On 6 October 2021, at the EU-Western Balkans Brdo Summit, the leaders of the European Union and its Member States, together with Western Balkans leaders launched the „Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport “. This document has the aim to promote scientific excellence as well as reform of the region’s education systems, create further opportunities for the youth, and help prevent brain drain.

With this, they jointly commit to a strategy that will stimulate cooperation with the Western Balkans, creating new opportunities for students, researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs to boost their skills and to access new markets. Through increased investments, it will also support sustainable socio-economic development in the region, raise its competitiveness and help make societies greener, healthier, and more digital.

The Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sports

This agenda outlines a comprehensive, long-term strategy for cooperation with the Western Balkans. Contribution to the region’s economic and societal development will come through increased investments and actions that agenda propose.

According to Mariya Gabriel, EU Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, EU cooperation with the Western Balkans offers unparalleled opportunities. 

„The Agenda for the Western Balkans will open these opportunities to students, researchers, innovators, and cultural operators so that they access new markets, become more competitive, and build sustainable prosperity. It’s a positive and forward-looking vision for all,“ said Gabriel.

The EU supports stronger cooperation between the Western Balkans’ stakeholders and EU countries to successfully implement the deliverables of the agenda. The agenda and its action plan are built on 3 main pillars: Political, Thematic, and Regional.

European Union Investments in Western Balkans Research and Innovation

The origins of coordinated effort to develop a regional research and development strategy for innovation was found by the Joint Statement of Sarajevo, from 2009, signed by the ministers from the Western Balkans responsible for science and research, the European Union commissioner for science and research, and the Czech Republic Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The strategy launched then aims to strengthen the region’s research capacity, enhance intraregional cooperation, promote collaboration with business sectors, explore possibilities for financing Research and Innovation from EU funding schemes and other external sources. Additionally, to help integrate the region into the European research area (ERA) and innovation union.

Since then, foreign direct investments, especially in the areas of digital infrastructure, products, and services, predominantly came from EU and European companies. The overall size of these investments in Research & Innovation has increased in the region. At the same time, local SMEs have entered international business relations and got involved in higher international value chains. 

Economic modernization and public sector innovation of Western Balkans countries are supported by EU institutions as well as by the European Investment Bank. Modernization is the most efficient in some economic sectors such as energy, ICT, agri-food, healthcare, etc. Innovations and early adoptive research solutions made the startup scene prospering in the Western Balkans region.

Horizon Europe in Western Balkans

Regulation EU 2021/695 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 April 2021 established Horizon Europe. This is a Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, which rules for participation and dissemination and repealing are underline by Regulations (EU) No 1290/2013 and (EU) No 1291/2013 (OJ 12.5.2021 L 170/1).

Through the Horizon Europe Programme European Union and European Commission support collaborative projects all across the Western Balkans, giving support for Research and Innovation policymaking in the region, the implementation of inclusive gender equality plans, and providing European Partnership on innovative SMEs from the Western Balkans.

Horizon Europe supports projects that encourage reforms in areas such as rule of law, education, and social policy. Demand from the EU as well as from civil society on green investments has grown because of its effects on the local environment and ecosystem. Climate change, air pollution, and resource exploitation impact all economic sectors of Western Balkans countries equally.

That’s why European Horizon projects subside transformative reforms regarding climate mitigation and the transformation towards a green economy. For the same reason agri-food, circular economy, renewable energies, wastewater/recycling industries, and similar projects are in the focus since they are capable to adapt to market challenges and use the most of market opportunities. 

The future development of Research and Innovation within Horizon Europe 

Opportunity-driven sectors such as renewable energies or innovative and digital industries are technologically proficient and, are early adopters to serve the needs of the local and regional market. There is a high demand for more sustainable products in the Western Balkans region, which increased investments in the development of green technology and sustainable projects.

Support for Research and Innovation policymaking in the Western Balkans will facilitate the implementation of the Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, and Youth. Additionally, it will link with EU partners and EU networks to improve research and innovation management capacities in the Western Balkans.

This way Horizon Europe gives support to national policy reforms, advancing the further integration of the region into the European Research Area, and strengthening human capital development, research, and innovation capacity-building measures, the national research, and innovation systems, and evidence-based policymaking.

Horizon Europe aims to foster innovative SMEs in the region by increasing the competitiveness of the private sector, and the development of a connected, competitive, knowledge-based economy in the region. The goal of Horizon Europe is a full association of all Western Balkans economies to the Programme, and accessibility to projects and fundings such as Twinning and Policy Support, with a budget of 21+5 M€.

Local SMEs in Horizon Programme – expertise as a human capital

Human capital is recognised as one of the key areas that determine the success of the implementation of scientific research, besides knowledge transfer between science and the private sector and infrastructure, such as centers of excellence, etc. The development of human capital should support Serbia in the creation of lifelong learning systems and an innovative environment, where an important role has successful local SMEs in the Horizon Programme.

InoSens is actively engaged in the pan-European Horizon 2020 Programme for years as a partner in business development, communication, and dissemination. With its expertise, this SME supports local research and innovations, implementing precision agriculture technology and sustainable agricultural business models. Besides the improvement of Serbian business development, it gives contribution to European projects of research and innovations.

With its expertise obtained in international projects such as Horizon 2020 or industrial projects, InoSens enables projects and businesses to implement innovations and technologies in their business models. The support is in maximizing impacts in various fields, building capacities, and providing business mentoring, training, and support, providing consultancy, IT, Sensing, and Monitoring Solutions for Agriculture, Environment, Forestry, and Water Management.

Sharing the same goals with Horizon Europe, as the most successful Serbian SME in Horizon program, we aim to ensure effective and operational synergies with other future EU programs, and to the uptake of research and innovation results at the national and regional level. Follow us for fresh insights in Research and Innovation, and contact us if you need a trusted partner and support.