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The Western Balkans consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, , the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro , Kosovo * and Serbia. All have a perspective to accede to the European Union and hence are also called 'enlargement countries'

*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence


Policy Background

The integration of the Western Balkan countries (WBCs) into the European Union (EU) is a major political and economic project designed to assure stability and development in the region. From the very beginning, cooperation on research and innovation has been stimulated as a tool to facilitate integration into the European Union. At the Council meeting in June 2003 under the Greek Presidency, Ministers adopted "The Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkans: Moving towards European Integration" which included an Action Plan in Science and Technology aiming at contributing to the reinforcement of the S&T capacities of each country and of the region as a whole. To raise the EU's political commitment towards the Balkans, a Steering Platform on Research and Innovation was launched in June 2006 by the European Commission together with the Austrian Presidency. The Platform brings together stakeholders from the Balkan Region and international donors aiming at creating synergies between the actions and instruments in support of increasing the research and innovation capacity in the region.

The EU's enlargement policy (COM(2015)611: EU Enlargement Strategy, COM(2016)715: 2016 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy) underlines the necessity to invest in peace, security and stability. It stresses that an accession process offering a credible prospect of EU membership is vital to enhance the resilience of countries in the Western Balkans (EEAS Global Strategy: 'Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe, A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy', 06/2016) and to spur transformation in these countries. The prospect of EU membership has a powerful transformative effect, triggering positive democratic, political, economic and societal change.

As of 2016 the innovation dimension was added to the structural reform agenda of the national Economic Reform Programmes (N.B. As of 2015, all candidate countries and potential candidates submit annual Economic Reform Programmes (ERPs) that mimic the European Semester process). These programmes contain a structural reform agenda to boost competitiveness and improve conditions for growth and job creation. Enlargement countries have been invited to indicate via the Economic Reform Programme which reforms they envisage on research and innovation. This provides an opportunity for the Western Balkan countries to present their research and innovation strategies and associated implementation measures for the next years within the overall economic context.

Research and innovation offer a positive political agenda and a path towards sustained economic growth and job creation. Macroeconomic stability and a market orientation remain important conditions. The 'Western Balkans Regional R&D Strategy for Innovation' Study (World Bank, 10/2013) claims that unleashing the Western Balkans’ innovative potential would generate important economic gains (e.g. investing 3% of GDP into research and innovation will generate a 6% increase of GDP and a 13% increase in exports). Association to and successful participation in H2020 (e.g. like the ANTARES Widening Initiative) give a positive message and keep the stakeholders' motivation high.



Background documents


European Commission
DG Research and Innovation
Policy Officer - R&I Relations with Western Balkans and Turkey
Unit RTD C 1 - Strategy, EFTA and enlargement countries, Russia Asia and Pacific
Telephone: (+32) 229 69615