Sessions III & IV: Investing in infrastructure, human resources and capacities of each individual in the administration provides for a creative environment for digital economy and society
On the second day of the “Western Balkans Digital Summit”, taking place in Skopje, at Alexander Palace Hotel, attended by representatives of the European Commission, the Regional Cooperation Council, representatives of the IT industry and the business sector, as well as representatives of the academic community and youth, there are still ongoing talks on all issues under the EU’s Western Balkans Strategy, with special attention to digitalization, roaming prices reduction, improving digital skills of citizens, digital interconnection of the countries in the region. During the two-day Summit, the participants took part in four platforms.
Practical terms and conditions for digital connectivity of Western Balkans were discussed at the third and the fourth session titled “Digital Environment Networks and Services, Connectivity and Access” and “Digital Economy and Society”, in order to establish an appropriate framework for their digital connectivity.
Within the third platform of the Summit, discussions were held regarding the primary importance of the broadband development and its quality as a prerequisite for integration into the EU digital single market, as well as the interest of the Western Balkans to continue working on regional roaming-free economic zone and integration within the EU free roaming regime.
Speakers were as follows: David Ringrose, Head of Unit, Policy Outreach and International Affairs, DG CONNECT, European Commission, Dorina Çinari, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Energy of Albania, Goran Poposki, President of the MB of the Macedonian Chamber of Information and Communication Technologies MASIT, Skopje.
David Ringrose from the European Commission pointed out that the challenge EU faced was the investment growth in broadband Internet, the objective thereto being a 100 mbps network in the public institutions for the purpose of delivering better services to the citizens by the public administration.
As per the digital transformation of the Western Balkans, Ringrose underlined that regional approach to this mission was a very important precondition.
Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Energy of Albania, Dorina Çinari, talked about mobile penetration and data traffic in Albania, saying that growth doubled in these areas compared to last year. In the coming period, the Albanian Government would be focused on creating policies to contribute to broadband Internet development.
The session, moderated by Milena Harito, National Coordinator of MAP-REA, Albania, was also attended by Miguel Morgado, Regional Director of the European Investment Bank, Natalija Gelvanovska from the World Bank, Washington, Nives Sandri, representative from “Nokia”, Irini Reljin, Assistant Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of the Republic of Serbia and Johhannes Gungl, Chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications.
Miguel Morgado, Regional Director of the European Investment Bank, shared information that EIB invested more than EUR 100 million in our region in the process of development of key digital technologies in the past years. The plan was for this assistance to be increased in the coming period, considering that the European Investment Bank was a financial tool to attaining digital goals of the European Union. He underlined that development of telecommunications technology was of key importance and EIB invested in its development, mainly through loans, as well as support to the development of new technologies from the very beginning.
Natalija Gelvanovska from the World Bank, Washington, pointed out that telecommunications sector was, in principle, the private sector and that governments had to assist in the development of technologies exclusively through mutual understanding and agreement with the private sector. Communication between these two actors was of key significance in terms of continuation of digitalization development, in particular in the rural regions. Conclusion of the World Bank was that retail prices for broadband Internet were in general too high, as well as that goals for a full development of this technology in the rural segment would be difficult to attain without direct regulation of this issue.
On the other hand, Nives Sandri, as representative from “Nokia”, pointed out that private companies and operators had invested a lot in the development of broadband Internet, however, working together with the governments was needed so as to build the proper infrastructure. In addition, economies needed investments that were to be regulated in general. This process, from a technical point of view, had to be streamlined, since it had direct influence on greater development.
Irini Reljin, Assistant Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications of the Republic of Serbia, said that one of the priorities of the country was additional development of broadband Internet infrastructure. One of the things Serbia undertook to that end was subsidizing the development of this technology in the rural parts of the country.
Johhannes Gungl, Chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications, stressed that BEREC worked on harmonizing the telecommunications laws in the Western Balkan countries, as well as that sound competition was key to development of digital connectivity in Europe.
Last speaker at this panel, Goran Poposki, President of the MB of the Macedonian Chamber of Information and Communication Technologies MASIT, Skopje, pointed out that what was lacking in Macedonia at the moment was a long-term strategy, which would, above all, be a stable one on the longer run and would not change. What the governments in the region were to do was actually to consolidate the digital market at regional level. This was crucial since Western Balkan countries aimed at joining the European Union as a digital single market.
