- In focus

GROWTH OF SOUTH EAST EUROPE VIA INNOVATIVE ECONOMIES, by Vlastimir Matejic, President of European Movement, Serbia

Competitiveness of economies of South East Europe (SEE), with few exceptions, is alarmingly low. I intentionally denote this as “a black hole of non-competitiveness or near to it”. This generates problems such as high unemployment, low salaries, brain drain, hesitation to invest etc. Thus, there are great challenges faced by economies, societies and governments in SEE region. What can be the response to such challenges? In the long run, I see development of innovative economic structure as the most promising. In order for such a structure to secure sustainable growth, competitiveness and employment of educated labour, it should be tightly coupled and productively interactive with research and education sectors. Now, the question: is it possible to develop such a structure in SEE countries? Yes, but not easily since there are some constraints on this track. One of them is the lack of appropriate research and innovation resources. I am going to address it here and make suggestions how to by-pass it.

In short, gross national expenses on Research, Development and Innovation (R&D&I) in most of SEE countries are far below 0.4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), all from government budget, i.e. nothing from business sector. Furthermore, R&D&I resources are organizationally fragmented, unsuitably allocated and without critical mass for innovation even at the group of products level. In the lack of appropriate idea for economic structure development and, consequently, for research and innovation activities, there is no proper direction of education, particularly the higher one.

For rather smaller economies as are those of SEE countries the best way out of such a situation is cooperation. Where? In economy, in education, in trade and, this is my point, particularly in research and innovation. I am going to give some rationale for this.

Firstly, the easiest way to construct critical mass is to organize its scattered parts around sound goals. Let me illustrate this. In order to be fruitful, research and innovation activities, in only one part of industry, or group of products, in terms of expenses would need at least 100 million euro a year. This sum is far beyond the current and future R&D&I funds of any Western Balkan country. Let me underline that even higher financial support is necessary for research and innovation in pharmaceutical industry, new bio and nano technologies, food industry, some information and communication technology (ICT), etc. Aside from financial constraints, in any of the SEE countries there are not enough R&D&I personnel to spend 300 million or more euro a year so as to produce corresponding research and innovation results. In such a situation, a promising way to reach critical mass of financial, human, capital and organizational resources for research and innovation is through bilateral or multilateral international (regional, European Union (EU) or even global) R&D&I cooperation in smartly selected economic sectors, group of products, technologies, etc.

Secondly, there is encouraging evidence, coming mostly from pre-competitive and fundamental research, that cooperation of similar parts of R&D&I systems, produces effects such as (a) ability to reach ambitious goals by achieving critical mass, (b) synergy and (c) very creative structure, producing new, emerging proprieties of the organized whole via cooperation complemented with the competition of its self-organizing parts.

Thirdly, is such cooperation possible in Western Balkan countries? Yes, particularly in those promising areas. One of them is research and innovation. Historically, cooperation in science has always been the starting one in post conflict situations. This heritage should be put to work to open cooperation in higher education, business, trade, etc.

Finally, theory of cooperation suggests that once started cooperation has evolutionary mechanisms to be sustained. With this in mind, the fact that competitiveness and growth of SEE via innovative economy is a long journey calls for cooperation in research and innovation to start right now.             

Vlastimir Matejic is President of European Movement in Serbia and President of non-governmental organization (NGO) Technology and Society. Some of earlier held Matjic’s positions include: Chairman and CEO of “Mihajlo Pupin” Institute; Federal Minister for Science, Technology and Development; Executive Vice-President for Strategic Planning and Development at ICN Pharmaceuticals. He has taught at University of Belgrade as well as at many universities of the former country, mostly on graduate studies. Matejic currently teaches at the UN University for Peace and coordinates work on strategy of education system of Serbia, 2011-2020. Professor Matejic did most of his research in operations research, large scale organizational systems sciences and strategy development.


Vlastimir Matejic, President of European Movement, Serbia (Photo: http://big.co.rs/)

Vlastimir Matejic, President of European Movement, Serbia (Photo: http://big.co.rs/)