Facing challenges in their digital transformation journey, including a shortage of digitally-skilled workforce, infrastructure gaps, and digital governmental services, Balkan nations convened for the two-day Western Balkans Digital Summit in Sarajevo.
The summit, the sixth of its kind, was organised to stimulate collaboration in digital transformation, innovation, and connectivity. Gathering over 400 attendees, including government representatives, industry leaders, and digital sector experts, the collective sentiment was that the shared future for Western Balkan countries lies in connectivity, with digital technologies being instrumental in achieving this vision.
Among the participants were Oliver Varhelyi, Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement of the European Commission, Robert Viola, Head of the EU Directorate for Communication and Technology, and Germany’s State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Digital Technology and Transport. Representing Serbia was State Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications, Milan Dobrijevic.
Varhelyi, in a video message, emphasised cyber security’s prominence on the European Commission’s agenda, assuring that Brussels would assist Western Balkan nations in meeting European standards. Reflecting this, the European Commission had launched the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans in 2018, tracking countries’ transitions towards a digital economy.
The Commission, partnering with countries such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, agreed to invest in broadband connectivity, cyber security, and R&D for a digital economy. This June, the EU declared a new investment package of £1.8 billion for 14 Western Balkan projects.
Majlinda Bregu, Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation Council (co-organisers of the Summit), highlighted the substantial roaming price reductions between regional countries and the EU, decreasing on average by 99% from October 1st.
“The cost of roaming for one gigabyte of data was around £6,800, but after the reduction, it will be at most £12. This means reduced bills for residents travelling between the region and the EU,” Bregu noted.
Roberto Viola urged Western Balkan countries to actively engage in the Digital Europe Programme, which offers billions for development. “Through this and other programmes, we’re providing Western Balkan countries access to technologies like supercomputers,” concluded Viola.
Key takeaways from the summit
– The Western Balkan region holds the potential to lead in the digital economy, but must invest in its infrastructure, skills, and innovation.
– Digital transformation can boost economic growth, create jobs, and enhance the life quality of Western Balkans citizens.
– Building an inclusive and equitable digital society that safeguards citizens’ privacy and security is crucial.
– Cyber security and data protection are vital for a thriving digital economy.
– Western Balkans should encourage innovations and entrepreneurship in the digital sector.