Widening newsletter 30: ‘Hidden gem’ Bulgaria can be regional leader, says innovation minister

21 Mar 2024 |

This week in Brussels is the European Commission’s annual research and innovation event, and among the many panels is one dedicated to uncovering excellence in Bulgaria and Romania. These two countries are in our scope in today’s newsletter. We speak to Bulgaria’s innovation minister about the country’s untapped potential, while in Romania a legal loophole is allowing university rectors to remain in post beyond the two four-year terms set out in the higher education law. Elsewhere, we speak to academics in the western Balkans about why they should have a bigger voice in European research policy.

Latest news

BULGARIA AIMS BIG: Bulgaria “absolutely” can be an innovation leader in Europe, the country’s minister for innovation and growth tells Science|Business. First, Milena Stoycheva wants to position the country as a regional hub for high tech start-up activity and she is confident Bulgaria is up to the task.  “We have lived through change and a lot of transitions, and this means we are much less risk averse than some of the more established economies,” she said. Can Bulgaria pull off this transformation? Read our article here.

ROMANIA’S STUBBORN RECTORS: It is university rector election season in Romania, but new faces are hard to find. Out of 38 universities, only six elected a new rector. While in theory rectors are limited to two terms, many have wriggled through a legal loophole to stay in post for a third or even a fourth mandate. This practice has been raising concerns at the European Parliament and among some higher education leaders in Romania. Mădălina Cocea investigates.

EU CANDIDATES WANT FP10 INPUT: Academics from EU candidate countries in the western Balkans want to have more say on how the EU’s next research framework programme, FP10, is shaped. Some of these countries could end up joining the bloc during the FP10 lifecycle, which will run between 2028 and 2035. “If we are paying tickets for the participation, I think we should have a say as well,” says one academic from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Read our story here.

HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY? We welcome opinion pieces and other contributions on R&I policy in central and eastern Europe. Send yours to [email protected].

In other news

IVANOVA IN BUCHAREST: EU research commissioner Iliana Ivanova travelled to Romania’s capital Bucharest earlier this month to attend an event dedicated to making the most of Horizon Europe’s Widening measures. While acknowledging the progress Romania has made in growing its research and innovation ecosystem, she also said that challenges remain, such as low public and private investment and fragmentation between research actors. Romania’s participation in Horizon Europe remains low because, like Ivanova’s native Bulgaria, the country is still “a little bit shy”. The commissioner also called for Horizon Europe and its successor programme, FP10, to be made simpler. “From day one I have been a very strong proponent of simplification, making our programmes more accessible and easier to understand, especially for the small and medium [sized] beneficiaries, for the newcomers that face that for the first time,” she said. 

SIMPLE BUT VARIED?: While Ivanova is calling for simplification, a leading voice on research in the European Parliament, MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho, is fighting to maintain the “multiplicity of instruments” available in FP10. “We would not like to have a streamlined FP10,” she said during a debate on Horizon Europe’s successor as part of the opening to the Commission’s research and innovation days event on Monday. She also described the Widening measures as “so important” and said they should be increased. You can listen to her comments at this link

BULGARIA AND ROMANIA STAR AT R&I DAYS: Romania and Bulgaria have their own discussion panel at the Commission’s research and innovation event this week in Brussels. In attendance will be both countries’ innovation ministers, including Milena Stoycheva who spoke to Science|Business this week, and Signe Ratso, deputy director at the European Commission. Find out more here

ESTONIA INCENTIVISES R&D STAFF HIRES: Estonian companies can now apply for state support to cover up to 25% of the income tax due on the wages of staff hired for research and development roles. The move comes in a bid to boost private investment in research by taking away some of the financial burden from companies. Find out more here

HUNGARY’S 0% LOAN SCHEME: The Hungarian government will offer SMEs located outside Budapest 0% interest loans beginning this April to support purchases of new equipment, machines, technologies or training and consulting services. An initial budget of HUF 130 billion (€329 million) has been set. The scheme is part of government efforts to kick start Hungary's economic growth to reach 4%. It is currently around 2.4%. 

TRAVEL GRANTS: Did you know? The NCP_WIDERA.NET project has a travel grant scheme to help cover the travel costs of applicants from Widening countries going to Horizon Europe pillar II brokerage events. Applicants can receive up to €1,000 to cover the costs of accommodation and travel. Find out more here

Mark your calendars 

WARSAW, 26-27 MARCH: The Central European BioForum has for over 20 years been a chance to support the development of Poland’s biotech and pharmaceutical sector and acts as a meeting place for academic partners, businesses and international collaborators. Find out more here

KRAKOW, 15 - 16 APRIL: The Cancer Drug Development Forum is hosting a workshop on clinical research in central and eastern Europe. It will focus on the clinical trials market in the region and how the conflict in Ukraine is playing a role in shaping it. Find out more here

BRUSSELS, 18 APRIL: The Brussels-based research and innovation support offices of the Visegrad Four countries, Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, will host a conference on research infrastructures in the region. Discussions will touch on the establishment of new infrastructures and the sustainability of current ones, as well as their future under FP10. Find out more here.

KAUNAS, 21 - 23 MAY: The 20th International Conference of Young Scientists on Energy and Natural Sciences Issues, organised by the Lithuanian Energy Institute and Lithuanian Research Centre for Agriculture and Forestry, takes place in May this year. The goal is to discuss issues and perspectives on natural sciences and the energy sector on a global scale. Registration is open until 9 February.

The Widening newsletter is a roundup of news and analysis of research and innovation policy and investments in central and eastern Europe, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here.

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