1. What exactly is eTrade? Is it something about shopping on the Internet… ?
eTrade is cross-border paperless trade. It is an overarching topic that covers the import-export cycle for goods and services between countries, addressing areas like:
- Online buying or selling of goods or services from any part of the world;
- Transferring goods or services across borders, including the exchange of paperless documents between businesses and government, and delivering these goods or services to the buyer.
The EU is a single market that allows the free exchange of goods, services and relevant information supported by standardised technology and frameworks between its member states. Among the Eastern partner countries, however, there is lack of harmonisation in paperless trade procedures, both among the countries and with the EU. For example, electronic invoices and contracts are not equally recognised from one country to another.
Through its EU4Digital initiative, the European Union supports trade harmonisation between the EU and the Eastern partner countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It also supports trade harmonisation among the Eastern partner countries themselves.
2. So what does EU4Digital do to promote eTrade in the Eastern Partnership region?
As part of EU4Digital, several activities and pilots support cross-border collaboration. The focus is to harmonise the following areas of eTrade:
- Cross-border eTrade: exchange of paperless documents between trade partners (e.g. businesses and government) from different countries.
- eCustoms: systematic and automatic exchange of customs information (e.g. pre-arrival information exchange, risk assessment, data matching, results of customs controls) between logistics business and customs authorities.
- Digital Transport Corridor: data-related services across physical transport corridors for end-to-end information exchange at all stages of transportation – air, road, rail and sea.
- eCommerce: sale of goods through electronic transactions carried out on computer networks.
- Networking: involvement of stakeholders from Eastern partner countries to build connections and to share information about trends, actions and state of play in eTrade with EU counterparts.
3. What is the cross-border eTrade pilot? Which countries are involved and what exactly does it do? Can we expect its benefits to be replicated across all countries in the coming years?
The aim of the pilot activity is to test cross-border data exchange between several public and private entities using the eDelivery solution, a secure electronic data and document exchange channel. The goal is to see whether such data exchange can be fully functioning from the following perspectives:
- Technical. Test if interoperability can be reached and if there are technical barriers preventing the solution from being used on cross-border level.
- Legal. Perform a primary legal environment review to identify the required changes in national legislation to fully enable the use of the solution from the legal perspective.
- Organisational. Identify responsible institutions and required organisational/institutional changes in order to ensure that the solution is fully functional on a national as well as cross-border level.
After completion of the pilot project, the EU4Digital Facility provided the recommendations for required changes in the above-mentioned areas to implement the full-scale solution and make it fully functioning, as well as legally binding.
Two eDelivery pilots were carried out, one between an Eastern partner and an EU country – Ukraine and Poland – and the other between two Eastern partner countries – Armenia and Ukraine. Find out how the eDelivery solution was tested in Ukraine: Cutting through the paper chain: EU opens the digital path to trade in Ukraine
Virtual site visits were also organised for partner country representatives to observe piloted solutions to support them in making informed decisions regarding the implementation of specific solutions in their country.
4. What is eCustoms and what are the benefits?
eCustoms refer to the systematic and automatic exchange of customs information (e.g. information exchange on empty trucks, risk assessment, data matching, results of customs controls) between economic operators and customs authorities.
When economic operators move goods across borders and interact with customs offices, they experience delays caused by the lack of automation and absence of timely communication between customs offices. As a result, end buyers also experience delays in getting their goods. This happens because:
- Customs information is not received on time, creating ineffective safety and security risk management for customs and businesses;
- Automatic data matching is not set (e.g. to match if declaration info in the departing country is the same as in the arrival country);
- Pre-arrival information is not exchanged (e.g. when cargo comes to the border crossing point, the carrier must wait until the risk assessment is completed before crossing the border).
The eCustoms activity helps to facilitate these issues by providing businesses and governments with necessary cooperation models (e.g. cooperation processes, communication systems), allowing efficient information sharing and exchange. It optimises interaction with customs offices to decrease trade costs for businesses and deliver goods and services faster.
The EU4Digital Facility analysed existing solutions, and their applicability in the region, selecting the SEED (Systematic Exchange of Electronic Data) solution for the eCustoms pilot as the best fit. SEED has been implemented by Customs Administrations of the Western Balkan countries, financed by the EU, and offers:
- Proven security
- Data standards
- Easy adaptation to national systems
- Flexibility in terms of functionalities and data sets exchange requirements.
In the Western Balkans, SEED has successfully tackled the following problems:
- Undervaluation through swapping of invoices and decrease of customs value at entrance
- Fake confirmation of exits of loaded trucks (violations related to VAT refunds)
- Irregularities related to the (mis)use of transport documents (e.g. ATA carnets)
- Detection of serious customs offences like smuggling of tobacco and drugs.
The goal of the pilot is to enable the exchange of electronic customs data between the customs authorities of Eastern partner countries and EU member states. This is the starting point when initial (limited) functionalities and data sets are piloted.
The eCustoms pilot was already successfully tested between customs administrations of Belarus and Lithuania. Find out more: Pilot for export dataset exchange goes live between Belarus and Lithuania.
The piloting facilitates the improvement of process of customs data exchange between customs offices, shows the potential progress in customs clearance, risk assessment, and cooperation between cross-border customs administrations. As a result, recommendations for full scale solution implementation are prepared to enable and replicate the solution across the region.
5. A Digital Transport Corridor from the Baltic to the Black Sea: it sounds ambitious but what exactly does it mean and how will it help trade?
A Digital Transport Corridor (DTC) is a set of data-related services across physical cross-country transport corridors for end-to-end information exchange at all stages of transportation – air, road, rail and sea. This includes services and applications for supply chain stakeholders like information submission for authorities, visibility services, marketplace services, booking and ordering services, and chain composition services.
