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To: The President of the European Commission

Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)

Directorate-General for Research and Innovation

The Regional Cooperation Council

CC: Academies of Sciences, Prime-Ministers and Ministers of Education of Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom

EU Delegations in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia

Western Balkan countries are at varying levels of the European Union (EU) integration process. Out of the many challenges these countries face, higher education and quality research stand out as important factors for enabling sustainable development. Narrowing the gap with EU member states requires an active approach to tackle many complex outstanding issues. Quality research is neither a luxury nor an enterprise limited to the academic world, it is necessary for evidence-based decision-making. So, limited research capacities and output hinder both the quality of higher education institutions’ (HEIs) performance and the development of knowledge-intensive sectors. At this stage of rapid EU legal approximation and further opening of the WBCs economies, the need for evidence-based policy making is higher than ever before, with direct impact on public sector performance, EU funds absorption capacity and competitiveness of the private sector on the other hand.

Recognizing the need and the importance to provide support to WBCs research community, with particular focus on young scholars, the Paris Western Balkan Summit in 2016 launched the Western Balkan Research Foundation (WBRF), designed to enable outstanding junior scientists from the Balkans and Europe to build excellent research labs and teams in the Balkan countries within a period of five years through ad personam grants. A blueprint was endorsed during the 3rd Science Conference held in June 2017 in Paris. The Joint Statement of the 5th Joint Science Conference Western Balkan Process / Berlin Process in London in May 2019 reaffirmed the parties’ unequivocal commitment to the creation of the WBRF, reinforcing the decision of the Heads of State and Government at the 2017 Trieste Western Balkans Summit.

* 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.

Ever since these strong commitments, there have been high expectations in the WBCs research communities that sooner rather than later, the vacuum of support for research would be substantially addressed thanks also to substantial European support. Although this is the fifth year since the WBRF was launched, to the disappointment of the researcher community in the region, particularly young researchers, that initiative still appears to be far from becoming a reality. The hopes of the young scholars who were once preparing for applying for WBRF are vanishing. The inability of WBRF to come to existence risks being perceived as a lack of commitment from the EU towards WBCs and will not be able to help with stopping the ongoing brain drain.

Considering the presentation of the WB Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport by the European Commission in late 2020, it is the right moment to accelerate the establishment of WBRF. This will also contribute to the integration of WBCs into the European Research Area as Accession Countries. We hereby urge the European Union, Western Balkans Governments, and related stakeholders to implement as soon as possible WBRF considering the clear need for evidence-informed policy making, innovation for smart growth and also as brain drain has become an urgent issue across the region. WBC economies cannot afford to risk losing another generation of aspiring researchers. Time to live up to the commitments undertaken.

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