Danube region strategy yielding gains in research, seeking science support

The European Union’s strategy for development of the Danube region has had a promising start, including spearheading several scientific and research initiatives, but more has to be done to ensure further progress and funding, according to a report.

The progress report published in April was followed by the launch, last month in Bratislava, of six new scientific clusters to support economic development in the region, with the aim of providing scientific evidence to support the Danube strategy. The clusters will also serve to foster scientific cooperation across the region.

“The EU Strategy for the Danube Region aims to boost growth and jobs in the area through better policymaking and funding,” said Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission, in a press release. “Science can really help by providing evidence-based data to policymakers, helping them to make informed decisions for a region that boasts enormous geopolitical and economic diversity.”

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said in a press release: “This is an excellent example of transnational science and policy cooperation, setting a benchmark for the EU and beyond. These clusters can boost scientific and economic performance in the region.”

The clusters will bring together the scientific community from the 14 Danube countries to foster cooperation among scientists, and also between scientists and policymakers, and to encourage better uptake of scientific results in policymaking.

The Strategy was launched in 2011 after a 2009 request by EU governments. The countries involved are Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Ukraine and Moldova.

Among other suggestions, the progress report recommends that the governments involved in the regional strategy should draw on the EU’s funds, such as Horizon 2020, and that their ministers should take up the Danube strategy aims.

One of the new initiatives, agreed by research ministers from the region in July 2012, is to create a new Danube Region Research and Innovation Fund, which would pool national and regional funds.

“We know that fresh cash invested into competitive research is a prerequisite for new and ambitious projects,” says Peter Mayr, independent science policy consultant on Eastern Europe. “However, there is no statistically significant relationship between spending on R&D and performance. In other words, investing in research does not necessarily mean automatic success, excellence or economic growth. So, yes, the Danube Region Research and Innovation Fund is a good thing but we need to carefully look into the details of how it will be administered, what kind of projects will be funded and how it will be further developed. At the end of the day, this programme will have to join forces with international donors and EU funding programmes to help successful scientific diaspora and their families re-integrate back home in South-East Europe.”

Mićo Tatalović

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