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Research and innovation

Policy background

The Western Balkans consists of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo * and Serbia. All have a perspective to accede to the European Union and hence are also called 'enlargement countries'.

*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

A European Council meeting in 2003 adopted the 'Thessaloniki agenda for the Western Balkans: Moving towards European Integration'.

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 of countries 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.

As of 2016 the innovation dimension was added to the structural reform agenda of the national Economic Reform Programmes (N.B. As of 2015, all candidate countries and potential candidates submit annual Economic Reform Programmes (ERPs) that mimic the European Semester process). These programmes contain a structural reform agenda to boost competitiveness and improve conditions for growth and job creation.

In 2021, The European Union developed with the Western Balkans a forward-looking Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sports

This agenda outlines a comprehensive, long-term strategy for cooperation with the Western Balkans.

Through increased investment, the agenda and its proposed actions will contribute to developing the region’s economic and societal development.

The EU supports stronger cooperation between the Western Balkans’ stakeholders and EU countries to successfully implement the deliverables of the agenda.

The agenda and its action plan is built on 3 main pillars: Political, Thematic, and Regional.

Political agenda

Towards a sustainable future by stimulating an economy that supports the recovery and helps to create jobs

  • reflecting the strategic importance of the region and supporting its integration process through increased EU engagement
  • nurturing knowledge-based societies and evidence-informed policy making
  • supporting the association to all EU programmes covering Research, Innovation, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
  • supporting the implementation of systemic changes and reforms

Thematic agenda

Towards closer alignment with the EU strategic priorities

  • transforming the national research and innovation eco-systems
  • counteracting climate change and supporting the digital transformation
  • promoting the implementation of the EU Green Deal in the Western Balkans

Regional agenda

Towards a closer regional economic integration through planned investments in human capital development and digital transformation

  • enhancing the quality of education and training
  • boosting human capital development
  • reducing the gender and digital divide
  • improving mobility and connectivity
  • fostering cultural and regional cooperation


Funding opportunities

Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe is the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation with a budget of €95.5 billion available over 7 years (2021 to 2027). 

Horizon Europe website

Projects and results

BLUEAIR project: Blue Growth in the Adriatic-Ionian Region

The results of the BLUEAIR project will be felt most concretely by people on the shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas in better coordination of marine surveillance and more careful management of marine ecosystems, but also in crucial matters such as forecasted increasing high-sea levels.

Read more

Research project database (CORDIS)

EU-funded projects involving the Western Balkans

Project success stories

Stories of particularly successful EU-funded research projects.


National Contact Points

The National Contact Points (NCPs) provide guidance, practical information and assistance on all aspects of participation in Horizon Europe.


28 JUNE 2022
The Western Balkans Ministerials and impact of the Western Balkans Agenda (Factsheet)

6 OCTOBER 2021
Western Balkans Agenda on innovation, research, education, culture, youth and sport (Factsheet)

9 OCTOBER 2020
Towards a Western Balkans agenda on research, innovation, education, culture, youth & sports

Roadmap for EU – Enlargement Countries science and technology cooperation