikkoja

The EEA and Norway Grants represent Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway’s commitment to stimulating more sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe, promoting bilateral cooperation and tackling shared challenges. 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

Europe is speeding up the green transition and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, new challenges such as price increases, disrupted global supply chains, and the ongoing war in Ukraine are threatening sustainable economic growth. The UN sustainability goals, and the EU goals to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and to be the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, demand fundamental changes and sustainable economic transition. This is where public funding and private sector innovation play a critical role to stimulate and boost this transformation. To succeed, Europe’s industry needs to be on board, and it must emerge from this transition stronger and more competitive than before.

The global challenges of the previous years have shown us that it is crucial to foster innovation and create local, state-of-the-art solutions, as well as to facilitate research and innovation ecosystems in Europe. To achieve this, it is necessary to invest in innovation, research, skills, and decent and inclusive work environments.

The Grants’ approach

To tackle these challenges and to enable sustainable growth and the further development of the knowledge economy in the Beneficiary States, the EEA and Norway Grants provide support to private enterprises as well as to research and higher education institutions. The Grants also empower social partners – trade unions and employers’ associations – to promote social dialogue and decent work, and to improve judiciary systems in the Beneficiary States.

To that end, the EEA and Norway Grants support:
  • increased value creation and sustainable growth;
  • enhanced research-based knowledge development;
  • enhanced human capital and knowledge base;
  • improved work-life balance;
  • strengthened tripartite cooperation and decent work;
  • strengthened rule of law.
Credit: Polish Agency For Enterprise Development. Author: Karolina Okręglak-Hoty

Fair national justice systems are vital to restoring confidence and attracting the investment needed for green transition and sustainable growth in Europe.

Funding competitive Europe

The EEA and Norway Grants take an integrated approach to promoting sustainable growth and competitiveness by tackling the needs from several angles. Social and economic development depends on research and innovation. Supporting private enterprises and business environments is important for building a resilient economy, and achieving green transition and sustainable growth.

Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway have defined the following priority sectors: Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness, as well as Justice and Home Affairs. Additionally, two separate funds help fight youth unemployment and promote regional cooperation.

Under the priority sector Innovation, Research, Education and Competitiveness, the programme areas are:

  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)

Under the priority sector Justice and Home Affairs, the programme areas are: 

  1. International Police Cooperation and Combating Crime
  2. Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Judicial System, Strengthening Rule of Law
  3. Disaster Prevention and Preparedness

In addition to programme areas, the EEA and Norway Grants support cross-border cooperation to increase Europe’s competitiveness through two funds:

  1. Fund for Youth Employment
  2. Fund for Regional Cooperation

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

Learn more

The EEA and Norway Grants promote sustainable growth and the development of a fair and inclusive knowledge economy. The funding strengthens the European Single Market by stimulating free movement and cross-border cooperation, creating level conditions for competition, and ensuring clear rules and equal rights for European citizens and businesses. The funding stimulates job creation, promotes the green transition in existing businesses, and endorses the development, commercialisation and application of sustainable and innovative solutions.

The Grants’ support for research is being used to train young researchers and address the brain drain in academia. It encourages and facilitates multidisciplinary cooperation and innovation to tackle societal challenges. The EEA and Norway Grants also contribute to improving the quality and relevance of education, and reinforcing much-needed skills and competencies for the digital and green transitions. More tripartite cooperation between employer organisations, trade unions and public authorities, promotion of decent work, and the Fund for Youth Employment ensure an equitable, fair, and sustainable future in Europe.

The EEA and Norway Grants programmes, which concentrate on enhancing efficient justice systems, combating crime, improving police cooperation, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting disaster prevention, play a crucial role in nurturing sustainable growth and competitiveness in Europe. By investing in projects that streamline judicial processes, foster cross-border collaboration among law enforcement agencies, and reinforce legal frameworks, these initiatives contribute to a more secure and transparent environment for businesses and citizens alike. As a result, the EEA and Norway Grants help create a stable, predictable, and well-regulated environment that stimulates investment, drives innovation, and enhances economic prosperity across Europe, leading to a more sustainable, equitable, and competitive region.

The EEA and Norway Grants are aligned with EU priorities and policies. Competitiveness programmes contribute to achieving the EU’s sustainable growth goals. The Grants serve to bridge funding gaps where target groups in the Beneficiary States have difficulties accessing the capital needed to carry out their planned activities, or have difficulties acquiring EU funding.

The Grants build research and innovation capacity in the Beneficiary States, contributing to widening participation in EU programmes for research and innovation. In addition to providing a targeted and accessible approach to funding, the Grants support pilot projects that serve as a testing ground for ideas from research institutions, private enterprises or national governments. This, consequently, helps them get ready to scale up and access EU funding.

Working together

Bilateral partnerships under the EEA and Norway Grants help increase competitiveness in the Donor and Beneficiary States. Working together ensures the transfer of knowledge, experience and best practices. It can also provide a foundation for larger projects funded by Horizon Europe or Erasmus+. Research and higher education institutions, as well as businesses, and especially SMEs, establish partnerships and networks of cooperation with European partners and gain experience from other knowledge communities, markets and business cultures.

The robust collaboration between Donor Programme Partners and Programme Operators provides a unique platform for the exchange of knowledge and best practices. With the EEA and Norway Grants, SMEs, business environments, and research and education institutions and clusters can work together across borders to focus on solving the most pressing societal challenges of our times.

Standing with Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has disrupted the work of many Ukrainian researchers. Through flexibility measures agreed upon by the Donor States, the Beneficiary States were able to offer researchers temporary positions in ongoing projects in the Czech Republic, Latvia and Poland. In addition, 40 Ukrainian students and researchers who had their education disrupted by the war were granted scholarships to continue their education and research in Polish academic institutions.

