Newsletter 2/2010 - Our South East Europe
Research and development cooperation opens multiple opportunities for South East Europe
Development of a Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation (RSRDI) for the Western Balkans (WB) is a project coordinated by the Regional Cooperation Council. Its goal is to develop a comprehensive regional research and development strategy with emphasis on identifying existing research capacities in the region and considering how networking and interconnections can be established and improved among Western Balkans researchers.
The countries of the region have devoted a significant effort to develop national research strategies and get integrated into the European Research Area in line with their European integration agendas.
According to Zoran Aralica from the Zagreb Institute of Economics, the importance of the RSRDI lies in the fact that it is a concrete initiative synchronised with the European Research Area (ERA).
“There are complementary elements clearly identified in both the RSRDI goals and the ERA vision. Additionally, exchange of competent researches will result in a better integration of the region within the ERA. This is impossible without strengthening of human capital, as envisaged in the RSRDI”, says Aralica.
There are many bottlenecks identified for Western Balkans in connection with research and development. They include low demand, disconnection of national systems from higher education and productive sectors, as well as low capacities, specifically in productive sectors, and insufficient financing.
With this in mind, the RCC will coordinate and facilitate contribution of experts from the region on the project. It will channel their work towards establishment of benchmarks for the research and innovation systems and cooperation at regional level, as well as explore possibilities to finance such regional initiatives, including from the business sector.
Ministers of the region committed to support the process of the regional research coordination in the Joint Statement of Ministerial Conference for the Western Balkans held in Sarajevo, on 24 April 2009.
“We cannot forget that this is an area which was affected by the wars of the 1990s. Such an initiative of the countries in the region proves that they wish to become an equal member of a system such as ERA”, stresses Aralica. He adds that this initiative represents “a quantum jump” in the mind of the politicians that reached such a decision.
Professor Djuro Kutlaca of the Faculty of Information Technology from Belgrade thinks that ministerial support only makes sense if researchers and scientist from South East Europe work together.
“The existing cooperation levels through Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and other projects supported and financed by the EU is good but the issues researched come from the needs and development level of the EU, through which only some issues of the countries from the region can be addressed”, Kutlaca explains.
“However, it is much more important to establish cooperation in the region as a result of common needs, efforts, ideas and desires of the people from the region.”
Kutlaca points to the role of scientist and researchers in SEE as a bond with what is called “economy and knowledge based society” in the developed world.
Since April 2009, all the Western Balkan countries are running a comprehensive regional joint research funding programme together with partners from the EU member states (SEE-ERA.NET PLUS), co-financed by the European Commission.
The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC-IPTS) has channelled assistance to candidate and potential candidate countries through targeted foresight and related activities.
“Currently, the IPTS is a partner within the FP7 project WBC.INCO-NET, which aims to identify research priorities in the Western Balkans region as well as ways to better engage researchers in Western Balkan Countries in Framework Programme projects addressing these priorities”, says Mark Boden of the IPTS Knowledge for Growth Unit.
Boden announces future focus on the innovation domain and defining joint actions to enhance the innovative capacity of the region. The forthcoming May 2011 International Seville Conference on Future-Oriented Technology Analysis (FTA) will have a focus on FTA and innovation.
The IPTS is also engaged in the construction and launch of a European foresight platform (www.foresightplatform.eu) that aims to link a database of thousands of sectoral, regional, national and transnational foresight exercises with the relevant methodological approaches.
“Within this project, the IPTS aims to develop a robust methodological approach and dissemination framework to provide foresight information and support to policy makers and practitioners”, Boden explains.
“Development of individual, organizational and institutional capacities is of utmost importance for strengthening still weak government structures and state legitimacy”, adds Mladen Dragasevic, Head of the RCC Secretariat’s Building Human Capital Unit.
“One of the main features of the RCC supported projects is significant involvement of experts from the region in their preparation and implementation. Through active approach and participation in drafting and implementation of specific regional projects, scientists, officials and independent experts from the countries of the region strengthen their own capacities and thus the capacities of their respective institutes and countries, which is one of the main tasks of the RCC Secretariat and its Building Human Capital Unit.”
Aralica points out that the RCC rightfully insists on a broader use of regional resources, researchers and human potential of public services of the countries in the region in conceptualisation and implementation of this important initiative.
“An important goal in a successful development of the regionally owned RSRDI was reached by the establishment of a Coordination Body for implementation of the RSRDI, comprised of representatives of the region’s ministries of science, scientific institutions, the European Commission, the World Bank and the RCC Secretariat.”
Kutlaca highlights the RCC role in stimulating research and development in the Western Balkans and a wider SEE region, because “every slow down in this field means falling back of the region”.
The project of the Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation is expected to be launched by the end of 2011 and finalized within two years, thus closely following the preparation of the European Research Strategy 2030, the launch of which is expected by summer 2010.