Smart Albania: Priorities and the Way Forward
took place in Tirana on October 31, 2023.
The conference was opened with the speech of the Deputy Prime Minister and at the same time Minister of Infrastructure and Energy Ms. Belinda Balluku, who also leads the Interministerial Committee of S3, and was followed by the speech of Mr. Emanuele Fabbri, representative of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission and that of Ms. Linda Pustina, Head of the National Team of S3 and at the same time Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister.
The opening remarks were followed by 3 very interesting panels:
1. Renewable Energy and Natural Resources: Albania towards Regional Leadership
2. Innovation and Development in Agriculture: Transforming into a Healthy and Sustainable Food Chain
3. Albania's journey towards Tourism of Excellence and Preservation of Tradition
In her speech, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Belinda Balluku, thanked the S3 National Team, not only for the work done to prepare S3, but also for the successful coordination of a comprehensive consultative process, a consultation model and methodology that will serve as a guide for all programs, strategies and reforms that will be prepared in the future, including all the actors of the quadruple helix (central and local government, academia, business and civil society) from the first stages of the drafting of strategic documents. From this consultation, the priority sectors where investment in innovation and technology will constitute added value for the economy were identified.
The Deputy Prime Minister emphasized that Albania needs the best professionals to convey innovation and transformative practices and to lead the change. Joint regional initiatives would help to address strategic objectives in the fields of energy, agriculture, tourism, manufacturing industry and other important areas.
Ms. Balluku emphasized the importance of the diversification of renewable energy sources, as well as the responsible use of natural resources in the country, as well as the inclusion of Albania in the EU value chains, which will be an added guarantee for the provision of raw materials in the European market, but also Albania's commitment to realize the objectives of the Berlin Summit, which was held in Tirana in October 2023, and of the Sofia Declaration on the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans. The conclusions drawn from the consultation tables within S3 coincide with these objectives and with some of the main strategies in the country. She also brought the attention to the importance of interconnection, transport, agriculture and food security, sustainable rural development, protection of the environment and biodiversity, the inclusion of innovation and technology in each sector identified as a priority, the inclusion of the diaspora and brain circulation, the needs for reforms to improve education curricula at all levels from primary school to university, lifelong learning and on-the-job training, and in other areas that will directly affect the growth of human resources and capacities, as the most important capital for the country.
Ms. Balluku pointed out that the reforms being undertaken by the Albanian Government take into consideration the possibility of retaining the talents and engagement of those honorable professionals who are in the diaspora and contribute today in key sectors and that, with the establishment of the Innovation and Excellence Agency, the Albanian Government will have the opportunity to invite them to become part of this great process and help innovate the sectors in focus.
Ms. Balluku informed that in the following months, being S3 a priority of the Albanian Government, the S3 strategy document will be completed and for its preparation all ministries and state institutions, part of the Interministerial Committee which she is leading, will be engaged. S3 will be an important instrument for directing future investments in priority areas and in the development based on knowledge, scientific research and innovation, supporting Albania's journey towards the EU.
The Deputy Prime Minister also focused on scientific research, evidencing that Albania has all the necessary potential to develop it, promoting close cooperation bridges between the government, business, academia and civil society, to create a suitable habitat for the establishment and operation of research centers within institutions, universities, business units, or even units under ministries or agencies that cover important sectors.
Ms. Balluku thanked the JRC (Joint Research Center) of the European Commission for the great support given over the years to the S3 process, as well as the Union of Albanian Producers for the support and facilities enabled during the EDP process.
Mr. Emanuele Fabbri, representative of the JRC of the European Commission, opened his speech introducing the concept of “Smart Specialisation” as the capacity of an economic system to generate new specialties through the discovery of new opportunity domains and the concentration of resources and capacities in a territory. The combination of the discovery of opportunities - on the one side - and the concentration of resources - on the other - can lead to the detection of new priority domains and development paths.
Given this concept, “Smart Specialisation Strategy” (S3) is defined as an agenda of economic transformation of a territory towards development opportunities in specific priority domains, and key principles of it are the mechanism of prioritization (as indentification of main areas of interventions), structural transformation of priority domains (throught the modernisation of existing sectors or the foundation of new radical ones), and stakeholder dialogue (as place-based mechanism enabling the discovery of new opportunities).
He appreciates the words said by the Deputy Prime Minister regarding the stakeholder dialogue, representing it as really the core pillar of this process.
In facts he remarked that the consultation with stakeholders is relevant not only for the phase of opportunity discovery, but also for the drafting of the Strategy, as a collective work facilitating the detection of main opportunities and the selection among alternatives.
In the last decade this model has been successfully implemeted by EU Member States and Regional authorities, and introduced within several key European policy frameworks. This model has been also adapted by enlargement economies within the EU integration process and in 2017 the JRC developed a methodology to support enlargement economies in their S3 design process.
