The Netherlands strengthens position as European Innovation Leader

...but converting knowledge into products and services continues to be weak spot

The Netherlands has climbed from fifth to fourth place on this year’s ‘European Innovation Scoreboard. This ranking of Europe’s frontrunners in innovation is published every year by the European Commission. Professor Jan van den Ende of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), has analysed the Netherlands’ performance over the years. Eight years ago, the Netherlands already scored 20% higher than the European average in the field of innovation. This has since increased to 30%, according to Van den Ende’s research.

To explain the Netherlands’ improvement in the ranking, Van den Ende points to the strong knowledge development performance of the country’s research sector and increased government support for innovation. This creates the right preconditions for successful innovation. The number of published academic articles and patent applications in the Netherlands are also well above the EU average. The Netherlands published three times as many international scientific co-publications and submitted 60% more PCT patent applications than the EU average.

Highly qualified

A relatively high number of young people in the Netherlands have completed a higher education programme, and the concept of ‘lifelong learning’ is far more developed in the country than in the European Union as a whole. In 2016, 19% of the Netherlands’ population was involved in life-long learning, compared to an EU average of 11%.

According to Van den Ende, other explanations for the Netherlands’ innovation success include venture capital investments in Dutch initiatives and the country’s tradition of innovative entrepreneurship. In the case of both indicators, the Netherlands systematically outperforms the EU average – although over the past three years, the country has seen its innovative enterprise score fall by 16% per year.


In a number of areas, the Netherlands’ small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) also outperform the European average when it comes to innovation. A higher number of SME businesses introduced new or improved products or manufacturing processes than in preceding years. Conversely, Europe as a whole saw a slowdown in this area. Dutch SMEs are also involved in a high number of collaborations with other companies and institutions, relative to the EU average.

Innovation management

Nevertheless, the Netherlands has proven – and this too has become a tradition by now – relatively weak when it comes to converting this knowledge into new products and services. As a result, the Dutch private sector generates a lower turnover from innovation than the bulk of the EU. In spite of the Netherlands’ strong improvement on this indicator in the period 2011-2015, the Dutch score in 2016 fell by 9%, while the EU average itself rose. The Netherlands also performs below the European average as far as the export of medium-high and high-tech products is concerned (14% lower than the EU average in 2016).

The Netherlands also has to catch up with the EU’s main group when it comes to applications for design patents (design rights). There is recent positive news, however: over the past year, the volume of Dutch applications increased by 8%, while the EU average itself fell.

The preconditions for innovation in the Netherlands are becoming better and better, according to Van den Ende. However, the Dutch private sector still disappoints when it comes to converting this high-grade knowledge and ideas into innovations. To encourage the export of medium-high and high-tech products and generate new turnover from innovation, Van den Ende recommends companies step up their investments in innovation management. A more carefully-considered structuring of the process of developing and implementing innovations within the company and in the marketplace could considerably improve the Netherlands’ performance in these areas. 

About the survey

The European Innovation Scoreboard is based on statistical data provided by the European Directorate-General for statistics, Eurostat. Jan van den Ende has analysed the Netherlands’ performance on the European Innovation Scoreboard over a period of ten years.

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Photo (CC NC): Thomas Hawk

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Ramses Singeling, Media Officer for RSM, on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at

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