Newsletter 12/2011 - Our South East Europe
SMART growth requires boosting research, development and innovation
Competitiveness of products and services guarantees sustainable growth of an economy through attraction of new investments, creation of jobs, etc. In modern economies, competitiveness is defined by investments in research, innovation and development of human capital. SMART growth represents exactly that – strengthening of knowledge and innovation as drivers of future economies.
Building human capital through development of education, science, culture and research not only increases chances for obtaining long-term competitiveness and growth but is also crucial for successful European integration. It involves utilisation of information and communication technologies and ensuring that innovations can be turned into concrete, competitive products.
“The development of human capital is a challenge and a priority for the Western Balkans on their path towards European Union (EU) accession”, says Mladen Dragasevic, Head of Building Human Capital and Cross Cutting Issues Unit of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Secretariat. “Regional research cooperation is an integral part of this effort.”
“This is why the RCC Secretariat has set facilitation and support for development of a Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation for the Western Balkans as one of its working priorities for the period 2011-2013.”
The overall objective is to strengthen the innovative capacity of the Western Balkans by stimulating Research and Development, using the regional potential, adds Dragasevic.
Speaking about the current situation in the Western Balkan (WB) countries in this field, Djuro Kutlaca, Head of Science and Technology Policy Research Centre at Mihajlo Pupin Institute in Serbia, explains that WB countries are mostly observers of global developments in the area of science, technology and innovation development.
“Europe 2020 is not just a strategy of an environment of which we, in the Balkans, want to become an integral part. That is a thinking process of where we want to be in the future by using knowledge and skills with minimum exhaustion of natural resources.”
According to Kutlaca, SMART growth is a very good choice of EU in many ways. SMART treats advanced science and technology as well as the most efficient and effective innovation as an imperative of development in the common European area.
Elke Dall, Project coordinator at the Centre for Social Innovation, Research Policy and Development in Austria, is of an opinion that it is not a coincidence that innovation leaders are the biggest investors in research and development (R&D).
“Research and innovation indeed help countries to emerge stronger from economic crisis. The Europe 2020 strategy highlights the importance of the knowledge economy and innovation.”
Regional Strategy for Research and Development for Innovation represents a timely response of the Western Balkans, says Kutlaca.
“Mobilising human resources and potentials to identify common WB priorities and development needs could be addressed jointly with partners from EU through the use of regional scientific, technological and innovation capacities.“
Dall adds that the region has already received support from the European Union in the Framework Programme as well as through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) in order to strengthen its research capacities that were further supported by strong national efforts in strategic and legislative aspects of the process.
“In particular as regards the regional cooperation, the Steering Platform on Research for the Western Balkans, as well as projects such as SEE-ERA.NET PLUS and WBC-INCO.NET, highlight and support the regional aspect within the framework of cooperation on science, technological development and innovation (STI) through information exchange, joint research funding and specific activities to integrate the region in the European Research Area. The same is done in general terms by RCC and the Task Force Building and Fostering Human Capital.”
Kutlaca points out to participation of scientists, researchers and innovators from WB in EU projects and programmes as an indicator of progress, adding that the implementation of the results should become a mandatory aspects of their involvement.
“The Regional strategy should generate mechanisms and instruments for efficient implementation of knowledge for the benefit of economic growth in the Western Balkans. Poor statistics indicates small development capacities in WB. Joint efforts and integration could create a critical mass necessary for realisation of ambitious development and innovation projects.”
The next steps will involve exploring synergies with the Danube Strategy, ensuring sustainability of efforts to create a Regional Programme for South East Europe (ReP-SEE), to jointly fund research and innovation and to further support researchers in the region to find and improve their position in the European Research Area, says Dall.
“The proposed Regional Strategy offers methodological, organisational and financial requirements for motivation of development and innovation capacities in the Western Balkans. It is up to us to prove if we are SMART enough to make use of the opportunity”, concludes Kutlaca.
 The Southeast European Era-Net SEE-ERA.NET is a coordination project aimed at integrating EU member states and South East European countries in the European Research Area by means of a joint call and joint funding for 23 selected research projects involving 97 funded partners.
 WBC-INCO.NET – Western Balkan Countries INCO.NET is a project that supports bi-regional dialogue on Science, Technology, & Innovation (STI). It also implements a web-portal www.wbc-inco.net, which acts as a source of high quality targeted information on research in the Western Balkan countries.