Within the “Digital Economy and Society” session, moderated by Vasko Kronevski, CEO of “Nextsense” IT company from Macedonia, Macedonian Minister of Information Society and Administration, Damjan Manchevski, spoke about the possibilities for digital transformation, in particular the possibilities data economy can provide in the region.
Minister Manchevski’s assessment was that now, following this Summit, it was easy, since the regional support was in place. All governments participated and exhibited strong political will for the digital agenda and transformation of the region.
“What is encouraging is the EU support. Such support is definitely affirmed here in Skopje”, Manchevski said.
He pointed out that it was quite clear and logical why the Ministry he managed connected the information society and the administration. This was a natural link, since administration with strong capacities and skills in digital technology was the basis for good e-services delivered to the citizens and the businesses in building digital economy and society.
Minister Manchevski also mentioned the latest projects for new e-tools and resources of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, such as e-registry of population, digital transparency tool and open data tool.
He also underlined that this process was irreversible, it could not be undone, and the Government was to fully finance the projects. Access to funds under the EU digital agenda, as Manchevski pointed out, was of huge assistance.
David Ringrose, Head of Unit, Policy Outreach and International Affairs, DG CONNECT, European Commission, shared the same opinion. At the beginning, he reiterated the fact that Prime Ministers in the region extended full and unconditional support to the development of the EU digital single market, which was a highly motivating message.
To the end of creating conditions for digital economy, he pointed out that practical measures, such as single roaming prices throughout Europe, and other services aimed at supporting the businesses, were necessary.
At the same time, Ringrose underlined that development of conditions for digital economy necessarily required secure digital market, secure and safe Internet, ready to respond to the cyberattacks.
David Ringrose underlined the fact that the topic of e-Government being at the top of the agenda of the Austrian presidency with the EU starting July by the end of this year was of special importance.
Director of British Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Larisa Halilovic, talked about an exceptional experience the British Council had in her country with 22 towns in the Western Balkans which, under this initiative, had the opportunity to connect with 22 towns in Great Britain through an Internet platform. Level of digital development in the British towns was far beyond the level in the towns in the Western Balkans, however, the wish for cooperation of the Western Balkans towns was really amazing, Halilovic said. She also said that even 129 towns wanted to be part of the project. Their wish was too indicative, their wish to be included, to be in the network was inspiring, while the best solutions for cooperation were proposed by the young people, Halilovic stated.
Mihajlo Jovanovic, Director of Government Office of IT and e-Government Services within the Government of the Republic of Serbia, spoke about the conditions Serbia created to support digital economy, such as the projects for e-signature and e-administration, as well as open data portal.
Mirlinda Karçanaj from the National Agency of Information Society of Albania said that the Government of the Republic of Albania provided even 1,325 service to the citizens through a digital platform, among which the e-stay service for the investors for their stay during their investment process in the country. These government measures provided for 250 hour-time saving for the citizens, time they used to spend to obtain such services, as well as EUR 250,000 which the citizens spent for these services.
Mislav Galler, Executive Director of VIP Macedonia, talked about the readiness of the industry to participate in the digital transformation. To that end, as he said, investments in infrastructure, besides being the main business activity of the telecom sector, were also made so as to respond to the demands of the users and the government policies. “We are ready to cooperate with the citizens, the governments, the organizations included in the digital agenda”, Galler said.
Dušan Radošević, Director of Services in South-East Europe, SAP, one of the major software companies in the region, pointed out that he believed in the benefits of digitalization. That was why his company was one of the sponsors for the preparation of “Impact of Digitalization on Prosperity of Western Balkans” study. He emphasized the need for greater cyber security, as well as the new generation of software connected to big databases. Radošević pointed out that digital transformation would bring job opportunities, in particular blockchain technology and robotics.
“Digital Economy and Society” session was moderated by Vasko Kronevski, CEO of “Nextsense” IT company from Macedonia, who said that all doubts disappeared with the “Western Balkans Digital Summit” and support coming from the governments was motivating for both the industry and the digital transformation as a whole.