On 15-16 May 2018 a conference “e-Infrastructures for excellent science in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean” has been organised by the European project VI-SEEM in Sofia, Bulgaria. The conference gathered e-Infrastructure providers, scientists and researchers but also the policy makers from the region and beyond. It has been the opportunity to take stock of the latest achievements and future perspectives resulting from the collaboration in this region in the area of e-Infrastructures and their use.

Map of Europe highlighting the Western Balkans region

Within the Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean region, the European Commission pays particular attention to the Western Balkans, as well stated in its strategy of February 2018. The region is composed of six countries: Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). It is part of Europe, geographically surrounded by European Union (EU) Member States. The peoples of the EU and the Western Balkans region have a common heritage and history and a future defined by shared opportunities and challenges. The European future of the region is crucial as a geostrategic investment in a stable, strong and united Europe based on common values.

Supporting Open Science and collaborative Research within the Western Balkans

The close links between the EU and the Western Balkans are manifest in the area of Research.  In total the region is represented in 254 EU-funded projects under Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation programme and as such is receiving €75 million.  

More specifically, the Western Balkans are involved in 9 EU-funded projects from H2020 in the area of e-Infrastructures and as such benefit of € 2,28 million. E-Infrastructures are crucial to foster Open Science, support the circulation of knowledge and encourage collaboration across different disciplines and technology domains. It is then of tremendous importance to involve Western Balkans in this area to foster the development of digitals skills and improve broadband connectivity to the research and education community in the region.

The Western Balkans are notably involved in the following projects:

  • VI-SEEM: The project aims at creating a unique Virtual Research Environment in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, with a special focus on the scientific communities of Life Sciences, Climatology and Digital Cultural Heritage. With the exception of Kosovo, all countries of the Western Balkans participate with a beneficiary in the project (out of 20 partners) and account together 20% of the overall project budget.
  • GN4-2 (GÉANT): The project connects at pan-European level NRENs (National Research and Education Networks) to promote scientific excellence, research, education and innovation. GÉANT provides its users with highly reliable, unconstrained access to computing, analysis, storage, applications and other resources, to ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of research. 4 out the 6 countries of the Western Balkans are already connected to GÉANT and contributing to the project. Kosovo is taking the necessary steps towards the creation of an NREN and its participation in GÉANT and access to services and connectivity may become a reality in the short term.While Bosnia & Herzegovina is not currently connected to GÉANT, there is sound interest in setting up a NREN and benefit from the services and participate in the community too.
  • EOSC-Hub: The project aims at developing a single access channel delivering a common catalogue of research data, services and software for research and act as the integration and management system of the European Open Science Cloud. The FYROM is the only beneficiary from the Western Balkans region. Nevertheless this participation is strategic to integrate the region into a network of pan-European e-Infrastructures.
  • OpenAIRE: The project aims to develop a network called the National Open Access Desks (NOAD) to connect researchers, research institutions, and policy makers at a national level on the one end, and the OpenAIRE project services on the other. The objective is to support the Open Access and Open Data policies and implementation in Europe. There are NOADs already existing  in the Western Balkans (Serbia, Croatia, FYROM) and pursuing this objective . The University of Belgrade (Serbia) is for instance one of them and is already actively present in OpenAIRE2020 project that will conclude in June 2018 but also in the next phase of the infrastructure, OpenAIRE-Advance that has started in January 2018 and will run for 3 years.
  • EUDAT-2020: The project aims at encouraging data sharing and preservation across borders and disciplines to enable European researchers and practitioners from any research discipline to preserve, find, access, and process data in a trusted environment. Through the participation of one Serbian beneficiary, the Western Balkans starts to be an integral part of such environment.

Background

The initiative for a Digital agenda for the Western Balkans is one of the six new flagships for the region presented by the Commission in the Communication: A credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans from February 2018. 

The development of the EU Digital Single Market contributes to developing businesses, creating growth, boosting productivity, promoting innovation, transforming public services and improving citizens' quality of life. It is essential that the Western Balkans are included in the EU's efforts to embrace technological change for them to be able to benefit from digital tools, ensuring a prosperous and sustainable future for their citizens.

Together with the partners in the Western Balkans, the Commission will launch a Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, including a roadmap to facilitate lowering the cost of roaming. Support will be provided to the deployment of broadband within the Western Balkans. The digital society should be developed and so support will be provided in particular to eGovernment, eProcurement and eHealth services as well as to the development of digital skills. The Commission will support capacity-building in trust and security and the digitalisation of industry in the Western Balkans to ensure that all sectors benefit from digital innovations. These efforts will be complemented by enhanced support for the adoption, implementation and enforcement of the acquis in the area of the digital single market.