Intensifying regional cooperation for better digital future of the Western Balkans

Apr 17, 2018 | Press Release

The two-day regional event “Western Balkans Digital Summit” started today with the official opening ceremony.

President of the Government of Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Maria Gabriel, State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Thomas  Bareiß and Minister of Information Society and Administration, Damjan Manchevski, had their addressing at the opening ceremony regarding the significance of the Summit and the benefits from its agenda for the countries of the region.

The President of the Government of Republic of Macedonia, in his addressing at the opening of the Western Balkans Digital Summit which focuses on the digital transformation of the region, before numerous government representatives of countries of the region, EU representatives, members of delegations and teams of the countries sponsors of the Berlin Process, as well as hundreds of other representatives of organizations and companies in the IT industries, has emphasized that the objectives of the Summit such as competitiveness, economic development and jobs, as well as digital connectivity in the region are very close to the strategic policies of the Government’s Economy Development Plan.

“They are in line with the long-term vision of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia for creation of best conditions for a competitive and sustainable economy, following the example of the EU economy. Our economies and societies are currently subject to huge changes. Many of these changes are fueled by reforms, but also by new technologies and innovative ways of economic development, among which one of the crucial criteria and conditions is – communication and connectivity. The digital revolution has removed geographical barriers. Distances between different points in the world with the same interest are no longer meaningful, “said Prime Minister Zaev in his speech.

The President of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, pointed out that one of the goals of the digital transformation is raising the standards and digital connectivity between the countries of the Western Balkans and the EU countries.

“Regional cooperation is crucial in connecting countries, citizens and Western Balkan economies. The regional cooperation got its tangible results with the Berlin Process, and especially after the adoption of the Multi-Annual Action Plan for Regional Economic Area last year in Trieste, “pointed out Prime Minister Zaev.

EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Maria Gabriel, in her addressing at the Summit opening, said that organizing this Summit is an important step towards connecting the region on a joint digital platform, which is to open many opportunities for the citizens, the companies and the governments in the region.

“European Union showed strong will, through the Enlargement Strategy for the Wester Balkan Countries, to fully dedicate to this region and the citizens of all countries. Goals of the digital transformation, being the basis of the initiatives planned to arise from this Summit, are aimed thereto. Focal point of the goals are the citizens in the region and the incentive to obtain better services for economic progress with the help of the digital technology”, EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Maria Gabriel, pointed out in her address at the opening ceremony, announcing that one of such benefits, reduction of roaming prices, is to be obtained at the upcoming EU – Western Balkans Summit to be held in May in Sofia, Republic of Bulgaria.

State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Thomas Bareiß emphasized the so-far progress in the Western Balkan countries within the Berlin Process initiative, underlining the Federal Republic of Germany and the EU remain focused on the region.

“Potentials which arise and become real under this first initiative for digital transformation of the Western Balkan region, open great opportunities, having the key role in connecting the region and bringing the standards closer to the ones of the EU”, Thomas Bareiß pointed out at the opening ceremony.

In his address at the opening ceremony of the first “Digital Summit Western Balkans 6”, Minister of Information Society and Administration, Damjan Manchevski, said that digital information was not easy, it was a complex and an expensive undertaking, as well as that investments in both infrastructure and human resources were needed.

“What is positive is the changing awareness and the political will in place. We, all Balkan countries, are finally together, putting joint efforts to make more for our citizens. Despite all political issues, despite all historical challenges, we are all together today, as we will get together again in a month time in Sofia, then in London, to affirm that the Western Balkan countries are united in the digital transformation, as well as that we have the will, the dedication, and the cooperation to jointly accept the change. This is a historical opportunity for the Western Balkans to be an example. A good example. Not as for the way we were recognized in the past. We are already working together, with the assistance from the EU, on a bilateral basis with the Berlin Process countries, organizations such as RCC, the World Bank, our friends from the USA.


Prime Ministers’ Panel: Integrating the WB6 in the pan-European Digital Market

Immediately following the opening ceremony at the first “Digital Summit Western Balkans 6”, Prime Ministers’ Panel was held, having the Prime Minister of the Macedonian Government, Zoran Zaev, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denis Zveidić, Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, Vice Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Albania, Senida Mesi, and Minister of Economy of the Government of Montenegro, Dragica Sekulić.

This working session was moderated by the Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council, Goran Svilanovic.

Panel participants analyzed the conditions of the digital agenda in the Western Balkan countries, underlining that the characteristic of the so-far cooperation, such as the political will and the focus on the future of the region, is the basis for, as well as the approach in, achieving the digital transformation of the region.

Most important areas which the governments of the countries on the region focus on are numerous digital services for the citizens in all areas, such as administration of vital records documents, licenses in the field of agriculture and economy, digital forms for financial services to the citizens, e-health and, in particular, digital services to the foreign investors.

Special attention at the Prime Ministers’ Panel was paid to the regional initiatives, such as digitalization of customs services, as well as telecommunication services to the citizens.


Presentation of a regional study: The impact of digitalization on prosperity of the Western Balkans

Morning plenary session at the Summit continued with a presentation of “Impact of Digitalization on Prosperity of the Western Balkans” study by its authors, Mr. Florian Bieber, Director of the Center for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, and Ms. Maruška Vizek, Director at the Ekonomski Institut Zagreb.

The presented study is of importance since it provides answer to the question as for where is the region at the moment, at the same time being a signpost, showing what needs to be done in the near future.

At the same time, the study, on the basis of the EU experience, as well as on the basis of the experience of certain EU Member States, gives directions on where the answers are to be looked for as regards the approach for support to the digital transformation, such support being available through the EU funds.

Prime Minister Zaev considered the study as an exceptionally valuable resource to determine the state-of-play, however, what was more important was that it provided guidelines to obtain significant suggestions on how to achieve the digital transformation in the best way possible in every country in the region, as well as the region as a whole.

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In the next two days, numerous debates, tribunes and workshops on digital transformation, digital economy and connectivity, digital security and digital skills will take place, and several meetings at the highest level of governments in the region will be held in the political part during the Western Balkans Digital Summit.

At the same time during the Summit, there will be activities at the Digital EXPO at the first Western Balkans Digital Summit, representing a unique opportunity for companies in the digital industry to showcase their innovative products and services, and to meet and connect with potential partners from the government and business sector.