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The European Commission intends to help the South Eastern European region to take its rightful place within the European Research Area. This was the message delivered by EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik at the Science, Higher Education and Innovation Policy Forum in Budva, Montenegro. The aim of the UNESCO-organised meeting was to adopt a forward-looking approach to the governance of higher education, science and innovation in the region. Commissioner Potocnik also recognised the many challenges faced by the region, but reminded that “Our problems are of the same nature throughout Europe. We are merely at different starting points”.
The Commissioner set out a three-pronged action plan for strengthening research capacity in the Western Balkan countries. Top of Mr Potocnik's list was boosting research cooperation at regional and European level. Secondly, he called on countries in the region to design integrated research priorities and lastly, to modernise and to improve research capacity. Naturally, achieving these goals will require strong commitment coupled with organisation and funding. Even though efforts are being made to search the potential of other funding instruments and sources, such as the Pre-Accession Instrument, the European Investment Bank and COST (European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research), the research budgets in the region had shown little signs of increasing. Nevertheless, the Commissioner Potocnik remained optimistic, promising that the European Commission 'is here to help as much as we can'. How much they will help, remains to be seen.
Research cooperation would help the Western Balkan states prepare for full membership of the EU. Most of the countries of the region are now members of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), allowing their scientists to participate fully in EU-funded research projects.