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Balancing Progress and EU Alignment

Serbia’s digital transformation, which has been spearheaded by Ana Brnabić, has achieved remarkable progress, but still requires swift harmonisation with EU regulations to ensure the country’s future success and integration

From 2017 until early 2024, Serbia’s digital agenda was synonymous with the tenure of then Prime Minister Ana Brnabić. But with her now taking on the role of Speaker of the National Assembly of Serbia, a question arises as to where the epicentre of Serbia’s digital transformation will be located?

The progress achieved on digitalisation, particularly in establishing an institutional framework conducive to the growth of the start-up community, was undoubtedly both necessary and commendable. The Serbian start-up community and the number of innovative companies have today greatly surpassed the figures seen in 2017. For instance, Serbia’s ICT sector exports are projected to soar to a value of 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion) by 2027, representing a substantial increase from €3.5 billion in 2023 – with that 2023 total itself marking a tenfold surge compared to 2012.

The trajectory of progress is expected to persist, fuelled by ongoing endeavours in digital infrastructure development, preparations for the advance of artificial intelligence and plans to expand science and technology parks across various cities.

Embracing the EU model is an imperative for serbian businesses to access global markets while ensuring the protection of citizens in the digital space

However, it is evident that Serbia still has much ground to cover when it comes to the overall institutional framework needed to swiftly align with European regulations governing digital spaces. Given the intricacy of digital infrastructure and the challenges of managing the entire digital ecosystem, embracing the EU model becomes an imperative for Serbian businesses to access foreign markets, while concurrently safeguarding our citizens in the digital space . As Share Foundation Director Danilo Krivokapić cautioned, “If we hesitate excessively, we could develop the wrong strategic directions that it could prove costly to correct in the future”.

At this juncture – amid a significant slowdown in the EU integration process across the region and with accession fatigue prevalent on all fronts – concerted efforts are needed to advocate for the Western Balkans’ accession to the EU’s Digital Single Market. This endeavour must be preceded by the harmonisation of regulations in this domain.

For example, Turkey, a longstanding EU candidate, was swift in addressing competition concerns in the digital space by proposing amendments to its Competition Law, mirroring the Digital Markets Act, in an effort to adapt regulations to suit evolving business models and safeguard fair competition in the digital sector.

The benefits to both the Union and the region are unequivocal and serve to catalyse further EU integration processes. It thus becomes an imperative to establish a new focal point in the government to champion this development. Potential partners, some of whom we interviewed for this publication, are clearly eager to see such a scenario unfold.

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