Credit: The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of Republic of Latvia

The EEA and Norway Grants also contribute to improving the quality and relevance of education, and reinforcing much-needed skills and competencies for the digital and green transitions.

Programme examples

The ten Business Development, Innovation and SMEs programmes support private enterprises in:

  1. green industry innovation;
  2. blue growth;
  3. information and communications technology (ICT);
  4. welfare technology/ambient assisted living.

The programmes amount to a total of €322 million. They promote value creation and sustainable growth in the Beneficiary States. As a result, participating companies grow, create new jobs, and fully engage in the green and digital transitions and new solution design.

SMEs can apply for EEA and Norway Grants funding through open calls, which ensures fair competition. As project promoters and partners are required to provide co-financing, the public funds leverage private investments to develop riskier projects. These projects are therefore ambitious, achieve excellent results and have a high success rate.

The Business Development, Innovation and SMEs programme in Poland is the largest competitiveness programme. Its €95 million in Grants are allocated to boost businesses in Poland. The programme invests in the development, commercialisation, and uptake of innovative and green technologies, blue growth and welfare technology. Furthermore, a small grants scheme is dedicated to female entrepreneurs. This scheme, along with funding, provides access to mentoring services and training advisors for women entrepreneurs.

Credit: Polish Agency For Enterprise Development. Author: Karolina Okręglak-Hoty
The programmes amount to a total of

€322 million

Project examples

Automation that creates green jobs

The Polish company Ekombud is using state-of-the-art technology to sort waste from the country’s two regions that produce the most of it. This technology – optical waste sorting – offers a digital process to separate and treat raw materials. Once sorted, the materials are sold to manufacturing companies. What is now the most innovative waste-sorting process in Poland was developed in cooperation with the Norwegian partner TOMRA Sorting. With so much waste sorted, Ekombud is helping Poland contribute to the EU’s commitment to recycling at least 55% of municipal waste by 2025 while creating 20 new full-time jobs in the process.

Credit: Sandra Lielmeža
Credit: Scalefocus - SoundVision

What you hear is what you see

Being visually impaired can be isolating and make simple daily tasks difficult, such as connecting with the world around us. SoundVision, an innovative award-winning project in Bulgaria supported by the EEA and Norway Grants, has created a handheld device that will digitally help tear down visual barriers for those who need it most. This inclusive innovation project is the result of close cooperation between Norwegian and Bulgarian tech companies working together to make a difference.

All for migrant worker rights

Making sure refugees and migrants are treated well, have access to decent work, and become part of society is crucial to their successful integration. Through the MIGRIGHT project, partners in Norway and Poland are working together to discuss and find concrete solutions to better support migrant and refugee workers in Poland. By bringing social dialogue to the fore, learning from best practices, and identifying the right tools and approaches, the project sets out to build a more inclusive and sustainable Polish society.

The EEA and Norway Grants in numbers

Total funding for this area:

€830.9 million1

Total funding for this area: €830.9 million1
8 programme areas and 2 funds
38 programmes
14 Beneficiary States2
1,807 projects3
63% of projects with donor project partner4
Indicator Target Achievement
Estimated annual CO2 emissions reductions (in tonnes) 423,000 34,6135
Number of jobs created 6,791 3,9756
Number of new products/technologies developed 430 2367
Number of researchers supported 2,279 4,1158
Number of SMEs supported 1,124 9199
Number of young people aged 15-29 completing vocational education or work-based learning 20,079 17,66310
  1. 1.Out of a total of €830.9 million, €280.4 million is from the EEA Grants and €550.5 million from the Norway Grants.
  2. 2.Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.
  3. 3.Out of the 1,807 projects, 916 are funded by the EEA Grants, 837 by the Norway Grants, and 54 by both the EEA and Norway Grants.
  4. 4.Among the projects with donor project partners, 211 projects have a partner from Iceland, 17 have a partner from Liechtenstein, and 1,008 have a partner from Norway.
  5. 5.The estimated annual CO2 emissions reductions (in tonnes) achieved by the EEA Grants was 670 tonnes and 33,943 tonnes by the Norway Grants.
  6. 6.2,342 jobs were created through the EEA Grants, and 1,633 through the Norway Grants.
  7. 7.Out of 236 new products/technologies developed, 99 were developed through the EEA Grants and 137 through the Norway Grants.
  8. 8.1,183 researchers were supported by the EEA Grants and 2,932 by the Norway Grants.
  9. 9.Among the 919 SMEs, 357 were supported by the EEA Grants and 562 were supported by the Norway Grants.
  10. 10.9,765 by the EEA Grants and 7,898 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 include:

SDG 5 Gender equality

To combat gender inequality, the Grants promote 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 past decade, there are still persistent gaps in gender equality. Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway invest in continued improvements in this area.

For example, a project carried out by the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights battles misinformation surrounding gender equality and promotes the value that gender parity and work-life balance bring to society. In Poland, one project is working towards improving work-life balance and enhancing gender equality in industrial sectors, such as mining in the industrial region of Małopolska. To achieve their goal, the project is developing a technological platform for specific training and knowledge-building activities.

These are just some of the projects that, through empowerment, social dialogue and technology, help advance gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. 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 are at the centre of the EEA and Norway Grants. Our innovation programmes invest in digitalising and greening 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 is developing greener manufacturing technologies. In Portugal, the Grants support researchers in regrowing seaweed forests that are declining at an alarming rate around the globe.

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

SDGs 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