We, the Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Ministers of the Western Balkans and the European Union (EU) and its Member States:
Underlining the shared commitment of the Western Balkans partners to European values and principles, and to the vision of a strong, stable and united Europe, underpinned by our historic, cultural and geographic ties as well as by our common interests.
Recognising the EU’s support to economic growth, job creation and implementation of reforms required to move the region forward on its EU path, and building on the strategy A Credible Enlargement Perspective for and Enhanced EU Engagement with the Western Balkans.
Echoing the conclusions of the Zagreb Declaration of May 2020 and the EU’s unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and to intensifying its engagement at all levels to support the region’s political, economic and social transformation.
Welcoming the strong commitment by the Western Balkans to the primacy of democracy and the rule of law as well as the Western Balkan partners’ pledge to inclusive regional cooperation and to carrying out necessary reforms thoroughly and vigorously.
Taking good note of the Commission’s Economic and Investment Planfor the Western Balkans of October 2020 and recognising the important role of investment in spurring the long-term, post-COVID-19 recovery of the region and supporting the necessary EU-related reforms.
Welcoming the Western Balkans’ adoption in November 2020 of a Common Regional Market Action Plan for 2020-2024 as a stepping stone in bringing the region closer to the EU and recognising that the Regional Industrial and Innovation area included in the Common Regional Market constitutes the regional dimension of the Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
Recalling the Berlin Process Sofia Declaration of November 2020on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans that acknowledges the need for a major transformation of the region to turn sustainability and resilience challenges into opportunities in synergy with the European Green Deal in all interrelated priority sectors.
Recognising in these endeavours the prominent role of research, innovation,education, training and culture as essential drivers for the green, inclusive, equitable and digital transition of the economy and society and for addressing the long-standing challenges faced by young people in the region.
Making the whole of Europe – including the Western Balkans – the first climate-neutral continent by boosting renewable energy, sustainable transport and mobility, the circular economy and biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and food production, also enhancing the resilience of the region to climate change impacts; jointly implementing the Green Deal, and combating air pollution (a major health risk for the entire population of the Western Balkans).
Encouraging and contributing to an economy that works for people tackling common challenges through coordinated efforts aiming to improve competitiveness, innovation, skills development and technology to provide region-wide opportunities for inclusive growth aligned with the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Expanding the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans in line with the new Digital Education Action Plan-jointly becoming fit for the digital age, by fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and by enhancing digital skills and competences for the digital transformation and reinforcing online, distance, and blended learning in all levels of education.
Highlighting the role of the new European Research Area as a framework for reforms towards a more integrated and performant knowledge-based eco-system, by investing in Research and Innovation systems to achieve the Barcelona objective of 3% of GDP.
Recognising the importance of Association to the EU’s Framework Programmes on Research and Innovation as well as to the Education, Training, Youth and Sport Programmes, which have proven instrumental for smooth cooperation and funding of joint projects enabling mutual access to excellence, innovation and research resources.
Encouraging the dialogue to foster synergies of Union programmes in the fields covered by this declaration with all other relevant programmes with the objective to facilitate a comprehensive cooperation approach with the Western Balkans.
Encouraging a stronger participation of the Western Balkans in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), while preparing the region to benefit from the newly adopted European Education Area (EEA): by aiming for an inclusive and high quality education and training systems, linked to local research and innovation ecosystems,spurring creativity, innovation and economic development as well as regional cooperation.
Welcoming the Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training towards the European Education Area and beyond (2021-2030), an essential instrument to guide and support the European cooperation in education and training until 2030.
Stressing the importance of the implementation of the priorities and actions in the field of vocational education and training defined in the Osnabrück Declaration on vocational education and training for the transition to the digital and green economies for the period 2021-2025 and encouraging the Western Balkans to work towards the reform principles defined in the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training (2020/C 417/01, 24 November 2020) for sustainable competitiveness, inclusion, social fairness and resilience.
Acknowledging the participation of the Western Balkan partners in the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning process which seeks to support European policies for skills and qualifications to increase employability, mobility and social integration of workers.
Underlining that Smart Specialisation Strategies make a valuable contribution to focusing efforts towards knowledge-based economic transform and that Smart Specialisation Strategiesare key in developing critical mass in the region to forge a sustainable growth perspective and innovation policy, and by building up and exploiting relevant capacities and skills, such as Technology Transfer to enable the development of sustainable innovation driven products and services from the laboratory to the market.
Recognising the need to improve the business environment by intensifying investments in SMEs through the establishment of mechanisms to support investments in up-skilling and re-skilling the workforce and to create, support and promote innovation-based start-ups, including academic spin-offs, oriented especially towards clean energy, smart mobility, sustainable farming andthe circular economy.
Taking note of the on-going implementation of the European Union Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR), the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) and their respective flagship projects, and calling on participating economies to make full use of future EU funds to actively support the embedding process in all relevant programmes and hence efficiently contribute to the recovery and development of a sustainable and inclusive economy in the Western Balkans region.
Stressing the essential role of cultural and regional cooperation and people-to-people exchanges including academic, non-formal, cultural and sport mobility and their unique potential to contribute to political stabilisation and create economic opportunities, fostering greater tolerance and democratic participation, promoting European values and strengthening the cohesion of society.
Acknowledging the need for strengthening support to the cultural and creative sectors to unlock their full potential in order to overcome financial, institutional and political challenges, as well as to cultural heritage to promote local development and contribute to a shared heritage narrative.
Emphasising the values that sport can promote,such as fair play, equality, respect for diversity, integrity, discipline, excellence, friendship, tolerance and mutual understanding, which can bring people and economies closer together.
Expect that the Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport will represent another step forward in bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU.
This Western Balkans Agenda was developed in close cooperation with regional stakeholders active in the subject areas of this Joint Declaration and it hinges upon three axes:
A Political Axis: highlighting the strategic importance of the region and proposing actions aiming to support its EU accession process, and the association of the six Western Balkan partners to all the Union programmes covering Research, Innovation, Education, Culture, Youth and Sportin alignment with the Economic and Investment Planfor the Western Balkans.
A Regional Axis: aiming to promote regional economic growth and prosperity through investments, to be directed towards innovations and actions that create a sustainable and human-centric development and digital future. It will also support the ongoing process of reforming education, training and research systems, and the development of the cultural and creative sectors with more and better opportunities for capacity building.
A Thematic Axis: pursuing a closer harmonisation of Western Balkan and EU policies and actions in the fields subject of this Joint Declaration: most notably the European Green Dealwiththe Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, envisaging the major transformation of the region to address the growing environmental and climate challenges and turn them into opportunities; the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans and the Digital Education Action Plan envisaging the enhancement of ICT and digital skills; education on environmental sustainability, skills for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience;and an Economy that works for and connects people and communities.
We jointly note the above points and encourage the necessary actions to success fully implement this Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.