He explained that S3 process passes through 5 steps:
Albania has already concluded the phase of “stakeholder dialogue” (EDP). Main findings have been collected, and now it’s important to start translating findings into targets, opportunities into goals and policy instruments.
He remarked that S3 requires integration between policies. In facts S3 is not only about “research and innovation policy”, but it is about “innovation-driven growth”, contributing to innovation-driven targets. In this sense it represents a comprehensive framework, supporting a country towards innovation-driven goals.
For the steps ahead concerning the S3 design process in Albania, he advices to focus on targeting S3 objectives; properly define the perimeters of priority domains; and finally start discussing all investments required to achieve targets and then identify consistent policy instruments.
Ms. Linda Pustina, Head of the National Team of S3 and at the same time Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, emphasized the importance of comprehensive consultation during the EDP, where about 1300 actors were involved in 32 round tables and workshops, actively participating in discussions and giving ideas and suggestions that identified not only the main sectoral interventions such as:
but also horizontal ones such as ICT and Digital Support Services, which are important for the development of priority vertical sectors, as are other measures that must necessarily be taken for these sectors, such as: investment in education, training and scientific research, development of human capital, the retention and development of talents and the engagement of the diaspora in the life and economic development of the country, improving social and youth life in rural areas by encouraging young people to stay there and balancing investments in different regions in transport and communication, infrastructure, digital and internet services, health and education services, and creating opportunities for talent development and interests of young people in those areas.
Ms. Pustina emphasized that the inclusion of the diaspora through brain circulation, conveying the knowledge and skills acquired abroad, but also investing in the cities and villages of origin, is considered a great potential for Albania, and that it is the moment for Albania to turn the migration of Albanians to its advantage, evaluating and utilizing the great human resources in the diaspora.
The development of clusters, the union of operators of each sector to be more competitive, and the improvement of cooperation between business and academia, will enable the reduction of costs and increase competitivenes, becoming more competitive in the region and beyond. Fiscal policies stimulating foreign and domestic investments, simplifying procedures and administrative burden for business and encouraging them to invest in research and innovation will significantly affect the smart development of these sectors.
Ms. Pustina, emphasized that the bilateral meetings with the neighbour countries: Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia were really productive and in those meetings concrete initiatives were proposed, such as: the establishment of joint laboratories for the certification of agricultural products, the realization of joint curricula, the application in projects and the increase the use of EU funds, the preparation of regional tourist packages and a number of other suggestions.
The event included 3 discussion panels:
Panel 1: "Renewable Energy and Natural Resources: Albania Towards Regional Leadership "
Moderated by Mr. Arben Shkodra, Secretary General of the Union of Albanian Producers
Ms. Belinda Balluku, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Infrastructure and Energy
Mr. Enea Karakaci, General Director of OSHEE
Mr. Constantin Von Alvensleben, CEO of Voltalia in Albania
Mr. Francesco Italiano, Managing Director ENI SpA
PhD . Ledin Moisiu, Faculty of Geology and Mining, Polytechnic University of Tirana
Ms. Rigela Gegprifti, CEO Statkraft Albania & Devoll Hydropower Sh.A.
Mr. Dritan Nako, CEO Antea Cement Sh.A.
Panel 2: "Innovation and Development in Agriculture: Transforming into a Healthy and Sustainable Food Chain"
Moderated by Mr. Enio Civici, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
With panelists :
Ms. Anila Denaj, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Mr. Balázs Révész, CEO Vodafone Sh.A.
Mr. Fatbardh Sallaku, Rector of the Agricultural University of Tirana
Mr. Arbi Bamllari, CEO Skaitech Sh.p.k.
Mr. Ylver Bylykbashi, Sweet Farm, Dishnicë, Korçë
Ms. Evelina Azizaj, National Coordinator, Albanian Network for Rural Development
Panel 3: "Albania's Journey Towards Tourism of Excellence and Preservation of Tradition"
Moderated by Ms. Florensa Haxhi, Director of Business Development, Albanian Investment Corporation
With panelists :
Ms. Vilma Bello, Deputy Minister of Tourism and Environment
Mr. Andi Seferi, Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Tirana
Prof. Assoc. Bernard Dosti, Vice Rector, University of Tirana
Ms. Blerina Bombaj, President of the Albanian Agritourism Association
Ms. Mariana Koceku, CEO Neomalsore, Nanbli, Vau i Dejës, Shkodër
Mr. Sulejman Hysa, CEO Bee Therapy, Stërmas, Tirana
Ministers and representatives of agencies and institutions part of the S3 Interministerial Committee, representatives of academia, associations, business and civil society participated in this comprehensive activity. The conference was also attended by ambassadors and representatives of diplomatic missions in our country, European Union Delegation in Tirana and international organizations.
The meeting was held in a hybrid format to enable it to be attended by experts and representatives of other institutions abroad, representatives from the diaspora, etc.
The meeting was attended by 246 participants, of which, 10 attended online.