The main aim of the project 'Further integrating key research institutions from southeast Europe into the European Research Area' (SEE-ERA.NET PLUS) was to build on the results of its predecessor SEE-ERA.NET by further enhancing the coordination of bilateral research and development (R&D) cooperation with SEE and adding more Western Balkan Countries (WBCs). The initiative supported joint multilateral agreements that made more resources available for research. This strengthened research communities in New Member States and WBCs, preparing them for participation in the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). To achieve its goals, the project coordinated national R&D funds and launched a call for Joint European Research Projects (JERPs) with a budget of around EUR 3.5 million. This was the largest amount dedicated to one call for SEE including all the WBCs. The project integrated the WBCs and their key research communities into the European Research Area (ERA) through joint projects. It engaged scientists and key actors in R&D policymaking, and created significant European added value in many aspects. EU National Contact Points (NCPs) in corresponding countries supported the joint call. A scientific council of eminent scientists from such countries agreed to fund 23 highly promising JERPs in the thematic areas of 'Information and communications technology' and 'AgroFood'. These projects accounted for more than 60 publications in international peer-reviewed journals while dozens more were published for scientific and general audiences. Two joint patent applications were applied for and two more are in the pipeline. Eleven databases primarily containing information on plant species were developed, with the majority targeting the wider scientific community. Lastly, one project contributed to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) international standards in the field of soil quality. SEE-ERA.NET PLUS laid the groundwork for ensuring a sustainable EU–Balkan cooperation. By satisfying the need for R&D cooperation in the SEE region, the prospect of a SEE that is strongly interlinked with the rest of the continent is nearing.
Balkans, south-east Europe, research cooperation, European Research Area, Joint European Research Projects