Newsletter 15/2011 - Our South East Europe
South East Europe needs to maximise the social and economic potential of information and communication technologies
In data driven societies of the 21st century information is the king. Timely and relevant information shared in a fast, efficient, reliable and protected manner rules the world. Internet became a vital medium of economic and societal activity for business and entertainment. Economies in modern societies heavily rely on information and communication technologies (ICT) and development of information societies.
In order to address the structural weaknesses in Europe's economy, the European Union (EU) has developed the Digital Agenda strategy for a flourishing digital economy by 2020. The overall aim of the Digital Agenda is to deliver sustainable economic and social benefits from a digital single market based on fast and ultra fast internet and interoperable applications.
Along these lines, South East Europe (SEE) has identified establishment of Information Society as a key regional development priority. The Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) has recognized it in its Strategy and Work Programme 2011–2013.
The RCC focuses its efforts on promoting the implementation of the Electronic South East Europe Initiative (eSEE) Agenda Plus as defined by the SEE Ministerial Conference on Information Society Development in Sarajevo in October 2007.
“In this context, the RCC works closely with the eSEE working group, the eSEE Secretariat, hosted by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Center for e-Governance Development”, says Nand Shani, Expert on Economic and Social Development at the RCC Secretariat.
Shani explains that the RCC’s ultimate goal is to support advancement of ICT development in the region. To this end, the organisation provides a platform for enhancing cooperation between the eSEE initiative and other relevant economic and social development regional initiatives.
”Information and communication technologies carry a horizontal function across different development priorities and play an important role in improving people's quality of life, by contributing to economic, social, and human development.”
Nera Nazecic, Programme Analyst at UNDP, assesses that tremendous work has already been done in the region and, as highlighted in two recent UNDP studies, countries now have an enabling environment for Information Society in terms of basic legal infrastructure and institutional framework.
“Most of the required laws, regulations and ministries are in place. Pupil-per-computer ratio in schools in SEE has significantly decreased, varying mostly between 15 and 29.”
Nazecic adds that accessibility has improved, with the Internet penetration of up to 55%.
“The fact that a third of the population has broadband access sends across the message that e-business solutions have a large market and that the provision of e-governance services has become a necessity.”
Blaz Golob, a founding Director of the Centre for eGovernance Development (CeGD) for South East Europe says that the vision of the CeGD is to achieve a successful development of Information Society in SEE that will contribute to the future development of the European continent.
“The Center for eGovernance Development works both in line with the ambitious plan of the European Union (EU) Digital Agenda 2020, building a smart, inclusive and sustainable EU, and in line with the eSEE Agenda plus.”
As a public private partnership institution, CeGD develops its content activities around the seven ePillars Model of Single SEE Information Space and Inclusive Information Society, developed with the use of foresight methodology to address specific issues of Information Society development, explains Golob.
“The Model operates as a precursor to the development of individual models relating to specific areas of eGovernance. The Model thus builds on eGovernance base, which focuses on seven main groups or pillars: eGovernment; eDemocracy; eBusiness; eEducation & eResearch & eCulture; eHealth; eJustice, and eSecurity”
Shani reminds that the implementation of e-SEE Agenda Plus has direct implications for EU membership.
”As a unique regional institution that supports European and Euro-Atlantic integration of South East Europe, the RCC supports the alignment of regional Information Society development priorities with EU's 2020 strategy's component for smart growth in the context of a Western Balkans long-term development vision.”
Still, there are some disadvantages in the SEE reality that hamper smooth implementation of Information Society in the region.
Milan Mrvaljevic, Director of a consultant company Business Link from Belgrade, Serbia, and organizer of a festival of technological achievements-INFOFEST held in Montenegro for the last 18 years, is of an opinion that the global economic crisis has had a very negative impact on the development of Information Society in the region.
“It is not only about a decrease of investment potentials and the markets but also about pushing development of information society lower on the list of regional development priorities. The crisis has affected the region at the times of insufficient understanding of the importance of information society development, which resulted in other issues overtaking initial interest in technological-information progress.”
Mrvaljevic believes that an additional obstacle to the development of Information Society in the region is a lack of basic understanding of the term itself in the general public.
“The definition of information society has not been uniquely formulated. Even in expert circles the information society term is defined in different ways leading to a situation in which it is hard to identify the starting point for development, its ultimate goals and methods of synergy activities to reach these goals faster.”
In operational terms, says Mrvaljevic, it is unrealistic to expect more radical progress in this domain without strong and intensive communication of the state structures with the ICT sector and other ICT authorities and subjects.
“Such communication, coordination and interaction in the countries of the region simply do not exist in the important domains: adoption of legislation, strategies or strategic projects. Without such functional infrastructure the public would still consider the development of information society more as a “cherry on top” than a struggle for essential development component of every society.”
Nazecic agrees that, although the e-government has been adopted region-wide as part of reform initiatives, there is still a long way to go.
“Over-reliance on technology, insufficient collaboration within government, lack of emphasis on building human capital and inadequate public consultation seriously impede the benefits of these initiatives. Also, e-services are primarily treated from a technical perspective – ICTs as an end in themselves – rather than social interventions to expand and improve public service delivery.”
 A Digital Agenda for Europe taken from http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52010DC0245R%2801%29:EN:NOT
 „Going the Extra Mile for the Digital Agenda: E-Leadership Efforts in South Eastern Europe South Eastern Europe”, and “e-Governance and ICT Usage Report for South East Europe 2nd Edition”