News archive - Integration of the Western Balkan Countries and Turkey in the Framework Programmes: Some Empirical Evidence

"Integration of the Western Balkan Countries and Turkey in the Framework Programmes: Some Empirical Evidence" is an article recently published in the Journal of European Integration, which is based on the research within the WBC-INCO.NET project.


The paper discusses results of empirical research focused on the barriers to cooperation of Western Balkan countries and Turkey (WBC&T) in EU Framework Programmes (EU FP).

It reveals that WBC&T and member states of EU share a very similar pattern of barriers dominated by ‘Project managing weaknesses’ and ‘Bureaucratic barriers of the European Commission’. However, same barriers present much greater difficulties to researchers from WBC&T due to low intensity in international research cooperation, weak mobility and specific socio-political factors like political instability and scientific inferiority. The weak participation of WBC&T in FP is an obstacle not only to integration of WBC&T into the ERA but also slows down overall cohesion process that is nowadays dependent on human capital and innovation capacities supported by research. Therefore, the balance between social cohesion policy and scientific-merit research policy should be put in place.


Research cooperation and mobility of scientists are seen to be essential tools for the process of economic, social and political integration of Western Balkan countries and Turkey (WBC&T) with the European Union (EU) as well as for their future economic stabilization and growth in the region (Action Plan. 2003). Following this line, the European Union has made considerable efforts to foster the integration of WBC&T with the EU and address its cohesion policy primarily to capacity building for integration through pre-accession structural funds like TEMPUS,2 CARDS3 and the newest IPA4 program. Research cooperation between WBC&T and member states (MS) was performed partly through bilateral project agreements with individual countries and partly through the Framework Programmes (FP) of the European Research Area (ERA), starting from its fifth project cycle.

However, cooperation of WBC&T within FP is not focused so much on scientific research but largely serves to support regional cohesion and networking in science and technology through specific programs like International Scientific Cooperation Activities (INCO), Coordination and Support Actions (e.g., the SEE-ERA.NET plus project) or research capacities (e.g., the WBC-INCO.NET project and the REGPOT programme). Limited research cooperation in FP is mainly a result of long-term exclusion from the European scientific system, weak scientific capacities and the obsolete research infrastructure of WBC&T. The EU administrative barrier, until recently, made their participation more difficult. It assumed a rule of eligibility of WBC&T to participate in FP only with status of a third country, which provides them with limited access to funding schemes and coordination of projects and a negligible influence on the creation of the EU science policy.
The political position of WBC&T in research cooperation radically changed recently when the European Commission announced ‘FP7 Third Country Agreements’5 by which all the countries, except Kosovo, were assigned a status of associated countries to FP7 and WBC&T were made eligible for funding on the same footing as legal entities from member states. It complements European innovation policy which tries to assist less-developed countries by focusing on technological capabilities of specific regions, while participation in the ERA is gradually shifted away from any ‘territorialization’ of research (OECD 2011, 18). Nonetheless, having the same rights as member states could be a ‘mixed blessing’ for WBC&T. On the one hand, political criteria are finally removed and exchanged for scientific excellence, liberating WBC&T from scientific ghettos. On the other hand, participation of WBC&T on the same conditions could have a reverse influence on WBC&T’s participation in FPs.  ‘Third Country Agreements’ made a specially tailored program for scientific
and technological followers like WBC&T obsolete while low-level capacities for international R&D cooperation, and overall lagging behind in research and innovation still remains. In the case of WBC, it is well known that their R&D capacities have been greatly affected by the economic slowdown during transition processes to the market economy, war damage in some countries, long-term isolation from European scientific cooperation, brain drain and underinvestment in R&D. It is commonly perceived that the majority of WBC lost a critical mass for conducting R&D (Action Plan 2003; Linden et al. 2008). For example, GERD6 in the majority of WBC is far behind that of other European countries, and only Croatia, Turkey and Serbia could partly compete with EU in terms of research intensity. They invest about 0.85 per cent of GDP in R&D while investments of other countries are almost negligible, around 0.1 to 0.2 per cent of GDP.7

Despite the scientific and technological lagging of WBC&T, their inclusion in ERA is nowadays an imperative for them, not only because of the mere globalization of science and technology but primarily because of the current style of organization and governance of scientific activities in Europe. FP constitutes in itself a ‘research system’ of undisputable strategic importance for all EU member states and determines all the other countries in spatial or socio-economic proximity to take part in the system. EU’s decisions on research programs, institutions and funding dictate the dynamic and direction of research and technological trajectories of all countries in the region. In short, expansion of scale and scope of FP makes national scientific systems weak if they are not integrated into FP programs.

Although WBC&T have gained the opportunity to become peer partners in European research networks, there is a threat that various obstacles will seriously slow down or jeopardize this process. Therefore, the Expert Group Report of European Commission (EC. 2009) also suggests striking a balance between research policy and social cohesion policy. [...]

Jadranka Švarc, Jasminka Lažnjak & Juraj Perković (2012): Integration of the Western Balkan Countries and Turkey in the Framework Programmes: Some Empirical Evidence, Journal of European Integration.

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Entry created by Ines Marinkovic on June 21, 2012
Modified on June 21, 2012