Picking up from the first GLOBSEC Digital Lighthouse and Energy Transition R&I workshops in March and July 2020 respectively, this virtual roundtable returned to the topic of CEE R&I in the context of recovery. We heard about positive developments in Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria as well as some reservations. These are the main takeaways:

  • The Slovak Ministry of Investments, Informatization and Regions is taking a bottom-up approach to creating a single operational programme, seeking government approval for a new smart specialization strategy in the spring of 2021. The R&I dimension will be reformed to better utilize NGEU/RRF and new MFF programming period funds. The main finding of an internal analytical report was that governance is fragmented and roles of ministries are overlapping, especially ministerial agencies (e.g. Ministry of Education). Reform is needed to optimize the process that currently suffers from a pervasive lack of coordination. Ministries have expressed support of such an initiative, either better coordinated or through a new system.
  • E3G highlighted that green R&I is key for achieving climate neutrality, both developing early technologies and deploying mature. This will help the EU compete globally with the US and China clean energy technology leaders. However, making the most of this opportunity will depend on spreading the benefits of R&I policy and funds more wisely, namely narrowing the West-East innovation gap. CEE has the potential to do much more and EU funds should help mobilize and align these efforts. Underpinning this entire plan is a just transition, for example treating coal regions as an opportunity to transform RES potential into social inclusion. CEE countries need to set clear priorities for R&I spending like Slovakia’s nascent smart specialization strategy. An E3G CEE R&I paper will be finalized soon building from the EU R&I framing paper, “Fit to deliver climate neutrality”.
  • From academia, the Bulgarian Ministry of Education is working to support economics and management of universities, changing incentive schemes and increasing profile through international and regional cooperation. Still, political research strategies are not always in synch with academia, leaving universities without a central strategy following agency lead. In contrast to the very decentralized system that is under reform in Slovakia, Hungarian R&D is mainstreamed under the Ministry of Innovation and Technology and its research wing, the National Research, Development and Innovation Office. Like Slovakia, Hungary is shifting the focus of clean energy R&D from energy production (e.g. exploiting geothermal) to storage (e.g. battery and hydrogen). In contrast to the EU’s preferred production of green hydrogen from intermittent renewable sources, Hungary will develop nuclear-based ‘yellow’ hydrogen. The national energy utility, MVM, is also actively involved in the R&D ecosystem, supporting a research centre with universities.