European Commission's 2021 Innovation Scoreboard
Innovation dimensions

The Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have long enjoyed a reputation for being among the most business friendly locations for innovation-oriented enterprises. This holds true for mature global companies as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups. The Finnish start-up ecosystem, for example, is often described as the most attractive in Europe. Indeed, Finland hosts Slush, perhaps the world's most famous annual start-up event and community.

European Commission's 2021 Innovation Scoreboard

On 21 June 2021 the European Commission released its latest annual European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS).(1) This followed the adoption of the updated EU Industrial Strategy of 5 May 2021, which addresses new conditions following the covid-19 crisis "to drive Europe's industrial transformation to a more sustainable, digital, resilient and globally competitive economy".

In this new framework, new indicators were added to the EIS – namely, digitalisation and sustainable innovation (for the complete list of the indicators that were used, please see "Innovation dimensions" below).

It is also important to highlight the European Commission's disclaimer that much of the data analysed in the EIS is not sufficiently recent to account for the pandemic's full effect on innovation in Europe.

Quoting directly from the report:

The annual European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) provides a comparative assessment of the research and innovation performance of EU Member States and selected third countries, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of their research and innovation systems. It helps countries assess areas in which they need to concentrate their efforts in order to boost their innovative performance.

The overall rankings are based on a cumulative score over a wide range of criteria. Based on the overall score, the report groups countries in the following categories:

  • modest innovators;
  • moderate innovators;
  • strong innovators; and
  • innovation leaders.

Only four EU countries scored a sufficient number of cumulative points to be considered innovation leaders, the top three of which are the Nordic countries of Sweden (156 points), Finland (151 points) and Denmark (148 points). Each of these countries achieved scores that are substantially higher than the results from the IP5 group comprising China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union (EU average).

Innovation dimensions

The scores were determined by carefully evaluating the following 12 innovation dimensions, listed in Table 1 of the EIS entitled "Measurement Framework of the European Innovation Scoreboard".

  • human resources (new doctorate graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), population aged 25-34 with tertiary education and lifelong learning);
  • attractive research systems (international scientific co-publications, top 10% most cited publications and foreign doctorate students);
  • digitalisation (broadband penetration and individuals who have above basic overall digital skills);
  • finance and support (research and development (R&D) expenditure in the public sector, venture capital expenditures, direct government funding and government tax support for business R&D);
  • firm investments (R&D expenditure in the business sector, non-R&D innovation expenditures and innovation expenditures per person employed in innovation-active enterprises);
  • use of information technologies (enterprises providing training to develop or upgrade the information, computer and technology (ICT) skills of their personnel and employed ICT specialists);
  • innovators (SMEs with product innovations and SMEs with business process innovations);
  • linkages (innovative SMEs collaborating with others, public-private co-publications and job-to-job mobility of human resources in science and technology);
  • intellectual assets (Patent Cooperation Treaty applications, trademark applications and design applications);
  • employment assets (employment in knowledge-intensive activities and employment innovative enterprises);
  • sales impacts (medium and high-tech product exports, knowledge-intensive services exports and sales of product innovations); and
  • environmental sustainability (resource productivity, air emissions by fine particulates (particulate matter 2.5) in industry and development of environment-related technologies).


These impressive results may come as a surprise to those who are unfamiliar with the innovation climate in Nordic countries. However, they reflect the innovative culture and effective support provided by the Nordic countries to their innovation ecosystems.

For further information on this topic please contact Mariella Massaro or Robert Alderson​ at Berggren Oy​ by telephone (+358 10 227 2000​) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Berggren Oy website can be accessed at


(1) A link to the 2021 EIS can be found here.