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Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn meets with the Science Ministers from the Western Balkan region

15 September 2011

The European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, met with the Ministers for Science and Research from Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to discuss future cooperation on research and innovation. Kosovo's (UNSCR 1244/1999) Minister for Science was invited but had to be excused for health reasons. To underline the pre-accession context of our cooperation with this group of countries, DG Enlargement also attended the meeting, as well as the Joint Research Centre which has a special programme for enlargement countries.

The Roundtable allowed key messages to be conveyed to these countries on the importance of strengthening their research and innovation capacity building as one way of facilitating the enlargement process. The Commissioner encouraged all the Ministers to prepare for the Innovation Union and highlighted a number of commitments which are already particularly relevant for them: ring fencing public money for R&I, improving the quality of researchers and engaging in a self assessment of R&I regulations, as is presently expected of the Member States. She also encouraged the Ministers to continue their endeavours to raise the political profile of research and innovation at national level and increase investment in research capacity.

The Commissioner briefly presented Horizon 2020 stressing the increasing need to produce scientific excellence in support of economic development, and the funding of research and innovation which should have added value for Europe.

DG Enlargement reinforced this message by confirming the importance of mirroring the efforts expected from Member States on the Innovation Union and informed that, as is already the case today, the post 2013 Pre-Accession Instrument (IPA) will allow to strengthen the research and innovation capacity at both national and regional level. DG Enlargement offered to organise a workshop on the self assessment tool required under the Innovation Union.

The Ministers from the Balkan countries each gave an update on the efforts which had been undertaken at national level to strengthen their research and innovation capacity. All had started to take initiatives and design a national policy, but overall they realised that progress had been limited due to lack of budget and other priorities in view of their accession to the EU. All of them indicated, however, that they were determined to step up their efforts and they realised that a stronger R&I capacity was needed in order to sustain economic development. Participation in FP7 was considered difficult for various reasons, but chiefly because it was a new way of cooperating for most of them. They expressed the hope that participation in the future programme will indeed be simplified. The Commissioner encouraged all Balkan countries to continue with their efforts to increase the level of participation in the two remaining years of FP7 and to fully take advantage of their associated status as it allows them all to become more familiar with EU research and innovation policy and cooperation.

It was agreed that the dialogue which had commenced with this meeting could be continued, including at working level in the Steering Platform on Research for Western Balkan Countries; the next meeting of the Platform will be held in Sarajevo on 1 December 2011.