EC finds mixed progress, and some setbacks, in research in South-East Europe

Research and development systems in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey were among the issues put under the spotlight in a series of reports on states’ preparedness of those nations for EU membership, published by European Commission last week (10 October).

The EC adopted its ‘Enlargement package’ – a set of documents explaining its policy on EU enlargement and reporting on progress achieved over the past year in each candidate or potential candidate country.

The reports encompass countries in various stages of socio-political development, from Croatia, which is scheduled to become the EU’s 28th member in July 2013, to Kosovo, which has yet to be officially recognised as an independent country following its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.

Several countries have made progress in supporting their researchers in applying for the EU’s Framework Programme 7 (FP7) grants, namely BIH, Croatia and Montenegro, but success rates in getting those grants remain low. Croatia and Serbia should increase the participation of small and medium enterprises in these grants, and do more to tap into Marie Curie fellowships and European Research Council grants.

All countries could use EU programmes more fully than they currently do.

Croatia and Macedonia should do more to prepare for Horizon 2020, the next framework programme for 2014-2020.

Research funding ranges from Albania’s 0.04% of GDP to Turkey’s 0.84%, and the trend in some countries, like Macedonia, is downwards, from 0.3% of GDP in 2001 to 0.19% of GDP in 2010, with further decreases since. Turkey’s funding also went down slightly from 0.85% of GDP in 2009 to 0.84% of GDP in 2010, the latest available information.

Poor statistics mean exact figures are unknown in Albania, BIH, and Macedonia. Serbia and Turkey invest below their national targets of 1% and 2% of GDP, respectively at 0.5% and 0.84% of GDP.

Montenegro is the only country in the group that has increased its funding for research as proportion of GDP, from 0.13% of GDP in 2011 to 0.45% of GDP in 2012. Montenegro’s ability to collect statistics on investments has also improved. The EU started screening Montenegro’s science and research system as part of its accession negotiations last month (September).

The general recommendation emerging across the board is that funding needs to go up and that it should be better monitored.

More effort is needed to encourage cooperation between private and public sectors in Albania and Croatia, and to encourage private sector funding of science in Montenegro. In Turkey the private sector funding went up between 2009 and 2010.

Albania lacks scientific research institutions. And although its system for awarding research grants has improved thanks to a new selection process, no international peer review is being applied yet.

BIH is plagued by poor communication and coordination between the different science ministries and administrative entities. It still lacks legislative framework for science and research: such framework exists in only three out of its ten cantons (administrative units).

Croatia has made efforts at stimulating innovation and reforming the national research landscape with a view to further integration into the European Research Area.

But its research funding has not increased and according to the report is “still rather low”. It has yet to establish a national roadmap for research infrastructure in order to be fully in line with EU standards and targets.

The isolation of its research community plagues Kosovo, which also needs a “research fund to support the activities of researchers and build the capacity of research institutions”, the report says.

“The main challenges are the lack of scientifically qualified personnel, the low number of PhD students, insufficient laboratory equipment and inadequate technical know-how.”

Macedonia faces similar challenges, and a key recommendation is to strengthen the country’s research capacity by increasing the number of scientists and modernising research infrastructure.

Mićo Tatalović

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