POLICY ANSWERS brief published: Overview of the Western Balkans Research and Innovation Performance in EU Programmes and Initiatives

POLICY ANSWERS aims at supporting regional cooperation and closer integration of the Western Balkans (WBs) in the EU’s actions towards a digital, green and healthy future. One of the ways of achieving this objective is to enhance the framework conditions by promoting coherence and coordination at policy and funding programme levels with the European initiatives and platforms. This document constitutes a first step in the  integration process and creates awareness about the WBs performance in the EU Programmes and Initiatives, namely the Framework Programmes, European Partnerships and Missions, EUREKA, the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance as well as Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) based on mutual interests.

In February 2023, the project partners Sanja Damjanovic (GSI) and Berna Windischbaur (FFG) present the attached overview and policy brief.

After presenting the statistics and an overview on the participation, the reports concludes that there is clear evidence that some WB economies show greater progress than others in terms of the level of national funding in R&I; in particular, Serbia invests up to 1% of GDP in research and innovation.
Despite a rather low level of national funding in R&I, the progress in most of the WBs is  achieved by setting up new mechanisms to implement programmes which provide funding opportunities in the area of R&I, like Innovation Funds, National Agencies for Innovation and Funds for Science. These new mechanisms should support better strategical planning for increasing the investment in R&I. Given that research and innovation are highly relevant to the “Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans”, developing an investment policy approach with a clear focus on the green and digital transition and the implementation of smart specialisation strategies would help in achieving synergies with IPA funds. This would  significantly increase innovation potential and capacity. The new strategical approach should aim at interconnecting policies, strategies and programmes, and at building awareness of the need of R&I for economic recovery, development, growth and job creation.
The IPA funds also provide an important supplementary source to increase the innovation potential and capacity in relevant areas, given that innovations are closely interlinked and relevant to the Economic and Investment Plan with the overall objective to increase competitiveness and growth. To achieve that, a stimulus is needed to facilitate access to the relevant information and to raise awareness of and to better integrate academic and business communities (including SMEs and start-ups) in all processes of the programming of IPA funds.
The IPA funds will continue to provide an important part of the funds for R&I through an increased focus on innovation and for the development of a smart economic transformation in the WB. Thus, the complementarities and synergies of IPA with other national R&I opportunities and EU funding programmes should be fully exploited. The recent publication by the EC of a practical and user-friendly guidance on new opportunities to maximise synergies between Horizon Europe and the European Regional Development Fund programmes (ERDF) could be a very useful base. The document contains legal and implementation details of opportunities for achieving synergies, such as for the Seal of Excellence, European Partnerships, for combined funding – Teaming, upstream/downstream synergies including Missions.
On one hand, there was a steady progress in participation of all the WB in the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020 with a success rate at or even above the EU average success rate. Furthermore, WBs also participated in Horizon Europe Calls relevant to the implementation of the Missions.
Within the frame of the Horizon Europe Missions Work Programme 2021-2022, 6 WBs are involved in projects of the following Missions: Albania (Ocean), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Cities), Montenegro (Cities and Ocean), North Macedonia (Soil), and Serbia (Ocean, Soil). These results clearly show that R&I actors in the WB have the capacity to improve their involvement in Horizon Europe projects and actions, including the EU’s Missions and Partnerships, if the national framework conditions (availability of funding, policy commitment, experience and knowledge of Partnerships, etc.) are supportive.
On the other hand, the WBs have limited experience in participation in European Partnerships, which was mostly gained during the FP7 period, but the WBs lost momentum during Horizon 2020. Within Horizon Europe, WBs continue to have a limited participation in European partnerships. WB participation include European Open Science Cloud, European Metrology Program (EMPIR), EIT, Biodiversa, High Performance Computing and Accelerating Farming Systems Transitions. There is no evidence about the reasons behind this limited participation.
It can be due to a lack of strategic decisions, commitment for national funding, experience, or access to these networks. The recent survey on European Partnerships, conducted by the ERA-LEARN project may help to understand the challenges better. The POLICY ANSWERS35 project will build bridges between the national and regional priorities and the EU priorities; it will also provide support for the WB’s inclusion in the relevant Horizon Europe Partnerships, Missions and S3 platforms towards a green, digital and resilient economies.
Last but not least, the EUREKA Programme offers excellent opportunities for companies to internationalise their R&D activities. EUREKA projects usually carry an excellence hallmark which helps them gain access to other public and private funding opportunities; they gain an advantage for joining international networks and promoting their technological competencies. In order to increase the competitiveness of the SMEs in the region, the WB stakeholders are encouraged to participate more actively in the EUREKA programme.


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