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European innovation scoreboard shows established inequalities persisting

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The European Commission today releases the 2016 edition of its Innovation Scoreboard, which looks an awful lot like the 2015 version: happy green colors to the north and west contrasted against underperforming yellows and oranges to the south and east. This has been the map of European prosperity for at least the past century and, unfortunately, it doesn't look like the trends across the continent will do anything to redress the balance. In fact, this innovation scorecard would suggest that inequalities are only going to deepen in the future.

If you've ever wondered how rich countries stay ahead, the answer is always innovation. It might be military, economic, or political, but in all cases it's the steady supply of new and better methods and ideas that keeps the already powerful nations in the lead. It's a virtuous circle, whereby a history of innovation and research attracts the next generation of innovative thinkers. Advanced economies like the United States might lose their manufacturing base to cheaper competitors, but they retain the innovation edge and that's why they stay on top.

Scandinavia is leading while the Mediterranean is lagging

The situation that is playing out across Europe, as illustrated by the EC's latest data, is simply one of ongoing momentum. Sweden and Denmark stand out as the leaders, maintaining a strong track record of high-quality research, backed by some of the highest public investment in education in the developed world. They are followed by a familiar group of Western European names like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, all of whom are above the EU average. Below that line is the Eastern European block of countries, with the most recent ones to join, Bulgaria and Romania, at the bottom of the pack.

None of this is in any way surprising, but these trends do not bode well for addressing the issue of inequality across the EU and worldwide. The Nordic and western nations are the ones already enjoying the highest quality of life, so having them leading the way to developing the next wave of business opportunities and profitable ventures will only serve to entrench their advantage. Quartz recently noted some Italian research that showed that the richest families in Florence in 1427 are still the richest families in Florence today. Most developed nations espouse as their goal a tolerant, inclusive society with equality of opportunity for all — but the reality of the world continues to be rather different.