When logistics businesses move goods and services across borders, they interact with different logistics systems in different Eastern partner countries and the EU. This creates technical barriers hampering the instant exchange of logistics information between countries. In addition, legal frameworks for logistics processes and information systems being developed are not the same in these countries, making logistics processes even longer and more complicated. This translates into higher logistics costs, and delays in the delivery of goods and services.
The Digital Transport Corridor between the Baltic and the Black Sea should help to organise logistics processes and electronic transport data flow so that information is exchanged instantly between logistics chain participants (traders, freight forwarders, customs, other government agencies and consumers), optimising the flow of goods and services and saving time and money.
To facilitate and harmonise logistic information exchange, the EU has adopted the Regulation on electronic
freight transport information (eFTI) and is developing supporting acts/specifications to be followed by EU
Member States, moving towards a decentralised federated network of platforms, enabling public
authorities to acknowledge electronic data as legal.
EU4Digital developed preparatory actions by adopting EU developments in the Eastern partner countries to
test the technological approach for information exchange, regulatory environment and organisational
arrangements within and between Eastern partner countries. In this context, experts designed a three-year
programme, and defined preparatory actions to establish a DTC between the Baltic and the Black Seas. The implemented programme aims to establish a seamless end-to-end logistics information exchange across
the transport corridor between the Baltic and the Black Seas or other parts of the region.
6. What are the obstacles hindering eCommerce, and what is EU4Digital doing to help?
Electronic commerce – or eCommerce – refers to the sale of goods through electronic transactions carried
out on computer networks. While the EU is a single market that allows the free exchange of goods and
services between member states, goods and services cannot easily be exchanged between the EU and
Eastern partner countries, due to differences in eCommerce legislation, standards and ecosystem.
For example, EU businesses trading with any part of the world want to trust that goods follow general
safety requirements, but face obstacles from the fact that standards and legislation in the EU and Eastern
partner countries are not harmonised.
In addition, the EU introduced a new eCommerce VAT package in 2021. This wide-ranging reform affects
eCommerce processes across Europe and beyond, and businesses and governments have limited
awareness of its impact. In this new reality, the Eastern partner countries need support to move and adapt
to electronic commerce.
EU4Digital’s eCommerce activity provides recommendations for Eastern partner countries to achieve
smooth electronic trade with the EU, by focusing on harmonisation of three areas, namely:
- eCommerce ecosystem
The goal of these recommendations is to:
- Eliminate the barriers for cross-border eCommerce;
- Boost cross-border eCommerce volume;
- Increase awareness and prepare partner countries for the EU 2021 eCommerce changes.
To bring the highest value to the EU and Eastern partner countries, the analysis has been used to identify
specific challenges, and to design and launch a pilot solution to address these challenges. As a result,
EU4Digital launched an eCommerce pilot, establishing national virtual warehouses in three pilot countries –
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia - to support retailers, marketplaces, delivery operators and customs to
place the products for sale abroad and facilitate cross-border delivery.
The virtual warehouse logs data about products for eCommerce sale, in a format that follows EU and
international requirements. Once logged into the warehouse, products can be marketed on any number of
international online marketplaces such as eBay or Etsy, while the standardised data allows postal services
to launch delivery and ensures seamless cross-border customs procedures.
Find out more about the eCommerce pilot:
Selling Armenian socks to Germany: EU4Digital bringing EU markets closer through eCommerce support
Just one click for the European market – how the EU supports eCommerce in Georgia
Click for trade: EU4Digital helping Azerbaijan to set up for eCommerce
7. What is the networking activity all about? How does it contribute to eTrade?
Networking is about building connections and sharing information about trends and actions in eTrade.
EU4Digital has many activities and pilot projects in eTrade that require cross-country collaboration. The
sharing of information is therefore vital to raise awareness of eTrade issues, stimulate the implementation
of reforms and align activities among international stakeholders.
International networking activities include study visits to observe, examine and discuss piloted solutions,
study visits to examine existing solutions and best practices outside Eastern partner countries, and events
to exchange contacts and share information about trends in eTrade. These events target policy makers,
investors, digital vendors, service providers, R&D centres, academia, banks, insurances, public
administration, agencies and other eTrade stakeholders. Events recently promoted by the Networking
activity include Digital transport days (DTD), SEED site visit, virtual eDelivery site visit to Europe, and others.
8. What might eTrade in the region look like in the future? How will EU4Digital have helped?
The aim of EU4Digital is to support the harmonisation of eTrade to help it become paperless, automatic and unified between businesses and authorities of different countries (in terms of trade processes, communication, legislation and standards). To move closer to this scenario, EU4Digital is facilitating analysis and problem identification, connecting counterparties, testing solutions and providing recommendations.
We can envisage the following best-case scenario in the future of trade:
A business in Stockholm, Sweden has just agreed on a trade with a business in Odesa, Ukraine. Representatives from the two businesses were connected at an eTrade event organised by EU4Digital. Goods were selected through the eCommerce online marketplace, and documents exchanged and signed through computer networks. Without any paper involved, contracts were signed and invoices paid. It was fast and easy to manage these documents, as legislation and technical standards are aligned. This meant there were no additional documents that businesses were not aware of or were not used to dealing with.
The businesses agreed to load the purchased goods in Sweden (country of departure), to be carried by sea all the way through the Baltic Sea where the goods would be loaded onto a truck in Klaipeda port, Lithuania (transit country). The truck would then deliver the purchased goods to Odesa, Ukraine (country of destination).
