POLICY ANSWERS project is covered in the media: Research in the Western Balkans moves closer to the EU

The Austrian journalist Alois Pumhösel covered our project based on interviews with project partners in an article originally published in German at Der Standard on 10.9.2022.

Economies such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Northern Macedonia are working to integrate into the European Union's research landscape

Some are leaving, others are arriving. The UK may have slammed the door behind it with its exit from the EU, which has also led to distortions in joint research projects. But there are also a number of economies waiting outside this door that will enrich the Union's research landscape with their imminent accession to the EU. We are talking about the Western Balkans six: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia and Kosovo*. The accession process is at different stages of progress. While Montenegro, for example, has been a candidate country since 2012, Kosovo* - which is not yet recognized by all EU states - has not yet been able to submit an official application for membership.

Efforts have long been underway to bring the economies closer to the legal and administrative practices of the EU, including in the area of research. Here, a new EU project, POLICY ANSWERS, was launched this year, in which 14 partners in the EU and the Western Balkans are cooperating to promote networking, policy dialogue, strategy development and agenda setting for the research ecosystems of the six WB. The project is led by the Vienna Center for Social Innovation (ZSI), and the Austrian funding agency FFG is a partner in the project.

Cooperation at eye level

"POLICY ANSWERS builds on a number of previous projects," explains project leader Elke Dall from ZSI. "Representatives of institutions from the Western Balkans and EU such as Germany, Austria, Italy or Croatia meet at eye level to find out how to cooperate better. For example, we organize meetings of ministers and officials, help build infrastructures or personnel capacities, and organize monitoring that measures the degree of integration into the EU research landscape."

One project partner is the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Andjela Pepić, who is responsible for technology transfer, is also working on POLICY ANSWERS. "Projects of this kind help us design tailored development programs - not only in research, but also in management and administration," says Pepić. This is especially necessary in areas where research does not participate in projects of the EU research framework programs - currently Horizon Europe, she says. After all, a lot has already been achieved in the last 15 years through access to these EU projects.

Action patchwork

While there were only individual project participations at the EU level back then, her university now has a success rate of 13 to 14 percent of submissions, Pepić emphasizes - a figure that is already close to the EU-wide average of about 16 percent. The research manager points to an increase in patents arising from university research and an increased return of researchers from abroad. Entrepreneurial thinking, for example, is encouraged by an online platform where students can try out their business ideas and develop them in a fun way, she said. "It's a real patchwork of measures that make the research landscape more attractive," Pepić sums up.

Integration into the EU research landscape has progressed to very different degrees in the Western Balkans. Northern Macedonia, which has been conducting EU accession negotiations since 2020, has had a modern research funding agency, the Fund for Innovation and Technology Development (FITD), since 2014, for example. POLICY ANSWERS partner Katarina Krečeva heads the program development department here. The institution originally started with two funding tracks aimed at start-ups and the commercialization of innovations. The offering has been gradually expanded since then. But Krečeva and her team also soon realized that they needed to start even earlier to better promote awareness of the relevance of innovation in society.

"We saw that the education system was not providing the skills to commercialize innovative ideas," Krečeva explains. "So we designed a program that encourages experimental learning and a career in research while still in school." The young researchers' projects have already produced, for example, novel signal vests for road traffic or solar-powered boats.

Regional exchange

Making innovation infrastructures such as fab labs with 3D printers and other technological tools accessible to schoolchildren, students and companies became an important point of the funding work. The companies supported in the programs increased sharply over the years, with 500 applications now coming in per call, and a total of 800 companies already receiving funding.

"However, we see not only the progress, but also where we still need to learn as a research ecosystem," emphasizes Krečeva, who is also working on greater regional exchange in the Western Balkans as part of POLICY ANSWERS. For Northern Macedonia, too, the better the research environment is designed, the sooner the brain drain of talent abroad can be stopped.

Geographical focus
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Republic of North Macedonia
  • Western Balkans
Scientifc field / Thematic focus
  • General

Entry created by Admin WBC-RTI.info on September 12, 2022
Modified on September 15, 2022