Brussels, 25 June 2018 – Today at the Digital Assembly in Sofia, Bulgaria, the European Commission is launching the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans.
This aims to support the transition of the region into a digital economy and bring the benefits of the digital transformation, such as faster economic growth, more jobs, and better services.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: “Digital is by definition borderless, spanning regions and continents. Today’s Digital Assembly will see the launch of the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans, following on from the clear commitment expressed by EU leaders in the statement of support signed in Sofia on 17 May. The aim of the event is to ensure that the citizens of the Western Balkan region can fully reap the benefits of the fast-paced and inevitable digital transformation. The commitment to the Digital Agenda will ensure that citizens have the skills to match the demands of the new economy and will help modernise public administrations, strengthen cybersecurity, increase connectivity, and improve the business climate.”
The Digital Agenda for Western Balkans:
The Commission together with Ministers from six Western Balkan partners – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia – commit to:
- Investing in broadband connectivity: Good digital infrastructure is essential for the roll-out of broadband in the Western Balkans. Under the Western Balkan Investment Framework (WBIF), €30 million in EU grants will be made available to deploy broadband infrastructure in the region to mobilise strategic investments and foster socio-economic growth.A technical assistance package has already been approved for Albania under the WBIF as one of the first investment packages.
- Increasing cybersecurity, trust and digitalisation of industry: The EU and the Western Balkan region have a common objective to improve online security and trust. The Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans will support capacity building in trust and security and the digitalisation of industry in the Western Balkans to ensure that all sectors benefit from digital innovations.
- Strengthening the digital economy and society: The Digital Agenda will support the deployment of eGovernment, eProcurement, and eHealth tools and help increase digital skills among citizens. This will be done by supporting the involvement and representation of the Western Balkans in EU initiatives and events. This includes the Startup Europe Summit 2018 in Sofia, enabling regional startups to connect and network with major European hubs; opening Digital Opportunity Traineeship to students and young people from the Western Balkans to acquire first-hand training in digital areas; and opening the EU Code Week for all Western Balkan partners, bringing coding skills and digital literacy to the region.
- Boosting research and innovation: The Digital Agenda will help set up national research facilities and develop state-of-art e-infrastructures in the Western Balkans and will integrate them in an emerging digital European Research Area. This effort will bring world-class training for a new generation of researchers and engineers and will promote interdisciplinary collaboration across Europe.
Given the scale of the investments required, the Commission is strongly committed to closely cooperating with all partners and Western Balkans authorities to explore how the digital agenda can be fully implemented.
The EU–Western Balkan ICT Dialogue initiative created by the Commission in collaboration with the Western Balkans partners will monitor the implementation of the Digital Agenda.
The Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans is a joint effort of the six Western Balkans partners and the European Commission. It was presented on 6 February 2018 as one of the six flagship initiatives of engagement objectives in the Communication on a credible enlargement perspective for and enhanced EU engagement with the Western Balkans. A commitment to launching the Digital Agenda was declared during the Western Balkans Digital Summit in April this year, which included a roadmap for lowering roaming charges between the EU and Western Balkans partners.
At the Trieste Summit in July 2017, Western Balkans leaders endorsed digital integration as one of the four components of the Multiannual Action Plan for a Regional Economic Area.