Aligning national-regional and EU priorities in the areas of Digital Transformation, Green Transition and Healthy Societies

POLICY ANSWERS is building bridges between national/regional priorities and the EU priorities, and providing support for the Western Balkans’ inclusion in relevant EU initiatives and platforms, such as European Partnerships, Missions, and Smart Specialisation Platforms, focusing on thematic coordination across three policy areas: Digital Transformation, Green Transition and Healthy Societies.

Another important objective is to stimulate a policy dialogue on how to align priorities in the WB, with a specific focus on policy making, stakeholder engagement and policy implementation tools across these three thematic areas.

The activities undertaken during the first 18 months of the implementation period covered all three thematic areas – Digital Transformation, Green Agenda and Green Deal, and Healthy Societies – in a cross-cutting manner. This comprehensive approach, addressing multiple tasks and topics simultaneously, lead to the generation of conclusions, initiation of policy dialogues and outputs separately for each of the individual thematic areas.

We are happy to highlight the main activities during the period of the first 18 months of the POLICY ANSWERS project (March 2022-August 2023) as follows.

Aligning Priorities – European Partnerships

The activities aiming at involving the WB in European Partnerships started with the mapping of the WB presence in relevant European Partnerships and with understanding the funding landscape in R&I of each of the WB economies.

This mapping process led to the creation of a Policy Brief, published in February 2023, which was based on data from October 2022. The Policy Brief provided a comprehensive ‘Overview of the WB Research and Innovation Performance in EU Programmes and Initiatives’.

The important conclusions derived from this mapping were that despite the steady progress in the participation of WB in the EU Framework Programmes Horizon 2020 and now Horizon Europe, with the success rate at or even above the EU average, the WB have very limited experience in participating in European Partnerships, as illustrated in the figure below. There is no concrete evidence for the reasons for this limited participation, which can be attributed to factors such as a lack of strategic decision-making, commitment to national funding, experience or access to these networks.

When considering the funding landscape, especially in light of a rather low level of national R&I funding, it becomes evident that a strategic coordination process is required to explore and capitalise the full potential of investments in R&I by leveraging the complementarities and synergies between IPA funds and both national and EU funding programmes.

There is a potential to synergise with the recently published EC document and align its objectives with the IPA funds. The document provides both legal and implementation details for realising synergies, particularly for initiatives like the Seal of Excellence, Teaming for Excellence, European Partnerships and EU Missions.

An important step towards reinforcement of the dialogue between the WB’s national authorities and European Partnerships, as well as EU Missions, was the organisation of a dedicated panel discussion on EU initiatives and synergies for a smart and green future in October 2022. This panel was featured at the high-level regional Economic Conference in Montenegro. It covered topics related to European Partnerships (based on the particular example of DUT), Missions and EIT.

Survey for European Partnerships

To support both European Partnerships and the WB in their alignment efforts, WP4 initiated a survey aimed at identifying the existing experiences, contacts with the WB and assessing the interest of the European Partnerships in expanding their collaboration with the WB. The survey was distributed to all 49 European Partnerships in March 2023. Additionally, Joint Programming Initiatives (JPIs) which were not involved in a Partnership were also invited to contribute to the survey.

The results of the survey became available in May 2023 and show that 17 European Partnerships have expressed interest in expanding their collaboration with the Western Balkans region, along with one JPI. Among these, 4 European Partnerships are related to the thematic topic of Digital Transformation, 10 European Partnerships are related to the thematic topic of Green Transitions, and 3 European Partnerships and 1 JPI are associated with the thematic topic of Health.

The most common forms of support in which they are interested were

  • creating/raising awareness about the European Partnerships in the target region;
  • identifying relevant funding body/agency as well as thematic stakeholders, actors and communities in target region;
  • establishing initial contacts and organising a joint activity (e.g., seminars, workshops).

The survey results formed the basis for the next important step in facilitating bilateral dialogues between these European Partnerships and the Western Balkans’ national authorities and funding agencies.

Reinforcing the Dialogue between the WB National Authorities and the European Partnerships

The first major event to bring WB economies and European Partnerships together was the POLICY ANSWERS conference on ‘Policy Dialogue on Aligning Priorities in the Western Balkans, Vision 2030 – Digital/Green/Health Pathways’. The event took place on 13 September 2023 in Sarajevo.

The primary objective of the conference was to stimulate a policy dialogue on how to align priorities in the Western Balkans with the focus on policy making, stakeholder engagement and policy implementation tools across three thematic areas: Digital Transformation, Green Transition and Healthy Societies. The conference is expected to demonstrate a significant impact of policy dialogue, bringing together government representatives from the WB, key stakeholders, EC representatives, and experts from both the WB and the EU. The event attracted the interest of approximately 140 participants from 19 economies. In September, we dedicated the theme of the month for sharing the results and takeaways with our readership.

Within the scope of the conference a total of 38 bilateral meetings across the three thematic areas were scheduled, involving European Partnerships and the WB Ministries/Funding Agencies. In these short meetings, European Partnerships focused on understanding the needs and interests of the Ministry representatives and presented the structure of their partnership, priority R&I topics for joint calls and various collaboration opportunities beyond joint calls.

In addition to the panel, a side event was organised to engage with national authorities and funding agencies involved. You can find a report on the outcome of the panel on the WB Info Hub. This event also served as a great base for creating a detailed report on the WB performance in Horizon Missions.

WP4 Conference as a Kick-off launching the EU-WB Policy Dialogue Stakeholder Platform

POLICY ANSWERS has launched a dedicated EU-WB Policy Dialogue Stakeholder Platform based on the b2match tool in June 2023. This platform also served as the official conference website – since the conference was the kickstart of this platform. In just a few months, the platform attracted 200 registrations, with 76 individuals expressing interest in the Digital Transformation theme, 55 in Green Transition, and 46 in Healthy Societies.

The key takeaways and recommendations derived from the conference served as crucial building blocks for the Regional Platform’s approach to address challenges within each thematic area – Digital Transformation, Green Deal, and Healthy Societies. The Platform will facilitate fruitful exchanges, webinars, collaborations, and will serve as a channel for identifying joint project activities aimed at achieving tangible progress within these three thematic areas.

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