The second day of the EU4Digital Steering Committee Meeting week on 6 October focused on the future – what are the key digital priorities in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) beyond 2020? Virtually gathering over 100 participants, including representatives from the European Commission, high-level EaP stakeholders, and EU4Digital programme teams, the sessions reaffirmed the importance of supporting the digital transformation in the EaP in the years ahead.
Digital is a vital component of modern business and society, at a time when an increasing number of interactions take place in the digital space. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for further investment in Digital, to facilitate growth and innovation despite restrictions on physical gatherings.
The virtual EU4Digital Steering Committee Week provided the opportunity to discuss future priorities for the region, and the areas in which the European Union can continue to support digital transformation, and deliver tangible benefits to businesses and citizens in the EaP.
The year 2020 marks a transition in the EU’s long-term agenda for supporting Digital in the Eastern Partnership. The current policy agenda of 20 Deliverables for 2020 will be completed by the end of the year, with a new set of objectives beyond 2020taking centre stage. The EU’s Joint Communication on ‘Reinforcing Resilience – an Eastern Partnership that delivers for all’,adopted in March 2020, sets out the main elements of EU support to the EaP, including strengthening the digital sector as one of the EaP’s five main policy objectives.
Dialogue on future digital priorities of the Eastern Partnership
Mr. Mathieu Bousquet of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) opened the discussion by highlighting the key role of representatives from the Eastern partner countries in providing their input to future digital priorities, which can pave the way for measurable actions and impact in the region.
Discussing possible future EU priorities in the region, Mr. Bousquet suggested as relevant areas the development of digital infrastructure, including the reduction of roaming prices in the EaP and access to high-speed internet, eGovernance and the digitisation of public services, as well as facilitating the digital economy in the region. Cross-border trade, improving digital skills, and increasing the cyber resilience of the Eastern partner countries were further listed as potential EU priority areas.
“The EU will invest in the digital transformation of the Partner countries in line with the EU’s legislation and best practices,” Mr. Bousquet stressed.
Mr. David Ringrose, the Head of Unit for Policy Outreach and International Affairs at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT), reiterated the EU’s commitment to enabling digital transformation within the EU and supporting the EaP in this area: “It’s going to be a very exciting time for the EU and its digital policy, and it’s important to ensure that all the work that we’re doing within the EU also benefits our Eastern partners,” he said.
The development of the next generation of technologies, including supercomputers, blockchain and AI, will form an important part of the EU’s own digital agenda, Mr. Ringrose said, adding that using digital technologies to contribute to environment and climate action objectives, and enhancing education systems through digital capacities and digital skills, were key areas for future EU digitalisation. In addition, cybersecurity, high capacity and secure network infrastructures, privacy, and data management systems will all be crucial to anchor the digital transformation in the EU, and also relevant for the future priorities of the EaP.
During the meeting, Eastern partner country representatives shared their views on future digital priorities. These included eGovernance services for citizens and businesses, expanding broadband infrastructure to facilitate affordable roaming prices within the EaP, and developing the digital economy. Enabling the development of digital skills for more people to access digital technology, creating opportunities for cross-border eCommerce and eTrade, and facilitating eSignature systems for remote authentications were seen as further drivers for digital acceleration. Participants also noted the importance of cybersecurity and cyber resilience practices, of developing an innovative ecosystem for businesses, and of data management systems, as ways to further digital harmonisation and interoperability.
The discussion around these priorities will help to set the actions for the coming years under the new EU objectives beyond 2020, framing the support for digital transformation in the Eastern partner countries.
The rest of the Steering Committee Meeting week was dedicated to the thematic sessions of EU4Digital – the core digital policy areas where the EU provides support and delivers tangible benefits to citizens in the Eastern Partnership.
If you would like to find out more about EU4Digital and its thematic areas, please visit the EU4Digital website.