The Commission unveiled a new plan this week, laying out paths to EU membership for the Western Balkans countries.
Through democratic, political, economic and societal improvements, the Western Balkan partners have a real and credible prospect of joining the EU in the coming years.
The EU is committed to supporting them on that journey. As the European Commission's science and knowledge service, the JRC has a key role in these efforts.
Our scientists provide training, support capacity building and help to maximise innovation and technology transfer (sharing new technologies beyond the immediate vicinity where they have been developed) in the region.
Capacity building through the Enlargement and Integration Action (E&IA) initiative
The JRC manages the E&IA, which supports countries to build the capacities to adapt their own national legislation to the EU legal framework (acquis communautaire). It also facilitates scientific and technical exchange.
Projects under E&IA are targeted to scientists, researchers and policymakers in specialised areas where the JRC has particular expertise. This covers things like energy, agriculture, disaster management and the environment.
As part of the E&IA, the JRC and the Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations launched targeted actions to boost innovation in the Western Balkans. The JRC's expertise in this strategic approach will assist the Western Balkans' economic development by helping national authorities to identify priority areas and target support for research and innovation.
This approach includes a two-year pilot project to support the development of smart specialisation strategies in Montenegro and Serbia . National authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania are already committed to analysing their economies with stakeholders in order to prioritise their research and innovation programmes. Smart specialisation support will cover all Western Balkans partners from January 2019 and there are also plans to work with Turkey, depending on their level of readiness.
The JRC's recent innovation camp in Serbia is an example of how this approach can bring a fresh perspective to economic challenges and encourage collaboration. The event brought together local and national representatives as well as experts from a variety of backgrounds to analyse the economic, scientific and innovation potential in the country. It was a key opportunity to connect policymakers and citizens in a country where the software industry plays a major role in the economy. By bringing these stakeholders together, participants could explore the potential for cross-innovation between the software industry and more traditional industries. This type of approach will continue to be used in defining the future priorities for Serbia's innovation policy.
The JRC has also launched a parallel initiative, which aims to accelerate technology transfer and improve the innovation ecosystem in the Western Balkans region. This includes support in the management of technology transfer offices, science parks and business 'incubators'. The initiative also explores new technology transfer-related investment instruments and access to finance for start-ups and SMEs.
Montenegro, Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania and candidate countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates .
The European perspective and EU integration of the Western Balkans is a major political and economic project designed to assure stability and development 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 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.