When loading the goods in Sweden, the business submitted customs documents electronically. This was done before the goods reached the border. The customs authority was able to review the documents beforehand and perform risk assessment. It was easy for customs authorities in Sweden and other transit and destination countries to cooperate, because the processes (e.g. required documents, formats) and communication systems are aligned. This makes the customs operations fast and secure. Nothing illegal can get inside the transport performing operations without customs noticing it.
The goods started the journey in Sweden using sea transport. But it was easy and fast to switch to a vehicle on arrival in the Lithuanian port. The reason for this is the Digital Transport Corridor from the Baltic to the Black Sea. For trading parties, it meant that documents were exchanged instantly so the check and alignment processes happened fast.
Whenever the truck arrived at a border, there was no delay to proceed with the journey. As customs deals were set at the beginning of the journey, authorities only checked that the goods were sealed. The truck moved along.
Eventually, the truck arrived in Odesa, Ukraine. The goods were unsealed and checked. Successful delivery was confirmed electronically so the Swedish business could easily track the delivery.
The two companies look forward to future business.
9. ICT Innovation is clearly vital to economic development in the digital age: how far behind are the Eastern partner countries compared to the European Union?
ICT Innovation is a driving force for socio-economic change. ICT equips countries with tools to reorganise and globalise their economies, achieve faster economic growth, create new jobs, raise living standards and reduce inequalities. In the EU, the ICT sector is significant and developing rapidly – from 2013 to 2018, the value added by ICT services increased by 27%, while the valued added by ICT manufacturing increased by 31%. The value added by the ICT sector was equivalent to 3.6% of GDP in 2017 in the EU, and the sector is currently one of most efficient of the EU economy: in 2017, the apparent labour productivity of the ICT sector was 65.2% higher than that recorded for the non-financial business economy as a whole, making up to €117,600 per person employed in Belgium, and around €100,000 in Finland and France. However, the biggest effect of ICT is that it is one of the few sectors that enables the creation of general purpose technologies that contribute to productivity and value added of traditional sectors of economy, via digitisation and digital transformation.
The Eastern Neighbourhood countries have also seen a rise in the growth of the ICT sector: ICT service export share in 2017 made up around 5% of total exports and around 19% of the service export in Belarus and Ukraine. The region is rich with innovative ideas, and some solutions have already become global. However, the innovation ecosystem of the countries, which has a high potential to contribute to the development of non-ICT sectors of the economy, lags behind that of the EU. Whereas there are over 80 business incubators and 150 accelerators in the EU, the ICT Innovation study has counted only 42 incubators and 19 accelerators in the Eastern partner countries.
ICT-enabled development in the region should include more coordinated efforts to address the lack of support from national ICT ecosystems, which is crucial to leverage ICT for sustainable economic development. A fresh impetus should be given to promote seed and venture funding, acceleration programmes, networking and clustering and address needs for specific competences and skills to work on global markets. These elements are vital for a seamless and strong ICT sector. Inadequate attention to innovation ecosystems leads to a brain drain and start-up drain from the Eastern partner countries to those countries with a better developed ICT ecosystem. EU4Digital aims to contribute to enhancement of such ecosystems to enable the growth of companies within the region, their contribution to GDP, export and workplaces.
10. What does EU4Digital do in the area of ICT Innovation?
EU4Digital has five lines of action in the area of ICT Innovation:
- Setting in place a common legislative framework in the Eastern Neighbourhood region that favours ICT innovation, based on EU norms and best practices. This was done in five policy areas prioritised by the Eastern Partner countries, and included country-specific policy recommendations and action plans that were taken by the country stakeholders for further implementation.
- Developing a common framework for a modular training package (EdTech Hub programme) for addressing the needs of SMEs and other groups of ecosystem stakeholders in the region (policy makers, ICT innovation infrastructure organisations).
- Promoting the networking of innovation ecosystem players within the region and with the EU, through networking events, study visits and the establishment of an ICT Innovation Governance and policy coordination forum for key EaP stakeholders.
- Extending European networks and platforms to include the Eastern partner countries. EU4Digital will identify the relevant EU organisations and facilitate the registration of the ICT innovation and start-up ecosystem players from Eastern partner countries on the relevant European networks and platforms.
- Implementing promotion campaigns in the Eastern partner countries for raising awareness of the importance of ICT innovation and increasing the participation of women in the ICT innovation field.
- Conducting a 'Market assessment for Digital Innovation and Scale-up Initiative (DISC) in Eastern partner countries’ to address the investment gap in digital innovations and to support the scale-up of digital start-ups in the region. The Market Assessment will support the European Commission in understanding the investment gap and will serve as a basis for considering further initiatives on improving access to finance for start-ups in the region. As a continuation, EU4Digital developed a guide for ICT entrepreneurial ecosystem development that provided a maturity assessment of each country, and country-level recommendations to enable the growth of the Start-up ecosystems in the six Eastern partner countries. One of the key tools to implement these recommendations will be the EaP DISC Capital regional venture funding facility
11. What’s wrong with the legislative framework as it stands? Isn’t it more important to support innovation on the ground?
Innovation needs a favorable environment if it is to bloom. This includes access to knowledge, risk-tolerant funding and the right to make mistakes. Entrepreneurs often say they do not need support from the government, what they ask for is for the government not to interfere and allow them to innovate.
The creation of an innovation-friendly environment, however, does need some steps from policy makers. Policy intervention is needed in the areas where market failures are observed – in particular, at the stages of performing fundamental and applied research in deep tech areas, from which innovative companies source the advanced expertise.
