Towards a mission-oriented policy making in the Western Balkans

An interview with Sanja Damjanovic, Leader of WP4 (Aligning Priorities) on behalf of GSI, Germany and former Minister of Science of Montenegro

This interview is part of a series that shall inform interested readers about the concrete initiatives and outcomes of the “POLCY ANSWERS” project.

  • Where do you see the opportunities in the Western Balkans when it comes to the EU Missions?

The Association of the Western Balkans to the EU Framework Programmes has shown to be a strong instrument of systematic changes in the WBs, giving them special strength in developing their national strategies and policies in line with the EU priorities for a Green, Digitalized and socially cohesive Europe, set-up by the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. The Western Balkans showed steady progress in their participation in Horizon 2020, with a success rate at or above the EU average, while the results for the first two years of the Horizon Europe Programme are well above the levels of the previous programme.

Although the EU Missions are the new instruments and key novelties set up under Horizon Europe, which are entering their third year of running, we see that the Western Balkan economies are successfully finding their pathway through the Missions. Missions refer to clear goals and concrete actions to be jointly undertaken by all relevant stakeholders at the national and European levels to address the most pressing global challenges. Missions will support Europe’s transformation into a greener, healthier, more inclusive and resilient continent. The Western Balkans, in the process of accession to the EU, share the same challenges and will contribute to the efforts and benefit from the results.

For example, I see the Cities Mission as a great opportunity for the overall WBs. The Climate City Contracts which are currently being developed by three Western Balkan cities selected to be Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030, Elbasan (Albania), Podgorica (Montenegro) and Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), could be a perfect guide for all other WB cities to speed up their transition towards climate neutrality. The Climate City Contracts would set up actions for climate neutrality in various sectors such as energy, waste management, energy-efficiency of the buildings, transport, and circular economy including investment plans, and could create guidelines and references in case the other WB cities and the other actors would like to also build on it.

I also see the potential in the Soil- and Ocean Missions, given that their calls for projects attracted several institutions and organizations from Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. That might encourage the other WB economies to benefit from the currently open calls within the new Work Programme 2023-2024 of the Soil and Ocean Missions. I see the opportunity and clear capacity in the WBs to match the expectations of the new EU Missions Work Programme in restoring at least 25 000 km of free-flowing rivers and rolling out of the Soil Mission living labs.

Although there is no performance of the WBs in the Cancer Mission up to now, I see not only a great opportunity for the WBs in the Cancer Mission, but the Western Balkans could bring added value here. In 2017, the Western Balkans, through the Government of Montenegro, officially initiated a pan-European research infrastructure for Cancer Therapy and Biomedical Research with protons and heavy ions, the SEEIIST project (https// Two strategic objectives, the fight against cancer and the building of international cooperation and capacities, are part of this initiative. Nuclear medicine is a crucial component of future personalized cancer care, and it is overdue to develop advanced cancer therapy with ion beams and isotopes. The comprehensive dimension of SEEIIST, being both a cancer therapy and cancer research centre, has already built a strong synergy between policymakers, international and national research organizations, private sectors and citizens. The widely international aspect of SEEIIST, focusing on the concrete infrastructure, offers to highlight the best digital platforms for large-scale privacy-preserving big data analysis of medical treatment and research applications.

  • Are there any challenges regarding the participation of the Western Balkans in the EU Missions in particular?

The establishment of new forms of governance required for the implementation of Missions remains the biggest challenge for most of the EU countries, including the Western Balkans. The multidisciplinary and collaborative approach will be necessary to engage wider stakeholder communities in governance. Given the goal of the Missions to bring research and innovation policy closer to authorities and citizens and to mobilize investment in research and innovation, the challenges in the Western Balkans are particularly large, since their government level of funding in Research and Innovation is rather low. As to the WBs funding landscape, the overall national funding in R&I is mostly well below 1% of GDP, while participation by the private sector in overall research spending is mostly well below 0.3% of GDP. The challenge is to get relevant WB authorities (ministries) which have a rather low budget for R&D to steer the implementation of Missions.

This year the Missions will face the first assessment as part of the Horizon Europe review. The outcome of that assessment and, hopefully, some recommendations and good practices could be useful also for the WBs in setting grounds for the implementation of Missions.

  • As a former Minister of Science, yourself, what do you think are the major obstacles in the region towards mission-oriented policy-making in general?

The development of Mission-oriented policies requires a good governance structure, strong administrative capacity, resources and political commitment. The success of the implementation of the Missions largely depends on how these elements and activities are organized and coordinated in the country. The most important aspect is to overcome silos and get top-level political support and visibility. I have no doubts that all the WB economies will be able to set grounds to get the Missions working.  As someone who was involved in the entire process of adopting the Smart Specialization Strategy in Montenegro, I see indeed that the experience gained during the formal development of S3 with the support of JRC will greatly help to avoid any major obstacles in getting Missions work. The Smart Specialization Strategies helped learn how to establish horizontal government coordination and to avoid fragmentation and ‘silos’-type approaches, as well as how to effectively use resources. All the WB economies have/or are gaining this experience, given that the Smart Specialization Strategies are now at the heart of the strategies for smart economic growth in the WBs. It might be wise to link the Mission governance structure to that one established to implement Smart Specialization Strategies, given the possible overlap in prioritized topics.

Quite some efforts would be needed to develop an advanced funding scheme for the Missions pulling in funding from different sources. The complementarities and synergies of Pre-accession IPA funds with national R&I opportunities and EU funding should be fully exploited. The recent publication by the EC of 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 including Missions.

  • What are the next steps in the project POLICY ANSWERS concerning this aspect?

One of the next steps of the project is to provide support for the WB’s inclusion in their efforts to develop good governance models for the implementation of the Missions at the national and regional levels. Another important action is to support the WB’s involvement in more mission-oriented projects and collaborate actively with relevant European initiatives and networks to facilitate knowledge transfer.
A special Conference will be organized on 13 September 2023 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The goal of this Conference is to stimulate policy dialogue on how to align the national/regional priorities with the EU priorities, with a focus on the policy-making and policy delivery functions across three thematic areas – Digital Transformation, Green Deal and Healthcare. Both Missions and European Partnerships will also be addressed at this conference.

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