Digitalisation touches on every aspect of our lives today. From transport to healthcare, education to shopping, there’s no turning back!
But the digital divide is real. Improving internet access and digital skills is crucial to make sure that no one is left behind. In Europe’s ‘Digital Decade’, the EU is stepping up investment to extend the digital transformation to the Western Balkans.
This will reap big gains for citizens and businesses alike. It will also bring the Western Balkans closer to the EU and strengthen ties and cooperation within the region.
A fragmented digital market, underdeveloped infrastructure and low levels of digital literacy… Add in a big urban-rural divide in broadband coverage – the digitalisation challenges in the Western Balkans are significant.
The region needs large-scale investment to catch up, fully exploit digital business opportunities, and reach the EU’s ‘Gigabit Society’ targets of universally accessible ultra-fast connectivity by 2030.
With the support of the EU and the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), the Western Balkan partners have been implementing a Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans since 2018. This centres on improving digital infrastructure and skills, and creating a better regulatory climate. One notable success is the elimination of roaming charges within the region, thanks to an agreement brokered by the RCC and supported by the EU.
The Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF) – an EU-led donor investment platform – included digital infrastructure as an investment area in 2017. The focus has been on digital connectivity of education, healthcare, public sector administrations, and improving access in rural areas.
Broadband access to 70% of rural households in Albania, 500 schools in Kosovo, 1,500 rural schools in Serbia, and ultra-fast internet for almost 50,000 people in Montenegro and North Macedonia, are just some of the expected results.
The EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans (EIP) and the Common Regional Market Action Plan set the framework for the digital transformation of the region.
The aim is to unlock access to a digital economy in the Western Balkans, bring the region a step closer to the pan-European digital market, as well as strengthen ties and cooperation within the region. Ultimately, the goal is to make Western Balkans ‘fit for the Digital Age’!
Broadband infrastructure – Continued support for deployment of broadband infrastructure, with a focus on connecting rural areas. Broadband networks provide the backbone for digital products and services, such as remote education and healthcare. This can have a transformative effect on local communities and businesses.
Digital trust and security – Setting up secure, energy-efficient and trustworthy data centres, and cloud infrastructure, while ensuring alignment with EU rules and values.
Digital skills – Promoting cooperation in digital education globally through the renewed Digital Education Action Plan (DEAP). Making e-education more accessible, in particular for disadvantaged groups, such as Roma and investing in infrastructure is not enough without parallel investment in skills.
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