The annual RIO Country Report offers an analysis of the R&I system in Croatia, including relevant policies and funding, with particular focus on topics critical for EU policies. The report identifies the main challenges of the Croatian research and innovation system and assesses the policy response.
Croatia is the youngest member of the European Union and has a relatively young R&I system. The country has been for long characterised by a lack of sustained political commitment to innovation. One reflection of this situation could be found in the low levels of R&D intensity (as % of GDP) in the last years albeit GDP was declining. In addition, further decrease of budget resources for R&I funding has been announced for 2015 and 2016. The present science policy also suffers from the lack of coordination between government bodies responsible for research and innovation policy (Ministry for Science, Education and Sport, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Crafts and Ministry of Regional Development and European Funds). Their policies and supporting measures are neither harmonised nor related in a way to produce a synergy in innovation and technological development. This is further reflected in the weak performance in terms of efficiency of Croatia, which is ranked 23rd according to the SII 2015 and 27th when calculating the ratio between innovation output and input.
There is a risk that the low level of coordination and division of responsibilities between relevant public bodies could lead to an ineffective management of available ESI funding. The system already experiences significant delays in implementation of grant schemes for R&I activities. The lack of coherence and coordination in the R&I system resulted also in delays in the drafting and implementation of several important strategic documents, such as the Strategy for Fostering Innovation of the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020, Strategy for Education, Science and Technology 2014-2020 (SEST) and Smart Specialisation Strategy. Croatia needs to absorb the SF allocation 2007-2013 by the end of 2016 and at the same time to launch the new 2014-20 calls which will challenge the management capacities of administration. Besides, the programmes under ESIF include a number of new sectors (ICT, energy, climate change, health and social inclusion, education) which will require specific technical capacities in the management bodies and support for project beneficiaries.
In the area of R&I policy, significant developments have occurred during the period 2013-2014. The National Science Council (NSC) and the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) were merged into a single body - the National Council for Science, Higher Education and Technological Development, which became the highest advisory body in the system. To better link interventions and consolidate support measures to the private sector, the government decided to merge the Business and innovation agency of Croatia (BICRO), the previous pillar institution of the Croatian innovation system with the Croatian Agency for Small Businesses and Investments (HAMAG) into a single agency called the Croatian Agency for Small Business, Innovation and Investment – HAMAG-BICRO.
Several important documents were adopted: these primarily include the Strategy for Education, Science and Technology and Strategy for Fostering Innovation of the Republic of Croatia 2014-2020. The Strategy for Education, Science and Technology offers, among other things, recommendations for the establishment of a comprehensive R&I environment. The Strategy for Fostering Innovation is one of the most important cross-sectorial strategies. It at strengthening the Croatian national innovation system (NIS) and at providing an efficient framework to foster the competitiveness of Croatian R&D and economy in general, through innovation and technological development.
The Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) has been adopted in March 2016. The S3 is seeking to unify all the relevant aspects from the various national strategies in a strategic framework. It acknowledges that implementing such policy is very complex and requires commitment of relevant institutions and strong policy capabilities at national and regional level. The strengthening of the national innovation system is set as a priority in the Croatian National Reform Programme 2015 and the Partnership Agreement with the EU.
The development of the Croatian Research Information System (CroRIS) has been initiated in 2014, with the drafting of project documentation for the national Science and Technology Foresight Project (STF). STF involves systemic analysis of the long-term trends in science and technology in order to create and implement tools and methods for development and sustainable execution of evidence based policy in the area of RDI, specifically for development and monitoring of S3 and other strategic documents, as well as for competitiveness, economic development and society.
The R&I framework has undergone significant reforms since 2013. Although seen as not advancing at sufficiently fast pace, they led to certain improvements in R&I governance, such as the introduction of performance-based institutional funding. With the accession to the EU, Croatia got access to ESIF and these funds could play a very positive role in the development of the NIS, should a favourable R&I policy framework be put in place. It could be expected that the merger of some key intermediary institutions (i.e., HAMAG-BICRO) and the rationalisation and interconnection of the offices for EU projects in various ministries (S2E Report) would bring about better synergy between institutions. Croatia will need to make major efforts to ensure adequate capacities for absorption of ESIF for the benefits of national development.
The recently adopted (2014) strategic documents (Innovation Strategy and SEST) present a significant breakthrough in reforming the national education, research and innovation systems. However, while the implementation of SEST has been initiated immediately after its adoption, implementation of Innovation Strategy is quite slow, which raises the question whether the relatively ambitious development goals will be achieved by 2020. Interim and ex-post evaluation are envisaged, but in general the Croatian evaluation system seems rather weak in this aspect. A positive development in the area of evaluation is the S3 where a number of analytical documents with impact assessment were drafted during the preparation phase.
Development of the CroRIS should significantly contribute to future monitoring and development of R&I policies, as well as general evaluation on the efficiency of the overall R&I system, which currently lacks an efficient monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and policy planning tools.