POLICY ANSWERS review of the progresses shared at the Meeting of the WB Steering Platforms in June

The Western Balkans Steering Platforms on Culture, Education and Training & Research and Innovation held a physical meeting, on 3-5 June in Skopje, North Macedonia. Their meeting was co-chaired by the European Commission’s DG Education, Youth, Sport and Culture and DG Research and Innovation, the incoming Hungarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the Republic of North Macedonia on behalf of the Western Balkans.

On the first day, the discussion was dedicated first to the Meeting of the Steering Platform on Culture and then the one on Education and Training.

Recent policy developments in the field of Culture and latest Council activities to empower the cultural and creative sectors were highlighted as well as the EU funding opportunities for the cultural and creative sectors 2021-2027. The interactive CulturEU Funding Guide was featured as a tool by the European Commission to ease access to the available funding opportunities. The European Commission encourages participation of organisations from the Western Balkans in the Creative Europe cooperation projects call. It has also opened a public consultation on the Creative Europe Programme to collect feedback from everyone, in addition to the organisations and individuals directly involved in or benefiting from the Creative Europe programme. The deadline for participating in the survey is 6 September 2024. Interesting opportunities are represented by the continuous open call under the Culture and Creativity for the Western Balkans – CC4WBs project and the funding opportunities and open Calls by the European Heritage Hub. After Novi Sad in 2022, Skopje has been declared the European Capital of Culture for 2028. A current call for the Capital of Culture of 2030 is open until 16 October here.

Main policy developments and cooperation in Education and Training but also Sport and Youth were highlighted in the second round of the meeting. Recently a set of ambitious proposals aimed at transforming higher education in Europe were introduced while a new recommendation, titled ‘Europe on the Move – Learning Mobility Opportunities for Everyone,’ seeks to promote the benefits of learning, studying or training abroad, both within the EU and in non-EU countries. EU-Western Balkan cooperation through Erasmus+ was also highlighted while a factsheet is now being prepared by the European Commission to look at how successful the international dimension initiatives with the four non-associated WB economies so far (read more). Concerning the digitalisation areas, the discussion featured SELFIE as a free, easy-to-use, customisable tool to help schools assess where they stand with learning in the digital age, as well as SELFIE FOR TEACHERS and its pilot programme in partnership with the European Training Foundation on the Western Balkans.
In September 2024, the EAIE Annual Conference will take place in Toulouse to focus on digital technologies, sustainable practices and new ways to support Education community’s work. Finally, as every year, the European Week of Sport will take place between 23 and 30 September 2024 across Europe and beyond to promote for example the values of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In last year’s edition oven 11 million participants took part, with over 600.000 participants in Western Balkans.

All Western Balkans reported progresses. The European Training Foundation (ETF) provided an in-depth overview of the ongoing efforts in the region. ETF deploys a number of instruments to build intelligence on the economies’ current and future skill needs drawing upon international data sources and national data, both quantitative and qualitative. The organisation supports the development of human capital for both young people and adults, focusing on the digital and green transition, innovation, and the enlargement process. Key initiatives include the continued expansion of the ‘Jobs and Skills Surveys’ in the region, enhanced efforts on the ‘Youth Guarantee’ with an emphasis on both education and labor market aspects, and further development of activities related to the ‘Osnabrück Declaration’.

On the second day, all Western Balkans Steering Platforms members jointly attended a session to introduce and start preparing the upcoming Ministerial Meeting, scheduled for autumn 2024. The Western Balkans Ministerial event is an important part of the implementation of the ‘Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport‘ (WB Agenda). It celebrates the achievements of and takes stock of the progress made on the WB Agenda as well as sets the path for the continuation of its successful implementation. The agenda of the Mnisterial event as well as the topics for discussion with Ministers were presented, and are currently under revision and development.

The meeting of the Western Balkans Steering Platform on Research and Innovation (R&I), on 4 June, then focused on the region’s priorities and objectives in R&I. The event provided updated information on recent developments and future plans. The second round of the Joint Coordination Meetings (JCMs) is progressing well, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro completed or upcoming. Meetings for Serbia, Albania, and Kosovo are planned for later this year.

With reference to Horizon Europe data, the European Commission acknowledged how the programme has seen very good results in the region from its calls: 370 grants have been awarded, with 58 coordinators, totaling €130 million in funding. In comparison, the previous Horizon 2020 programme (2014-2020) awarded in total 613 grants amounting to €172.2 million. It was also underlined that the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS) Hubs have been established in Skopje and Podgorica, and a Raw Materials Centre has been opened in Elbasan. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the EIT Community Hub and the EIT National Contact Point for Montenegro aiming at ensuring close cooperation and coordination was stressed as best practice to replicate in the region.

At the meetings of the Steering Platform on Research and Innovation, the appointed Western Balkans delegates usually exchange information on their R&I developments and progress towards the implementation of the Western Balkans Agenda. On 4 June 2024, in Skopje, all Western Balkans representatives shared their updates. As you can read in our review, all of them are actively advancing their research and innovation landscape across various strategic dimensions. Efforts include aligning policies and legislation with EU standards, enhancing institutional frameworks, and ensuring compliance with EU requirements.

Similarly, also delegates of EU organisation, EU Member States and other stakeholders have the opportunity to share their updates and exchange information developments or future plans at the Steering Platform meetings. During the debate on 4 June, it was stressed how the Western Balkans have shown strong engagement in COST Actions, with increasing leadership roles being filled from the region. COST is highly valued for its significant scientific achievements and individual career advancements. The contribution of COST is important for successful access to Horizon Europe. Collaboration within COST Actions supports the region’s integration into the European Research Area. COST currently has almost 300 running Actions open to welcome new partners. Each Action organises and announces dedicated activities, open to participation following a successful application directly to the Action. RCC activities and achievements in the past year were also highlighted as well as the crucial developments impacting and shaping the region.
Germany reported significant progress in its Western Balkans R&D cooperation programme. Currently, 14 bilateral research projects are ongoing and progressing well. The initiative aims to strengthen the research and innovation systems in the region by fostering joint R&D projects. Austria further highlighted its bilateral programmes with several running projects and upcoming calls with the Western Balkans in 2024/25 as well as its engagement in the Multilateral Science and Technology Call for the Danube Region.

On the last day of meeting series, given the recent publication of the European Commission’s ERA Country Reports, a workshop on the Western Balkans European Research Area reporting was held by the POLICY ANSWERS project. The workshop included a technical session on “ERA Reporting along the ERA Policy Agenda”, a session where two focus groups discussed how to approach Western Balkans challenges with regard to ERA integration and a session on “Strengthening R&I Capacity in the Western Balkans through Knowledge valorisation”. The workshop fostered the discussion about the ERA reporting of the Western Balkans amongst the attendees. It also promoted central questions regarding the sharing of best practices and experiences. Furthermore, it demonstrated that ERA is a “moving object” that benefits from the political engagement of the European Union Member States and the economies associated to Horizon Europe.


The meeting was a successful opportunity to network between the stakeholders and discuss the achievements made and future outlook. The next Steering Platform meetings will be again virtual, on 4 September, continuing cooperation in view of the Ministerial Meeting of the Steering Platforms to take place from 29 September and 1 October in Skopje.

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