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CSF 2023: Western Balkans should increase investment in research and innovation up to 2% of GDP by 2030

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The Civil Society and Think Tank Forum (CSF), as a part of the Berlin Process, is scheduled for 14 and 15 October in Tirana. The forum is structured around seven thematic working groups, each led by civil society organizations from the region. These working groups have actively engaged in a comprehensive consultation process, involving civil society and regional experts, to collaboratively formulate policy recommendations.

Thematic Working Group on Mobility and Migration is one of the seven working groups of the Civil Society Forum 2023 in Tirana. According to the announcement of the CSF, the group will discuss solutions for how the region can retain its human capital through support for its competitiveness, enhancing its innovation potential, and knowledge transfer.

Blerjana Bino, Executive Director of Science & Innovation for Development (SCiDEV), lead organization of this working group, says for European Western Balkans that the key current efforts are promoting mobility in education and research between the region and the EU. While strides are being made in enhancing collaborative research and innovation, there’s ample room for improvement and further integration, she stresses.

“Notable steps include the signing of agreements to recognize higher education and professional qualifications in certain fields across countries. Furthermore, while the participation of Western Balkan researchers in EU programs is on the rise, it still remains modest and selective. There is a noted low participation in programs like the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and only a handful have been awarded European Research Council grants”, Bino says.

However, she adds, participation in the European Cooperation in Science and Technology program and European Innovation and Technology has seen a positive uptick, signifying progressive, albeit slow, integration in shared scientific and innovative endeavors.

According to Bino, the policy paper of the working group underscores several pivotal barriers hindering mobility-driven research and innovation in the Western Balkans. Low funding and low capacities for science, research, and innovation, complex legislation, insufficient communication, and inconsistency in implementing measures are some of them.

“A significant deficiency in funding and political support is evident, with budgetary allocations for research and development startlingly low, oscillating between 0.25% in Albania and 0.9% in Serbia, negatively impacting the competitiveness and integration of Western Balkans research institutions at a European scale”, she says.

One of the recommendations of the working group is for the regional governments to commit to increasing the percentage of investment in research and innovation up to 2% of GDP by 2030.

The working group also recommends a comprehensive intra-regional mobility framework agreement, dedicated and customized funding schemes for research and innovation, and mobility-driven knowledge transfers and scientific cooperation within Western Balkans and with the EU.

Both the EU and the regional governments are urged to support and co-finance the establishment of a Western Balkans Research Fund, thus addressing the current shortcomings of the Widening Participation and Horizon Europe programmes and levelling up the capacities for science, research, and innovation of the region.

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