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Balkans look to fund regional science strategy

Science ministers in the Western Balkans are trying to gather together €200 million to fund a regional innovation strategy for 2014-20.

The strategy, which has been four years in the making, is due to be agreed on 24 October during a two-day meeting in Zagreb. It is aimed at “strengthening research for innovation in the region”, says Paulo Correa, a senior economist at the World Bank who coordinated the strategy’s creation. He explains that deploying funding at the regional level is expected to create better and more long-term ties between Western Balkan countries, many of which still endure fraught relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“We hope the strategy will also help the region to deepen its integration with the European Research Area and the global scientific community,” Correa adds.

Despite the optimism, it is not yet clear whether the money needed to implement the strategy and dispense the planned grants will be found. “We don’t know how much money will be available,” Correa admits. “The countries felt they needed a good proposal first. Now they plan to reach out to international donors and multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and the European Commission.”

Four target areas are set out in the strategy: research excellence, network building, technology transfer and business start-ups. A regional technical-assistance facility is planned to aid progress in these areas.

If the money is secured, it is expected to fund 80 regional collaborative projects, 50 projects led by early-career researchers and 200 PhDs at leading universities by the year 2020. Some of the money would also be used to co-fund the refurbishment and development of six science parks and fund 100 joint projects between science and industry.

Correa is optimistic about the money; his main concern now is urging ministers to make good on the promises included in the strategy and to improve national financing for innovation. “I am sure funds may be made available, but Balkan countries will need to continue working hard on the implementation of the strategy,” he says.