5th Annual EUSAIR Forum

Online event | 28 - 29 January 2021

Plenary sessions:

How are we supposed to deliver twin digital and green transition just after the devastating Covid-19 crisis?

Covid-19 pulled back the curtain, behind which we were hiding our vulnerabilities and pushed us to strengthen resilience while achieving the strategic long-term objectives of the digital, green and fair transitions. Digital transformation of the business sector had been accelerated for seven years due to the crisis. Foresight approach could help to anticipate problems and create sort of a momentum for change of needed policy actions at the European level as well. Pandemic itself challenged the idea of borders, it showed how fragile we were as EU and alert us of the need for more cooperation to get out of this crisis and to rebuild our common future. Digital transformation and ecological transition are the keys to build this better future while territorial cooperation in the Adriatic – Ionian region and circular economy shall be the instruments of the transformative Covid-19 recovery strategy to  form a strong innovative community and ensure sustainable territorial development. It is very important to have resilience strategies working in line at all levels (from EU to national, regional and local level as well as from policy to economy sector) to cope with digital and green transition as well as with post-pandemic effects. Events like EUSAIR Forum, are important as they bring together to the same table all partners to discuss their strategies and goals, to collaborate and develop joint plans and use existing regional collaboration mechanisms to resolve common problems.

What is embedding anyway and why should we care about it?

Macro-regional Strategies act as a bridge between the EU, national, regional and local policy making. They can also be seen as a vehicle, that is ready to facilitate and deliver implementation of the EU initiatives, including the Economic and Investment Plan for Western Balkans. And all these could be achieved through the process of the embedding. As the Macro-regional Strategies do not have their own financial recourses, the start of the current programming period presents the best opportunity for all Macro-regional Strategies to bridge the gap between their needs and the funding opportunities. The central point of this discussion was the finding that the only missing elements to secure finances were coordinated efforts and inclusion.

EUSAIR Pillar panels:

How can aquaculture contribute to the recovery after Covid-19 crisis?

Aquaculture can provide multiple benefits in terms of food security, employment, and economic development, while reducing the dependence on often overexploited wild fishery stocks. Freshwater aquaculture in the Adriatic-Ionian region, due to more or less traditional way of farming, still requires further innovative activities and the exchange of best practices to increase efficiency and competitiveness of the sector. In this respect, new financial perspective 2021-2027 as well as other EU and international instruments could serve as potential for financing integrated solutions and innovative approaches to pursue the goal of growth, raising competitiveness and resilient, green recovery with unpolluted nature and clean waters.

What is needed for efficient green transition of energy networks?

EUSAIR has a key role in contributing to and accelerating the transition towards more integrated and interconnected energy systems through the Adriatic-Ionian Region. To accomplish this, concrete policy and coordinated regulatory measures at EUSAIR and multilateral level are essential to be prepared, with respect to the different starting points of EUSAIR member countries. This must be done in a way to strengthen energy security and resilience while protecting environment, promoting green carbon-neutral economic growth, innovation and industrial leadership.

Will we stop traveling? Are we mature enough to turn on the green light and develop the transport sector equally for everyone?

In some cases, the pandemic has been a stimulus for new transport solutions and has improved the performance of the existing transport supply. Based on common actions ofCEFTA and Transport Community, the exchange of data for all goods of first necessity was successful, as well as the implementation of "green corridors" across the whole region. On the other hand, the transport sector has been subject to a number of negative impacts, be it in the field of passenger, waterway or air transport. In the most optimistic forecasts, European traffic will get back to 2019 figures in 2024 (Eurocontrol). Nevertheless, or precisely because of this, the interlocutors at the session are convinced, that transport will play a key role in the future of the economic development and post-Covid 19 recovery of the EUSAIR region. In December 2020, EU adopted the Sustainable Mobility Strategy, which is in line with the European Green Deal and EUSAIR will contribute to the ability of Western Balkans to follow these strategic objectives, hand in hand with EU Member States. With this goal in mind an assessment of transport infrastructure in the Western Balkans will be done in the coming period, which will provide an indication of future developments towards smart and innovative transport in the whole region.

Are we aware of the big responsibility Adriatic-Ionian region holds in preserving Europe's biodiversity?

EUSAIR's intention is to the alignment of policies and approaches across the Adriatic-Ionian region in order to establish the joint investments in the landscape infrastructure and effective management of shared natural resources. EUSAIR's obligation on the other hand, is to appropriately translate EU policies in order to mobilize local institutions, cities, agencies, universities, private sectors and civil society towards better implementation of green infrastructure to foster green and blue corridors. This will at the same time halt habitat degradation, including habitat fragmentation, and with it the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Since EUSAIR region is one of key biodiversity hotspots left in the overpopulated Europe, this goal is of extreme importance for the life as we knew it.

Are we able to decrease emigration from the region and seize the opportunity for the real sustainable tourism?

The continuation of high emigation (in 2018 130,000 highly educated people) from the region is dangerous, because it diminishes the ability of countries to resist the crisis. However there are new opportunities! Due to the newest shifts in demand in tourism - modern travelers seek safety and risk-free travel, they are looking for a better insight into the offer, in which digitalization and innovation will play a major role, and they wish for a unique and personalized experience with CO2-neutral travel. In response to the new demand, new, highly specialized tourist professions are being born that will hopefully prevent people from leaving their homes. Digitalization in tourism, as one of the responses to the crisis, means the introduction of new technologies such as virtual reality. Virtual reality will be essential in the preparation of travel, but also in the preservation of resources and protection of cultural and natural assets. However virtual reality rather promotes than restrains tourism, and is surely becoming an important part of the "new normal".

Special sessions:

Are there any results of this cooperation? Which actual projects contribute to the jointly developed region?

To celebrate the 30th jubilee and achievements of Interreg in bringing cross-border communities closer together and introducing new policies and practices through transnational exchanges, testimonials of various projects representatives and their beneficiaries were showcased as inspirational examples of good cooperation practices that connect and jointly develop the region. Some of the projects had also their virtual exhibition stands, at which participants could visit them and hear more about their stories.

Are we now moving creative and culture services altogether to the digital world?

The panelists agreed that the pandemic resulted in the hyper-production of the digitized cultural content, but also that digital experiences cannot replace live cultural events and the social dimension of culture. The focus should be on public good, not only on profit generation. They underlined the importance of strategic approach, participatory governance in culture and long-term financing of the cultural sector, while at the same time the necessity of institutional and budgetary changes. The cultural and creative sector need radical healing instead of going back to the “old normal”. Different experiences led to the same conclusion: The pandemic has shown that Culture is the highest human need!