Reconciliation Deal Opens Research Doors for Kosovo

Flag of Kosovo

Cradel/Wikimedia Commons

BRUSSELS—The European Commission wants to allow Kosovo to take greater part in E.U. research funding programs after the country signed a reconciliatory deal with Serbia last week. The move would give the small Balkan country fresh opportunities to shore up its minuscule research effort—but it may have to invest more itself to benefit from them.

Leaders from Serbia and its former province—whose population of 1.8 million is 92% ethnically Albanian—reached an E.U.-brokered agreement on 19 April, normalizing their ties after years of conflict. Three days after the signing, the European Commission formally proposed to let Kosovo participate in 22 E.U. programs, including the €55 billion Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for R&D, Europe's satellite navigation program Galileo, and the European Earth-monitoring system GMES. FP7 ends this year, but the agreement is expected to also apply to its successor, Horizon 2020, which covers the next 7 years.

If E.U. member states agree, Kosovo will move up from taking part in research programs as a "third country" to becoming an "associated country." In return for paying a fee to the European Union, its representatives will be able to take part in program management committees, and its organizations and proposals will receive the same treatment as those from E.U. member states. Non-E.U. countries such as Norway, Switzerland, and the Western Balkan nations of Croatia and Serbia have the same status.

Out of 20 eligible proposals submitted since the beginning of FP7, the European Union has financed three research projects involving five Kosovo-based organizations; together, these institutions received a mere €286,000. Whether Kosovo's future funding will exceed its contribution as an associated country is difficult to say, a commission official says; that depends in part on how much Kosovo invests in research and innovation itself.

According to the country's own National Research Programme, published in 2010, R&D remains a "marginal undertaking" in Kosovo, with "the absence of any critical mass of research and technological development … funding for at least the last 20 years." Kosovan academics were isolated and suffered from material destruction during the war in the late 1990s. "Until recently, the general expenditure on R&D in Kosovo amounted to only approximately 0.1% of GDP," the document said—far below the 2010 E.U. average of about 2% and seven times lower than R&D spending in nearby Croatia. To boost the country's scientific prospects, the strategy planned to focus on five research priorities in line with those outlined by the European Union and to spend about €22 million on R&D between 2010 and 2015—but these plans have not been put to action.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008; it has since been recognized as a sovereign state by about half of the United Nations' members, including Canada, the United States, and 22 of the European Union's 27 states, but excluding China and Russia. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state but the deal signed last week does grant the breakaway province more freedom while preserving the autonomy of ethnic Serbian communities there. The agreement opened the way for Serbia to start official talks to join the European Union.