Last week I had an impressive discussion with a group of innovative minds from Kosovo and North Macedonia. It was an exchange of ideas with young professionals who search for new paths, new visions. Those creative people seek opportunities, so that their work creates benefit for them and the society. The debate was part of the #EUConnects 4 #FutureIsDigital campaign that my office is implementing throughout July.
Digital start-ups was the essence of our discussion and happened during the month we assessed on the ground the knowledge and understating of the ambitious EU Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. Digital future is a key chapter of this plan, and includes the need for a digital transformation as the path to the economic prosperity.
When the European Commission adopted this plan last year, it had two challenges in mind. The first one was the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, which had a major impact on the economies of less developed countries. The second was the need for addressing its consequences in the long run. This Plan aims to spur the long-term recovery - backed by digital transition. One of the chapters of the Economic and Investment Plan is the Digital Agenda.
The plan is ambitious, as I said, not only because it is based on a rich financial envelope, but also because it includes a broad range of areas. The plan is massive, the implementation is underway, and the results have started to yield. The campaign started exactly on the day the roaming free agreement for the Western Balkan six entered into force. The EU is proud of that, given that it has been behind that initiative for a long time. Today students, business people, artists, professionals can travel through the region and are connected with their partners, friends, family members without extra expenses, which is significant.
During these weeks, we also touched upon the important component of the digitalisation of businesses, as an opportunity for the economies and the societies of the region, as it is for the world economies. With digital solutions, economies of the Western Balkans can contribute to a sustainable, resource-efficient economy and provide better services to their citizens.
The EU has supported these segments of the economy in continuity through different initiatives, and will continue to do so in the future. We are happy with their progress, but aware that digitalisation of business opportunities can be further exploited, through support to digital start-ups and scale ups of businesses and to digital skills. We believe that there is a lot of potential for further progress.
In the digitalisation component we see that a number of businesses have successfully transformed their activity and can be used as an example by others to advance their way of work.
As regards the digital start-ups Kosovo youth is a very good example of following the global trends, and it’s the moment to share their examples, as we see here even more potential. It’s the moment to engage and learn from these talented minds, that have been and will be supported by the European Union through the Economic and Investment Plan, which is the basis of the campaign we are talking about.
In the conversation with young entrepreneurs, start-ups, we exploited this segment. It was a kind of screening of the situation, albeit in a tight segment, such as the digital start-ups. Digitalisation represents an opportunity for the economies and societies in the region; an opportunity for every single citizen. Digital solutions contribute to a sustainable and resource-efficient economy.
Supporting digital skills development, e-government, e-commerce, e-procurement and e-health services would make public authorities more transparent and accountable, reduce costs and improve service delivery for citizens and businesses, while also addressing the dimension of social cohesion. Improving access to digital goods and services, and maximising the growth potential of the digital economy will bring Kosovo and the rest of Western Balkans closer to the European Single Market.
Kosovo faces the highest unemployment rates in the region, particularly among youth and women. On the other hand, Kosovo youth is showing fantastic results every day with their innovative and outstanding start-ups. Kosovo and the rest of the region should develop and implement their digital education strategies while supporting teacher’s training as well as online education learning and content initiatives.
While the support from the EU is outlined in the Economic and Investment Plan, I have to say that a number of responsibilities and tasks are expected from the governments in the region. The Western Balkans should take stock of implementation to date, identify where work needs to be accelerated, as well as broaden the scope and ambition of the region’s digital transformation.
One of the necessary reforms is the need to prioritise and mainstream digitalisation in national policy with a focus on enterprises, education, Research & Innovation, smart growth. Another urgent necessity is fostering the development of regional Digital Innovation Hubs and their linking to respective European institutions. This should be as one-stop-shops supporting companies to boost their competitiveness using digital technologies. This will happen only through joint efforts of local governments, private sector and other stakeholders in general. That is the way to promote the digital skills development and virtual learning in the region.