Bregu: New momentum in digitalisation in Western Balkans calls for improvement of e-service accessibility and reduction of digital divide
- 28 Mar 2023
RCC, EBRD and EIB organising Financing Digitalisation in the Western Balkans Conference in Sarajevo
Sarajevo – Regional Cooperation Council (RCC), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and European Investment Bank (EIB) gathered region’s ministers and other high ranking government officials, local and international experts in digital projects, key donors and financial institutions, as well as business representatives from the Western Balkans at the “Financing Digitalisation in the Western Balkans” Conference in Sarajevo today.
“Governments across the region are ambitiously moving fast towards e-services, easing administrative procedures and reducing time through digital means. This calls upon the need to have affordable internet access for all, in particular in public areas. Embarking on initiatives similar to our peers in EU (like WiFi4EU) could improve e-service accessibility for all and contribute in reducing digital divide. There is new momentum and new normal in digitalisation efforts of the Western Balkans. With Digital Europe Program and similar financing opportunities, the new momentum of today becomes the reality of tomorrow. Private sector could qualitatively contribute to this change and we are thrilled to hear what you will share today,” said Majlinda Bregu, RCC Secretary General in her opening remarks.
RCC Secretary General opened the Conference, together with Christoph Denk, EBRD Managing Director for Policy, Strategy and Delivery and Alessandro Bragonzi, EIB Head of Regional Representation for the Western Balkans.
“We at the EBRD are committed to do more and better on digital. We launched our Approach to Accelerating the Digital Transition to outline what and how the Bank can deliver on digital for its partners, countries and clients. Restoring telecommunications was our priority from day one – in fact it was our first project in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war. Today, we see digitalisation as an important tool to improve the investment climate, foster international trade and strengthen transparency and trust in institutions. We are here to support our partners in the Western Balkans in their journey of digital transformation,” said Christoph Denk, EBRD Managing Director for Policy, Strategy and Delivery.
The event, which included a Donor Coordination Meeting hosted by the RCC, set up recommendations in addressing the infrastructural and financial gaps in the sector, creating the Regional Digital Area and digital ecosystems, and increasing financing opportunities for SME digitalisation. The Conference presented selected investment projects and initiatives in the area of digital transformation, discussed challenges and coordinated approaches on digital infrastructure investments and digital needs of the Western Balkans with high-ranking government officials from the digital sector, key donors and international financial institutions, as well as business representatives from the entire region.
„Europe is facing a digital dilemma. While the COVID-19 crisis accelerated digitalisation especially among SMEs, some companies are becoming increasingly digital, others are left behind, not being able to catch the digital wave. Insufficient level of digital skills hampers economic growth, deepens digital divide and increases risk of digital exclusion. Investing in broadband networks and software development, cyber security and innovations is essential for ensuring competitiveness and higher productivity throughout Europe, also here in the Western Balkans,” said Alessandro Bragonzi, EIB Head of Regional Representation for the Western Balkans.
The digital agenda of the Western Balkans, coordinated by the RCC, has been a prime example of successful regional cooperation over the past years, as proved by the effective implementation of the Roam Like at Home regime within the region, as well as signing of the EU-WB Roaming Declaration enabling reduction of roaming charges between EU and WB as of October 2023. If approached with skill and wisdom, digital transformation holds enormous potential to hasten progress and convert challenges of today into advantageous opportunities of tomorrow.