Analysis I Foresight I ERA reports

With the COVID-19 crisis, the world is experiencing unprecedented disruption to daily lives and to the social, economic, and governance systems that support them. The Western Balkans are no exception. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are struggling hard and looking for ways to respond to the still unfolding situation. Foresight is the discipline of exploring, anticipating and shaping the future to help build and use collective intelligence in a structured, systematic and systemic way to anticipate developments. Foresight can therefore help to cope with such uncertainties and understand the implications for SMEs and policymakers in the long term. Lessons learned in today’s pandemic could be used to inform tomorrow’s policy actions. While being overwhelmed by these challenges, the Western Balkans must not overlook the opportunities that crises can provide to re-imagine and rebuild our future. In the coming period, choices will be made on how to best allocate and invest resources to recover from the crisis. Such decisions will shape the coming decades and therefore it is important to start thinking about:

  • What are the biggest opportunities for transformation towards a more resilient Western Balkans?
  • How will the Western Balkans’ economy, society, and governance evolve until 2035?
  • What role can Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) play in the coming decades?

In such a framework, the Commission has recently published the study “Strategic Foresight in the Western Balkans: Recovery on the Horizon.” The study outlines three scenarios on the possible futures of Research and Innovation (R&I) policies in the Western Balkans region in 2035. Making use of Strategic Foresight will yield benefits for research and innovation eco-systems, as outlined in the ‘Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport’.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth said:

We need to think about how research and innovation policies can unfold their potential and bring added valued to all our citizens. The Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport will advance the most desirable shared future in this region and we are already delivering on one of its objectives with this foresight study.

The study’s scenarios are rooted in an extensive co-creation process with more than 700 experts on R&I from the Western Balkans, who represent academia, civil society, the private sector, international organisations as well as central and subnational governments. The scenarios help to envision different futures and highlight possible actions that can be taken today in the Western Balkans to work towards the most sustainable future:

  • Joining the Common Market: outlines a potential future in which the latest EU Members Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia benefit from a range of European Framework Programmes and tailored support initiatives such as the European Commission’s Green Deal Just Transition Mechanism.
  • Looking beyond EU borders: constitutes a scenario in which EU accession negotiations have come to a standstill.
  • Putting Business First: depicts a scenario in which economic modernisation and public sector innovation are supported by EU institutions as well as by the European Investment Bank.

The study concludes with initial roadmaps tailored for each of the Western Balkans that can inspire decision-makers with goals and actions needed to further develop their R&I systems.