09 Jan 2008   |   News

Western Balkans: Objectives for strengthening research cooperation

Research actors within the Western Balkans face a number of challenges in gaining the full benefit of participation in EU research programmes.

Research actors within the Western Balkans face a number of challenges in gaining the full benefit of participation within EU research programmes and the European Research Area. To this end, a number of specific objectives have been proposed that should assist in a further strengthening of scientific research and innovation potential. These are:

Objective 1 Develop policy strategies to optimise the potential of science & technology cooperation
A key concern for the Western Balkan countries is how to achieve European standards in implementing the Lisbon strategy. National political strategies need to strengthen science and technology research potential and build a favourable environment for international cooperation. The proposed measures include:

  • Set up an integrated national R&D policy for each country involving the relevant national ministries, using as example the experience of existing EU member states. Here the “Steering Platform on Research” launched during the Austrian Presidency would play a key role.

  • Stress the importance of the EU Barcelona target in increasing R&D expenditure to 3 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product).

  • Strengthen the private sector through public policy measures such as awareness-raising, direct subsidies, loans, tax incentives and creation of a favourable legal framework for R&D investment and technology transfer.

  • Establish protection for IPRs (intellectual property rights), including affordable patent protection and cost-effective dispute resolution.

  • Build a regional innovation system that enables the various research actors (universities, industry, SMEs, capital markets, etc.) to cooperate effectively.

  • Consider national and regional foresight initiatives to provide a knowledge base for developing national policy strategies and priorities.

  • Aim to attract foreign investment in regional R&D activities, including establishing a stable legal environment for foreign business entities.

Objective 2 Foster institutional reforms, institution building and science & technology infrastructure development

Improve the capacities of higher education and other scientific institutes in order to strengthen the performance and attractiveness of R&D activities and to fulfil economic and social needs more effectively. Proposed measures include:

  • Evaluate and benchmark existing institutions on a regular basis, using a common and standard methodology.

  • Consider establishing one or two specialist regional centres of excellence in areas where the Western Balkan countries have a strong interest.

  • Map areas of excellence in the region to define common areas and guage the potential of the region’s best research centres.

  • Investigate the potential for creating new agencies able to foster contacts with international institutions and attract direct foreign investment.

  • Foster the ability to generate statistics in science & technology and innovation indicators within the national statistical institutes.

  • Use the Pre-Accession Assistance Instruments (IPAs) more efficiently to help national science & technology institutions attain EU standards.

  • Update and improve existing science & technology facilities, including specialised equipment, libraries, databases and laboratory equipment, in order to optimise their R&D capacity.

  • Develop scenarios which provide the local scientific community with access to European and international science & technology infrastructures.

  • Link as a priority to European high-speed data infrastructures such as GÉANT and include access to scientific electronic journals and databases.

Objective 3 Improve human capacity building and international mobility

Prioritise the building of human potential by creating attractive career opportunities and boosting international mobility for researchers, in order to sustain national academic infrastructures and motivate expatriate researchers to return. Proposed measures include:

  • Enable Western Balkan scientists to move freely both within the region and internationally, in particular within the European Research Area, by simplifying visa regimes and building “researcher packages”.

  • Build a stimulating environment for visiting international scientists and encourage international mobility by putting together an inventory of PhD courses in English.
  • Extend the European network of mobility centres (ERA-MORE) into the region.

  • Raise awareness within universities and research institutions about the European Charter for Researchers and the Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.

  • Develop specific training measures for Western Balkans science managers by establishing national academies on science management and complementary visiting programmes within EU member states.

  • Set up training programmes for the staff of National Contact Points (NCPs) for European programmes.

  • Raise awareness on specific days of action such as European Researchers Night.

  • Boost the career potential for women in science and technology research, particularly in managerial positions, and implement equal opportunities measures.

Objective 4 Foster innovation potential through improved academia/industry cooperation

Build understanding and trust between academia and industry in the region, to motivate the private sector to increase investment in cooperative R&D and to increase support for SMEs. Proposed measures include:

  • Encourage exchange of personnel between academia and innovative companies in the private sector by building specific national programmes.

  • Create the economic conditions that encourage scientists to build their own innovative businesses and develop entrepreneurial abilities.

  • Develop “cluster policies” that help bridge the gap between business, research and resources, thereby improving knowledge transfer and bringing innovation to the market faster.

  • Help Western Balkan research stakeholders to become acquainted with new EU financial instruments that aim to boost research and innovation, e.g. European Technology Platforms (ETPs), Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs), etc.

Objective 5 Use the full potential of the EU Framework programmes to promote integration into the European Research Area

Harness the potential of existing EU instruments for funding European research and development, to help develop science and technology research capacities in the region. Proposed measures include:

  • Help to create national priorities to exploit more fully the funding opportunities available within the Pre-accession Assistance Instruments (IPAs) for the region. Possibilities include improvement of regional innovation structures, building the human talent pool, and support for the cost of participation in European programmes.

  • Raise awareness of the potential of SICAs (Specific International Cooperation Actions) to define research topics of common interest and to provide active support for international partnerships via local institutions.

  • Ensure a high level of response to calls for proposals in FP7 research areas, and a high level of participation in successful projects.

  • Develop additional bilateral or multilateral funding schemes, with coordinated research calls, among both EU and Western Balkans member states. The ERA-NET or ERA-NET Plus schemes may offer opportunities here.

  • Help joint peer review of project proposals become established as a method of evaluating and benchmarking scientific performance in the region.

Objective 6 Establish new mechanisms to allow Western Balkans institutions to link to established European consortia

Specific assistance should be offered to help new research partners in the region link to and associate with ongoing EU science, technology and innovation research projects, in order to facilitate integration of science and technology institutions and innovative companies in the region with the EU research community. Particular attention should be paid to consortia funded under the EU Framework research programmes, EUREKA and COST.

Regional cooperation programme with South-East Europe

In an attempt to bring concrete reality to the proposals outlined above, the partners in the Southeast European Era-Net (SEE-ERA.NET) project propose to launch a Regional Cooperation programme with South-East Europe (ReP-SEE). The aim is to  strengthen strategic reform processes for R&D in the Western Balkans region, and to boost integration with EU and other international research activities.

The proposed ReP-SEE programme would have four pillars:

  1. A Joint Call for European research projects.

  2. Accompanying measures to facilitate joint research.

  3. A Young Scientist programme to foster the individual mobility of young scientists (both male and female) between the various West Balkan countries.

  4. An Innovation Programme to link SMEs, technology centres and other innovation facilities in the region to existing thematic innovation networks/clusters within the EU.

An ERA-NET Plus proposal covering the project is being prepared for submission to the European Commission by February 2008. If successful, the core programme is fplanned to start in autumn 2008, with the first call for project proposals issued in spring 2009.

A new central administrative body would be set up to run the programme, managing the call proposals, contractual matters and financial administration. The exact make-up of the new body is yet to be decided – the final decision will on the level of funding available.

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