A framework for the operation of crowdfunding, business angels and venture capital needs to be introduced that defends both investors and start-ups. Regulatory sandboxes (a controlled environment in which innovations in financial technology can take place while providing safeguards to manage risks and allowing players to experiment with innovative financial product and services) are created to check how new technologies like blockchain and autonomous vehicles can be used to satisfy customer needs without exposing them to risks. The defence of intellectual property rights needs an institutional framework that is harmonised with the world system.
Aligning basic terms and learning from best EU practices, tools and regulatory approaches will allow businesses from the Eastern Neighborhood countries and EU countries to work on similar rules and facilitate the flow of European risk investments into Eastern partner countries.
The EU4Digital ICT Innovation stream developed policy recommendations in five ICT Innovation policy areas prioritised by the Eastern partner countries:
- Intellectual property rights management for digital innovations.
- New organisational forms for supporting ICT Innovation.
- Digitising industry (digital transformation of SMEs in traditional sectors).
- Digital innovation SMEs’ access to finance.
- ICT innovation ecosystems for start-ups and scale-ups.
12. What is the Digital Innovation and Scale-up Initiative and how could it help innovation in the region?
The Digital Innovation and Scale-up initiative (DISC) was initially launched in the Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe region, and aims to address the investment gap in digital innovations and to support the scale-up of digital start-ups in the region.
Based on this approach, the European Commission aimed to measure the need and possibilities for the implementation of a DISC-like initiative (a specific EU financial support mechanism) in the Eastern partner countries. EU4Digital conducted a ‘Market assessment for the Digital Innovation and Scale-up Initiative (DISC study) in the Eastern partner countries’ that confirmed the funding gap for technology start-ups. In order to address this gap, a guide for developing the ICT entrepreneurial ecosystems has been developed and contributed with recommendations for building the investment capacity, including other areas such as access to education, market, and facilities (resources). One of the tools to implement these recommendations will be the EaP DISC Capital regional venture funding facility, which was designed by EU4Digital ICT Innovation team experts. The facility should offer access to capital and knowledge for technology start-ups from idea to growth stages in the six Eastern partner countries.
13. You mentioned integration with European networks: it sounds good but what does it really mean for innovative businesses in the Eastern partner countries?
The EU has created a number of online networks and platforms for ICT innovation ecosystem players, like start-ups, accelerators, venture capitalists, etc. They allow to connect businesses and organisations in different EU member states to exchange contacts, ideas and participate in shared initiatives and events.
The extension of these online networks and platforms to the Eastern partner countries will allow the relevant stakeholders from the six countries to integrate into the larger EU ICT innovation and start-up ecosystem. Businesses and organisations from the Eastern Neighborhood countries will be able more easily to find relevant counterparts in the EU, investments, services and business partners, which will boost the development of ICT innovation and start-up ecosystems in both regions. The ICT Innovation stream has established direct bridges among leading EU organisations and target stakeholders in the six Eastern partner countries in five priority ICT innovation policy areas via a series of networking events, and currently facilitates further integration and cooperation.
14. What about a common framework for a modular training package? Who is they for and which skills gaps does it address? When can we expect it to come into force?
The common framework for a modular training package is aimed at the main groups of ecosystem stakeholders in the Eastern partner countries:
- Local policy makers,
- ICT innovation infrastructure organisations.
EU4Digital developed a concept to build the EdTech Hub programme for learning of digital competencies in the Eastern partner countries. This is seen as a common digital platform powered by EdTech solutions to address the EU commitment to provide support for 500,000 SMEs and digitally empower 1 million EaP citizens. The programme concept envisages access to high quality content in the priority digital areas (Data and AI, Machine learning, software development, marketing etc.), sourced from established EU-based and global learning content providers to be delivered through globally recognised learning platforms. Its purpose is to increase the competitiveness of SMEs in the digital economy and enhance the digital competences of innovation ecosystem builders (policy-makers and innovation support organisations).
15. What exactly is eHealth? I don’t want my doctor to be replaced by an application…
The World Health Organization defines eHealth simply as “the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for health”. Healthcare professionals will certainly not be replaced by technology any time soon, but the use of information technologies can help doctors in their daily work.
The goal of the eHealth is to ensure access to information about patient health at the right time and at the right place, and thus to ensure the continuity and quality of healthcare services for better health outcomes.
For example, eHealth systems allow:
- healthcare professionals to focus most of their attention on the patient rather than filling forms;
- patients to have reduced waiting times by enabling online registration;
- pharmacists to validate prescriptions and minimise the administrative paper trail burden by using ePrescription (eP) services.
In essence, eHealth introduces new ways of providing healthcare services that ease collaboration between different health care institutions and allow the sharing of crucial information, enabling new forms of interaction with patients.
At the core of this is the Electronic Health Record (EHR), which plays a key role by collecting care events and information from different health care providers in order to provide a single, unique EHR for each individual, accessible via interoperable EHR services.
eHealth solutions thus deliver a multitude of benefits, with the exchange of electronic documents saving time for healthcare specialists and patients, and avoiding the duplication of clinical procedures by creating, storing and sharing information. Accessible health data also helps innovation by allowing the analysis of health data, supporting disease prevention policies by flagging up future challenges. The system also promotes transparency, as the actions of health care participants are recorded and security checks deployed to ensure that relevant processes are adhered to.
16. How developed is eHealth in the European Union? Is there a big gap between the EU and the Eastern Partner countries?
The EU faces many of the same general health issues seen in Eastern partner countries, such as an ageing population, leading to a similar need to optimise and modernise healthcare services. The European Commission has established the Digital Single Market as one of its main priorities, and digital health care services are part of this strategy. The EU has already adopted legislation on medical equipment, data protection, digital identification and IT security that create a great environment for eHealth services. Many EU countries have been quick to adopt eHealth strategies, which led to political commitment and an accelerated and well-orchestrated development of eHealth services, while Eastern partner countries have advanced through many individual – but less concerted – eHealth projects.
Moreover, the EU has standardised ePrescription and Patient Summary service definitions to enable cross-border pilots between member states. The trend now in the EU is to move towards preparing the eHealth infrastructure to be ready for Artificial Intelligence, genomic data and personalised medicine initiatives.
17. So what exactly does EU4Digital do in the area of eHealth?
EU4Digital works to assess the state of health data management in Eastern partner countries and to develop guidelines so that the capabilities of health information exchange and management are in harmony with EU best practices and with the realities of Eastern partner countries. Ideally, this means that data that conforms to the same norms is interoperable among various organisations, stakeholders and even across borders, which is important in providing better care for patients, no matter where they are.
Another aspect of eHealth covered by EU4Digital is the online collaboration platform that will allow stakeholders from Eastern partner countries to share best practices in eHealth from their countries and collaborate for further development. The purpose of this is to promote leading practice and have a dedicated space for eHealth information, learning materials and key expert communication.
Additionally, EU4Digital aims to facilitate Eastern partner countries’ participation in EU initiatives to foster communication, innovation and the adoption of new solutions, particularly regarding the challenges of caring for an ageing population, including remote medical consultation services, data analysis for better diagnostics, smart home technologies, social and activity programmes.
Also, EU4Digital aims to facilitate Eastern Partner countries’ participation in the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP on AHA), which has a repository of good practices implemented in European countries regarding many of the challenges mentioned above.
18. You highlight interoperability as a key priority, but what does it mean: what difference will it make to me as a patient?
Interoperability is the ability of different systems, organisations or countries to exchange health information and use it meaningfully. That means the participants must be able to understand and interpret the shared information correctly, which basically means using the same standards and processes to provide an eHealth service.
Interoperability is especially crucial in the health sector, as this domain is heterogeneous and complex, covering diverse actors ranging from providers to complex sets of patients who visit and may be registered in several health care institutions. Moreover, as national governments often provide a range of public services, every healthcare system often consists of a peculiar mix of private and public services that are often badly integrated. A healthcare provider can offer a specific type of services, and thus deals with a subset of patients and their information, which requires well developed interoperability between institutions to share the overall picture of a patient. There are further issues in the international space and among EU member states, where healthcare collaboration is often hindered by differences in the eHealth vocabulary used and different interpretations of the same notions, which prevents effective cross-border collaboration.
Lack of interoperability translates to various problems facing citizens as they attempt to access health services in different institutions and countries. Therefore, interoperability will improve the health of every citizen in the Eastern partner countries. Our vision is that in 10 years’ time, when a patient from Country A needs urgent care in Country B, healthcare providers will have immediate access to information on which medications the patient is sensitive or allergic to. This summary of a patient’s health condition is crucial when making urgent life or death choices that characterise the healthcare sector.
19. What exactly is the eHealth collaboration platform? Who will benefit from it and how?
The eHealth collaboration platform is the new channel for regional collaboration between eHealth experts in Eastern partner countries. While it will be closed to the general public, it will serve as a collaboration space for professionals of Eastern partner countries in their work on developing common eHealth guidelines and, in the future, services. This platform will facilitate international eHealth development and harmonisation initiatives in the region.
The contents of the platform will range from calendar and meeting management to guideline projects and deployment plans. To implement this, a portal platform will be used, which offers a cloud document repository and collaboration tools as well as no code page creation within separate user areas for different groups.
This platform will facilitate knowledge sharing between experts as they implement initiatives in their home countries. This will allow to accelerate and optimise reforms in the region by highlighting the best performance examples and enabling partners to avoid the pitfalls experienced in neighbouring countries.
20. What are the EU initiatives in which Eastern Partner countries can take part? What kind of programmes are we talking about?
Eastern partner countries are encouraged to participate in the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP on AHA) run by the European Commission. The programme has many levels of interaction, from browsing through information articles about innovation in eHealth to event attendance and more active roles like taking part in the Action Group and Reference Site programmes.
Participation in EIP on AHA promotes information sharing and networking, which means that, for example, a member of the Reference Site programme can become aware of a solution implemented in an EU member state and through the programme apply to adopt it in their region and vice versa.
Since there are many levels of participation, anyone can find a way to participate – from individuals to organisations, including governmental entities, private sector companies, research-oriented institutions and social organisations.
21. What might eHealth systems in the region look like in five years? How will EU4Digital have helped?
The health care of the future can be imagined as seamless patient mobility from provider to provider, country to country, as well as health care provision continuity and informed decision making for better health outcomes. Cross-border eHealth infrastructure will allow any citizen travelling abroad to receive prescribed medication from a local pharmacy. The sharing of patient summaries will help doctors to understand patients’ medical history and avoid mistakes when prescribing medicine. In addition, a growing medical tourism industry will offer citizens a chance to receive a higher quality of care and reduce costs.
The EU4Digital eHealth team is aiming to develop standards and guidelines to support cross-border health care in the Eastern partner countries, which is only possible when common understanding and cooperation is reached. To make this happen, the team has conducted an analysis of the current state of play of eHealth in the Eastern partner countries, and identified each country’s challenges and priorities. The set of guidelines will serve as a basis for establishing cross-border ePrescription and Patient Summary services in the region.
We have identified four directions for the region, which are recommended as key enablers for further action and positive change in eHealth in the future:
- Defining a Comprehensive and Actionable Digital Health strategy.
- Establishing a robust Financing and Operational model.
- Establishing and operationalising Digital Health governance.
- Digital Health Architecture Development and Governance.
22. What does EU4Digital do in the area of telecommunications?
In telecommunications, EU4Digital provides assistance to address tasks related to international roaming and a potential arrangement on creating a common international roaming space among the six Eastern partner countries, strengthening the independence of national regulatory authorities, and freeing the 700 MHz frequency band for future mobile usage, including 5G.
23. A roaming agreement – that sounds great! Does this mean we will enjoy ‘roam like at home’ when we travel, as they do in the European Union?
No, a regional roaming agreement would ensure a substantial lowering of applicable roaming prices among the six Eastern partner countries. This would allow mobile communications networks’ roaming customers to enjoy more affordable services while roaming in the Eastern partner countries. Based on the latest findings of the EU4Digital roaming study (2019), an average price decrease of over 80% is expected.
24. Is this roaming agreement just among the six Eastern partner countries? Is there any chance it might be extended to the EU as well?
Yes, the regional roaming agreement will be among the six Eastern partner countries. However, the EU and Eastern partner Ministers have agreed to explore the possibility of a common international roaming space, including the economically sustainable reduction of roaming tariffs between the Eastern partner countries and the EU Member States.
25. When can we expect our roaming bills to come down?
The regional roaming agreement is expected to be signed in the Autumn of 2021 and would take legal effect in 2022, allowing for a transition period of at least six months. This transition period is needed for the Eastern partner countries to implement the requirements of the roaming agreement, as well as for mobile operators to have sufficient time for adjustments.
26. Frequency redistribution, freeing 700MHz? What exactly does that mean? What difference will it make?
Better coverage of mobile networks, including 5G services. Part of EU4Digital’s work in the telecommunications area is related to freeing the 700 MHz frequency band with the aim of developing and implementing a coordinated approach for reassignment of the 700 MHz band in the six Eastern partner countries, in line with intra-EU efforts and plans. The intra-EU effort consists of removing terrestrial TV broadcasting networks from the 700 MHz band and then assigning this band to wireless broadband electronic communications networks and in particular 5G.
Changing the use of the band in Eastern partner countries in line with EU plans would help to avoid harmful interferences to mobile networks in both Eastern partner countries and the EU. It may also bring many benefits in the future related to 5G implementation, including cost savings from deploying fewer base stations, improvement of coverage in rural areas, and lower consumer prices due to cost savings connected with network deployment.
27. What do regulators do? Aren’t they a government authority? Why should they be independent?
National regulatory authorities (NRAs) are bodies under national laws entrusted with performing regulatory functions in the field of electronic communications. These government authorities ensure a balance between promoting efficient competition, investment and consumer interests with development of electronic communications markets, services and networks in mind. Thus, regulators should be legally distinct and functionally separate from any other bodies which may levy undue influence, because independence and impartial decision-making are key elements of a well-functioning overall regulatory setup.
The EU4Digital Facility supports the strengthening of the independence of NRAs in the Eastern partner countries, with the ultimate target of independent national regulatory authorities for electronic communications in place in at least five Eastern partner countries.
28. What exactly is ‘Trust and Security’ in the digital field? Is it just about cybersecurity?
Trust represents the primary basis for innovation and collaborative action. This concept can be transferred into the digital world and enable us to build trust with others. Cybersecurity is very important in this context, but having the enabling tools and technologies to build this trust is as important as being able to use those tools in a secure way.
Digital trust services and electronic identity services help modern societies and enterprises to speed up social and business interactions and build trust across geographies, while helping individuals and companies to deliver value with lower operational costs, and to operate in a fully electronic ad paperless environment.
Electronic signatures and electronic identity services are two of the major solutions speeding up digital interactions between participants, for example in validating identity when accessing public services or signing legal contracts.
As a part of the EU4Digital Facility, digital trust and cybersecurity are important underlying conditions, as they enable all other aspects of the digital economy and society to deliver value in a secure way.
29. How developed is trust and security in the Eastern partner countries? Does the region lag behind more advanced digital economies in this area, and what are the implications?
The Eastern partner countries have a solid technological basis for enabling digital trust services, but more remains to be done to achieve mutual recognition of trust services. Enabling cross-border mutual recognition of trust services between the Eastern partner countries and EU member states requires dedicated effort to ensure regulatory, audit and
conformity assessment compatibility with eIDAS requirements, technical measures compatible with eIDAS requirements, compatibility of data privacy and protection practices with GDPR, as well as trust representation for mutual recognition.
The main objectives of the EU4Digital project in the area of trust and security are to identify potential gaps for cross-border mutual recognition of trust services and to offer a practical action plan and assistance to overcome those issues. The EU4Digital Facility has completed assessments on legal and technical maturity of trust and eID services in each Eastern partner country. Based on the assessments and lessons learned from eSignature pilots, EU4Digital has developed country-specific action plans for cross-border mutual recognition, based on eIDAS defined practices and the MRA Cookbook. Through the recommendations issued, the aim is to enable the countries to achieve the next level or readiness towards cross-border mutual recognition.
30. Between which countries did EU4Digital pilot eSignatures? What is the outcome of the pilots?
EU4Digital deployed technically operational cross-border eSignature pilots between Ukraine, Moldova and Estonia. To achieve this, the countries participating in the pilot first had to agree on common principles and formats, including timestamping, validation mechanisms and the certificate status checking components. At a first glance, the common
principles may seem straightforward, but from a practical point of view, the technical implementation required complex coordinated actions in a multi-stakeholder environment to enable a technically operational and interoperable eSignature solution across countries.
The eSignature pilot also helped to identify existing gaps and obstacles from the regulatory and technical perspectives, allowing us to develop practical recommendations to piloting countries. In this perspective, the eSignature pilots have provided a foundation for countries to further harmonise electronic identification and trust services environments across EaP and EU countries. Moreover, the common practices and recommendations have become
available for sharing and adoption to all Eastern partner countries.
31. What are the main cybersecurity challenges in the region? How is EU4Digital helping to build resilience in the partner countries?
An analysis of state regulations, policies and security measures already implemented by Eastern partner countries has allowed us to identify the main cybersecurity challenges in the region, which are:
- Lack of qualified personnel and resources in the cyber area;
- Insufficient dedicated and systematic funding;
- National Cyber Strategies not established, outdated and not aligned with the EU’s Directive on security of network and information systems (NIS Directive);
- Outdated national legislation not compliant with current EU legislation and cybersecurity standards;
- No regular cyber risk assessments performed at a national level;
- National-level contingency plans not established;
- Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) lists at national level not defined or incomplete.
Through the EU4Digital project, a set of good practices and recommendations in the field of cybersecurity was identified and prepared for national authorities in the form of Cybersecurity guidelines. These guidelines provide recommendations on how to continue with the development of their cybersecurity and for effective practices in developing, implementing, evaluating and maintaining cybersecurity measures. This will contribute to a stronger and more resilient cyberspace among the partnership countries and decrease the risk of disruption or failure of network information systems.
Furthermore, the detailed overview of cybersecurity in each Eastern partner country – state of play, main challenges and next actions provided in the individual country reports – will serve as an input to the EU4Digital: Improving Cyber Resilience in the Eastern Partnership Countries programme.
32. Why is cross-border eServices interoperability important, and what does EU4Digital do to promote the interoperability for cross-border eServices in the Eastern partner region?
Many public services are becoming more readily available online, yet they are rarely fully enabled for seamless cross-border interaction. When interacting with interoperable eServices across borders, governments, businesses, and citizens can fully access eServices, understand the basic related rules and requirements, authenticate themselves, complete cross-border payments, sign or seal documents electronically, as well as submit electronic evidence from the authorities. On the EU level, the single digital gateway will facilitate online access to information, administrative procedures and assistance services.
To improve Eastern partner country readiness to provide cross-border eServices, the EU4Digital Facility defined a framework to assess Eastern partner country readiness for cross-border eServices, which includes:
- Identifying and overcoming organisational and technical barriers;
- Fundamental interoperability principles;
- eServices access to foreigners;
- Availability of digital enablers.
Based on the assessments, the EU4Digital Facility will develop the cross-border eServices interoperability framework, which will provide guiding principles and practical recommendations for Eastern partner countries. This will enable a harmonised approach on the development of interoperable cross-border eServices at national level, accelerated
through the use of digital enablers.
33. How is EU4Digital guiding eGovernance developments driving public administration reforms?
Traditionally, when developing eGovernment, countries tend to focus most of their efforts and resources on digitalising the front end of government and public sector operations – solutions that are most visible to the general public and provide a quick result, such as services and portals. Such a fragmented approach carries a lack of focus on the
fundamentals of digital government, namely digitalisation of data, interoperability, electronic identity, access, legislation, governance, and the harmonisation of standards, both nationally and cross-border. This fragmented approach eventually leads to complex and expensive maintenance and management of the ‘front’ (e.g. services and portals), while investment processes become more complicated and with less return. As a result, the lack
of understanding of digital development priorities at government decision-making level creates a “death valley” between strategic priorities and their actual realisation.
The strategic, long-term, and systematic initiatives in public administration will be supported by the eGovernance framework by highlighting the causal development path in digital government activities – i.e. what fundamentals have to be established first so that other eGovernance aspects – such as portals and services – can succeed. Leveraging such a framework can become a steering mechanism for governments for the timely and systematic development of digital government fundamentals that society can experience – efficiency in public sector, digital services, data-driven decisions and participation in e-society.
The eGovernance framework will provide a basis to evaluate the current state of government digital maturity and identify problematic areas that are not established or should be improved. It will also assist public administrations in understanding the impact of eGovernance fundamentals on digitalisation priorities, as well as integrating developments of eGovernance fundamentals into the digital transformation agenda.
34. It’s clear that eSkills are essential in the world of today, but how far behind is the region compared to the countries of the European Union?
The greatest obstacle to harnessing the power of ICT is the shortage of digital skills. Digital skills are a key catalyst for the success of any digital transformation, both by enabling citizens to be active in the digital society, and by supporting economic growth through the adoption of new technologies. While the demand for digital skills keeps increasing, often supply cannot keep up.
According to The Future of Jobs Report 2018, a majority of companies in all industries perceive skills gaps in the labour force as one of the top impediments to the successful adoption of new technologies.According to this report, more than halfof the Eastern European and Central Asian workforce needs reskilling.
35. There’s clearly a lot of work to be done: what is EU4Digital doing to help the partner countries close the gap?
The first step towards remedying the digital skills gap is measurement to bring about awareness and support coordinated efforts to promote digital skills and jobs. Since 2014, the progress towards a digital economy and society is measured in every EU member according to the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) and the Digital Skills Index (DSI). However, the 2015 study on Harmonisation of the Digital Markets in the Eastern Partnerships, which assessed the readiness of digital markets in the Eastern Neighbourhood region for harmonisation and integration with the EU’s Digital Single Market, found a lack of systematic measurement of the digital skills gap across the region.
The EU4Digital Programme will support the measurement of digital skills through the development of a common methodology aligned with EU practices for the Eastern Neighbourhood region.
The coordination of initiatives related to digital skills, awareness raising and the adoption and sharing of best practices will be enhanced by the establishment of national coalitions for digital skills and jobs in the Eastern partner countries and inclusion of the region in Europe’s Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs. Currently, national coalitions have been established in three partner countries – Armenia (2017), Ukraine (2019) and Azerbaijan (2020) – while Moldova and Georgia are on their way.
The EU4Digital Programme supports the establishment of national coalitions in the Eastern partner countries.
Finally, the development of digital skills among the workforce of microbusinesses and SMEs is of vital importance. SMEs are key for economies in the region as they account for 99% of all companies, though they represent just 57% of private sector employment. By contrast, in the EU, SMEs represent a significant driver of employment (85% of new employment is created by SMEs). To harness their full potential, entrepreneurial and fast-growing SMEs in the Eastern partner countries will require multiple digital savvy competences, such as big data analytics and tools, cloud computing and visualisation, mobile app design and development, web development and tools, IT architecture, and security skills.
The EU4Digital Programme will support the improvement of digital skills of SMEs through the development of a common Digital Competence Framework for SMEs and microbusinesses in the Eastern Neighbourhood region based on EU Digital Competence Frameworks.
36. It’s all very well measuring skills, but how does that help to address shortcomings on the ground?
EU4Digital has developed a common methodology for measuring and benchmarking digital skills gaps, thus enabling an evidence-based targeting of activities in identified problem areas and measurement of the impact of digital skills activities and strategic targets.
Availability of data plays a key role in the development of digital skills strategies in Eastern partner countries and their harmonisation with European level strategies. A part of eSkills activities is focused on developing a clear and concise methodology for measuring digital skills gaps in the Eastern partner countries that will consider the background of any individual country and tailor the approach of the methodology accordingly.
A harmonised digital skills measurement approach allows for the identification of skills shortages, mismatches and gaps, in order to seek remedies and assess the impact of regional and national initiatives. Harmonised data measurement also makes it possible to compare the individual progress in digital skills development among the Eastern partner countries and in comparison with EU countries.
The development of a common methodology for measuring and forecasting national digital skills gaps in the Eastern partner countries will enable:
- Tailoring national-level development strategies to concrete data measured in line with EU practices and will help to identify concrete problem areas and supply and demand gaps;
- A common approach to collecting digital skills related data that will enable comparison between Eastern partner countries and the EU and allow countries to seek joint solutions to digital skills related issues;
- Systematic and regular measurement to serve as the basis to predict the future needs of the labour market in relation to digital skills.
37. A common competence framework – this sounds very abstract… what exactly does it mean, how is EU4Digital helping, and what difference will it make?
Digital competences play an increasing role in all industries and sectors, as the lines between ICT and non-ICT roles increasingly get blurred. Professionals in SMEs and microbusinesses often perform multiple job roles and/or inter-sectoral (hybrid) job roles, including ones requiring varying levels of digital competence.
The Competence Framework supports the definition of career and learning paths, job roles, learning needs and results through a shared reference framework. It will serve as a clear guidebook for any SME in the region, regardless of its size or operational field, on how to find, train and recruit employees with the necessary digital skills. Furthermore, the Competence Framework establishes a common language for digital skills and competencies for its target audience, by explaining complex IT terminology in “business language”.
The Competence Framework:
- Supports the development of SME and microbusiness employee digital skills;
- Supports the improvement of Eastern partner countries’ SME and microbusiness competitiveness, export potential and innovation;
- Encourages SME and microbusiness participation in the development of the digital market.
38. What are national coalitions? Who do they bring together and in order to do what?
National coalitions are multi-stakeholder partnerships that collaborate to achieve a common and clearly defined goal on a national level, and their establishment in the Eastern partner countries will increase the oversight and coordination of digital skills development activities performed within the region, as well as playing an important part in improving the collaboration between EU member states and Eastern partner countries.
The stakeholders of the national coalitions are ICT and ICT intensive companies, education and training providers, public sector, employment services, associations, non-profit organisations and social partners.
The coalitions are able to promote digital skills in different ways that are agreed during the creation of the coalition. Some countries might choose a more proactive approach to the coalitions that enables the coalition to actively participate in gathering data related to digital skills and driving digital transformation through active participation in public sector discussions.
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine have already established National Digital Skills and Jobs coalitions, and discussions on creating similar coalitions are underway in the rest of the Eastern partner countries.
39. Looking ahead, how do you see the evolution of digital skills in the Eastern partner countries in five years’ time? How will EU4Digital have helped?
Digital skills are a key catalyst for the success of any digital transformation by enabling citizens to be active in the digital society. The need for such skills is crucial to maintain the growth of the economy and human capital in any country.
Eastern partner countries will be able to further fulfil their economic potential, enabling interconnection between the supply and demand side of digital skills in the labour market, which is a crucial building block for further economic development. Furthermore, Eastern partner countries will be able to incorporate more accurate digital skills related data in their national strategies supporting evidence-based policy planning.
Over the coming years, the activities performed under EU4Digital aim to support the following:
- Effective governance of digital skills in each Eastern partner country to coordinate, monitor and prioritise activities, allowing comparison between Eastern partner countries and the EU, as well as comparison and joint digital skills development activities among individual Eastern partner countries.
- Evidence-based targeting of activities towards identified problem areas that will be enabled by gathering data in a common way and in line with EU practices. Digital Skills and Jobs Coalitions are expected to participate in coordinating remedies for identified digital skills problem areas.
- Measurement of the impact of digital skills activities and strategic targets that will support policy making tailored to the specific needs of different ICT and labour market related issues.