Western Balkan countries still lag far behind EU countries when it comes to funding science and producing high-quality research and innovations. This is not changing despite these countries’ aspirations and expectations, as well as the publication of many strategic documents to align their policies with the Europe 2020 strategy. In the first of a two-parts series on Balkan’s science under pressure, the Euroscientist explores the Balkan R&D scene.
On 1st of July Croatia will become the second ever former-Yugoslav state to enter the EU since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1990. Many scientists see the EU’s orderly research system as a panacea for Croatia’s ailing one. The entry offers “exciting new opportunities” such as stronger integration into the European Research Area (ERA), according to Croatia’ science ministry.
In December last year, Montenegro came a step closer to joining the EU by concluding the first accession negotiating chapter – the one on science and research. Its science minister, Sanja Vlahović, is proud of that achievement. Her ministry, only formed in 2010, allowed the country to strengthen its institutional framework for better placement of Montenegro within the ERA as one of the priorities for the country’s science.
Serbia’s scientists, too, see themselves at the forefront of their country’s integration with Europe, proud of their participation in the likes of CERN.
And even Kosovo, the newest of the Western Balkan states – still unrecognised by Serbia, from which it claimed independence in 2008 – is counting on EU help with its science. “Kosovo is at the very beginning of the process of integration in European research processes,” says Murteza Osdautaj, Director of Kosovo’s Department for Science and Technology, in Priština, Kosovo. “Because of that, help from EU and other donors is necessary for us. This help must be especially concentrated in fulfilling the goals of the National Science Program, in developing human resources and establishing and empowering the governmental bodies and research institutions of Kosovo,” he adds.
Meager R&D support
There are many good intentions towards further developing research activities throughout the region. However, these intentions have not translated into concrete high level support. The trouble is that all Western Balkan countries lag far behind the 3% target of R&D investment. They find little success when applying for competitive EU funds which prioritises excellence.
Looking at the numbers, EU countries’ average science funding as percentage of GDP is 2%, with a target of 3% to be reached by 2020. By contrast, Croatia invests some 0.75% of GDP in science – though this has stagnated in real terms for the past 6 years; Montenegro increased investment from 0.13% in 2010 to around 0.41% in 2012; Serbia invests around 0.77%; Macedonia around 0.19%; and in Bosnia and Herzegovina statistics are so bad investment cannot even be measured, but estimates put it at only 0.07% of GDP.
What’s more, Kosovo’s new science law, adopted in March, mandates the government to put 0.7% of its budget towards science. “The old law didn’t determine the precise amount that our state must dedicate to research and development,” says Kosovo’s Osdautaj. “Until 2010 there was no budget for research at all.”
And all these countries lag far behind Slovenia, which led the state exodus from Yugoslavia, leaving in 1991 almost unscathed by the war that ensued. It entered the EU in 2004. Slovenia invests 2.47% of GDP in science and also puts the other Western Balkan countries to shame when it comes to innovation capacity and number of patents filed.
In 2012, Slovenian scientists were awarded 117 EU-funded research projects worth over 44 million Euros, according to statistics compiled by the European Research Ranking website. By comparison, scientists from similarly sized Macedonia were awarded ten projects worth around 1.6 million Euros. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina were each awarded three projects worth well under a million Euros.
Each Balkan country is facing many individual challenges in science. Yet the key underlying challenges seem to be shared, and stem from their socialist past, followed by years of war and neglect and international isolation of the science sector. Find out more about possible solutions to help Balkan science be firmly placed on the EU map, in the second part of this series on Balkan science here.
Featured image credit: gifex.com