The Central-Eastern European Initiative for Knowledge-based Agriculture, Aquaculture and Forestry in the Bioeconomy – BIOEAST – offers a shared strategic research and innovation framework for working towards sustainable bioeconomies in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries.
Owing to the global challenges, sustainability is only achievable at the macro-regional level. To build sustainable national bioeconomies, the specific challenges arising from climate change in the Continental Biogeographical Region, and the common societal and governance issues of the CEE countries should be taken into consideration. The research and innovation capacities of the macro-region are facing significant internal disparities in terms of effectively joining the European Research Area and this is a challenge to be tackled.
The macro-region’s economic, societal, geopolitical, cultural and historical homogeneity and complexity may help to bring about the framework conditions favourable to bioeconomic growth. Joint efforts are required to address present and future challenges successfully. A macro-regional perspective, along with more vigorous European Union (EU) wide cooperation, is necessary for implementing in an effective and efficient way tailored actions that are conducive to safe, secure and sustainable development for all. The sustainability criteria for a circular economy add an additional challenging feature.
The Ministers of Agriculture of the Visegrad 4 countries (V4: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) together with Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia signed a Common Declaration (Warsaw, 26/10/2016) recognizing that in order to achieve progress in in development of bioeconomies including the sustainable increase of the biomass potential of agriculture, aquaculture and forestry, the emphasis must shift to research, innovation and transnational cooperation for knowledge-based development.
The BIOEAST initiative aims to join research and innovation efforts and is open to other EU Member States.
The Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration was presented at the EU AGRIFiSH and Competitiveness Councils’ meetings in November 2016. It underlined a need to find effective solutions to ensure a stronger recognition of the research needs and potential of the CEE countries in the co-creating and functioning of the European Research Area (ERA) in the field of sustainable biomass production and processing. The common gap in the CEE macro-region is the research and innovation divide in Europe, which hinders both the unlocking of excellence in low-performing research, development and innovation (RDI) regions, and the appearance of specific research topics relevant to the CEE macro-region in Horizon 2020 work programmes. The low performance and topic representation of the CEE macro-region also block the realisation of the ERA and the promotion of synergies with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) (see Annex 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1291/2013). The identification and implementation of specific research areas for the CEE macro-region in Horizon 2020 would not threaten the main principle of excellence in research; on the contrary it would enhance it. Moreover, it would not mean the exclusion of other countries or macro-regions from the topics or consortia, as their experiences and active involvement in knowledge sharing would be crucial for generating relevant results.
BIOEAST pursues the objectives listed below. The achievement of these objectives would bridge the above-mentioned gap in the CEE macro-region and could serve as the thematic framework of a Coordination Support Action (CSA):
BIOEAST has already developed and validated two common focus areas for the CEE macro-region. These two focus areas can incorporate all the present and future research topics of the macro-region and could serve as the thematic framework of an ERA-NET Cofund.
It responds to challenges arising from the climatic and climate change specificities of the Continental Bio-geographical Region.
The territory of the CEE countries mostly belongs to the Continental Bio-geographical Regions. A game changer would be to have region-specific research topics and coordination and support actions – such as is the case for the Mediterranean Region – which reflect the climate specificities of Continental Bio-geographical Region. Owing to these specificities, distinctive and extreme changes in the weather can be expected in the near future. Therefore, adaptation is a challenge to agriculture and the bioeconomy (crop production, animal husbandry, forestry, aquaculture, food processing and other bioeconomy activities) in terms of, for example, cooling and heating, pest and disease control, risk management, and knowledge sharing.
It responds to the policy and governance challenges arising from the socio-economic characteristics of the CEE macro-region.
The countries of the CEE macro-region have quite a few societal and governance challenges in common which influence directly the development of rural areas, and the primary production sectors of the bioeconomy. A game changer would be to conduct research on how to involve CEE society in solving the big societal challenges, and to overcome such common economic and societal challenges for bioeconomy in the urban and rural areas as the low uptake of innovation and modern technologies, the low level of cooperation, the low level of labour productivity, the implications of population ageing, the difference between the employment rate in predominantly rural regions and predominantly urban regions, or the extremely low level of consumer awareness.
The countries concerned are committed to working together and to contributing to the further development of the ERA by organising joint programming exercises. A long-term process was initiated in 2015. The macro-regional research and innovation needs of the CEE countries have thus been communicated at the political and expert levels several times. Support from all the EU Member States and the European Commission is now crucial to maintaining the commitment of the supporting countries and organisations. Among the numerous CEE actions are the following milestones:
After two years of enthusiastic actions it was evident that, to be able to operate effectively via a truly multi-stakeholder approach and at the macro-regional level, a more formal cooperation mechanism (contributing to the first objective) was needed.
Despite the common aims of the CEE countries, the actions carried out so far have been fragmented and uncoordinated, and thus less efficient than they might have been. Several actions were launched and different organisations were working in parallel until the Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration created a political base to act uniformly and represent the various interests imperiously both within and outside the borders. The Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration contains our goals and the BIOEAST Initiative is considered to be the necessary tool capable of formalising the operation and facilitating the achievement of those goals. During the strategic planning meeting held on 21 February 2017 was proposed the elaboration of this tool.
The countries of the CEE macro-region are expected to communicate with the European Commission at both the expert and political levels. The former includes representatives of ministries, research institutes, academies of sciences, universities, and chamber organisations involving the industry. The political-level discussions will happen in the Visegrad Four working groups in the constellation of the different ministries, the communication will involve the Programme Committee and SCAR. Both levels will be governed by the Secretary. Barna Kovács (who used to work for the European Commission) is proposed as the Secretary, to give a face to the Initiative and furthermore to communicate with the Visegrad 4 Presidency. The V4 Presidency rotates yearly among the V4 countries. (The Polish Presidency runs from July 2016 to July 2017, and will be followed by the Hungarian Presidency).
After developing a more stable operational structure, it is also crucially important to harmonise and prioritise the most important common research topics of the CEE countries (contributing to second objective).
Since the Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration was signed, several expert meetings and especially the workshop held in Budapest on 21-22 February have confirmed that the proposed topics listed in the annex of the Declaration are of extremely high importance for the CEE macro-region. At the same time, the European Commission’s suggestions and the outputs of the BIOEAST workshops highlighted that the CEE countries are required to demonstrate profoundly their specific challenges and own resources while sharing their proposed research topics. That is why the experiences gained during the BIOEAST workshop justify the revision of the annex attached to the Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration.
This proposal does not intend to rewrite or constrict the common situational analysis that is currently at our disposal. It is only expected to focus and group the topics from the point of view of the CEE specificities. In this way our research needs will be better represented and built in the adequate policy tools and funding programmes. Two changes are therefore proposed.
Firstly, the two focus areas of the CEE countries have so far proved to be relevant throughout our work, thus we believe that the two focus areas of BIOEAST form the organising principle of the Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration annex.
Secondly, certain topics proved to be more clearly defined and more relevant for the CEE participants than others, and are found to be missing from the Horizon 2020 SC2 2018-2020 work programme. Thus two topics are proposed to be incorporated and ranked as top priorities in the first table of the Visegrad4+3 Common Declaration annex that contains the topics that are of particularly importance for the CEE region (The detailed topic descriptions are given in the WP2018-2020 recommendations). Both topics have the support of already operational CEE networks (Eurotransfop and NACEE).
Apart from the formalising the network and harmonising the research topics, the following common and immediate BIOEAST actions are proposed: