Over 180 high-level stakeholders from across the Eastern Partnership (EaP) region joined the first day of meetings of the second annual EU4Digital Steering Committee on 5 October 2020, to hear from the programmes under the EU4Digital Initiative and to discuss the digital state of play in the region. The Steering Committee Meeting ran from 5-9 October and was held in virtual format this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The EU4Digital Initiative aims to extend the benefits of the European Union’s Digital Single Market to the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Its programmes focus on improving broadband, connecting research communities, and supporting digital harmonisation and interoperability across areas such as Telecom Rules, Trust and Security and eHealth, working to deliver tangible benefits to citizens in the Eastern partner countries.
The first day began with a presentation of the EU’s digital policy agenda and how it might be extended to the Eastern Partnership. Mr. David Ringrose, from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT), highlighted the achievements of the EU’s Digital Single Market, such as the abolition of roaming fees in the EU, better spectrum coordination, development of Europe’s high-performance computer infrastructure, and improvements in AI technology. “Our objective is to ensure that 70 million citizens in the Eastern partner countries can benefit from the Digital Single Market via the harmonisation of digital market initiatives,” said Mr. Ringrose.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on the importance of Digital: the European Council recently endorsed a set of conclusions on the future of the EU’s Digital Single Market, recognising the importance of this fast-growing sector. In addition, a minimum of 20% of the EU funds allocated under the Recovery and Resilience Facility as a response to COVID-19 will be made available for the digital transition within European society.
Mr. Mathieu Bousquet from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), who moderated the meetings on the first day, reaffirmed the importance of EU support to the Eastern Partnership in the digital sector: “Digital transformation of the Eastern Partnership countries is at the heart of the European Union’s contribution towards expanding growth, creating jobs and contributing to development of partner countries,” he said. Indeed, support for a resilient digital transformation is one of the five core objectives shaping EU policy towards the Eastern Partnership in the coming years.
The Steering Committee week provided an opportunity for key EaP stakeholders to get involved in the discussions, and to help shape the upcoming priorities of the region in the digital sector. The sessions on day one saw constructive dialogue between participants on the state of play and the progress made.
The following days included discussions on upcoming digital priorities in the EaP region, before taking a deep dive into EU4Digital’s thematic subjects towards the end of the week. More details about the EU4Digital Initiative can be found on the EU4Digital website.