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CSF 2023: Enlargement of EU single digital market to the Western Balkans brings mutual benefits

Sofija Tovarović

The Civil Society and Think Tank Forum (CSF) under the Berlin Process is scheduled to be held on October 14-15 in Tirana. The primary objective of the CSF is to facilitate constructive and inclusive discussions on regional challenges. The forum is structured around seven thematic working groups, each led by civil society organizations from the region. These working groups have actively engaged in a comprehensive consultation process, involving civil society and regional experts, to collaboratively formulate policy recommendations.

During the second day of the Civil Society and Think Tank Forum (CSF) in Tirana, in the panel titled “Reaching Over the Digital Fence,” regional experts will have the opportunity to discuss how EU regulation can help improve digital markets and services in the Western Balkans.

Regarding the main challenges and recommendations in the area of digitalization, we spoke with Darko Brkan from the Sarajevo-based organization “Why not” (Zašto ne), which led the working group on digitalization and connectivity. Brkan explained to EWB that digitalization is a process that encompasses a very broad field and a large number of stakeholders, which, in turn, presents numerous challenges in this area.

“Among the main challenges, there is undoubtedly a lack of resources and capacities in the countries of the region for the digitalization process, fragmentation, and lack of coordination among institutions in the implementation and formulation of regulations necessary for digital transformation, the inability to develop infrastructure for various reasons, as well as an unsatisfactory level of digital and information literacy among citizens,” Brkan said.

He mentioned that digitalization faces many challenges on a global level that cannot be solved at the national level.

“These include issues related to the regulation of digital services and markets, primarily the need to enhance the security of the digital environment by major online platforms,” Brkan explained.

He assessed that this is a problem that affects all aspects of digital development. “We believe that countries in the region must join the regulatory processes on these matters currently taking place within the EU as soon as possible,” Brkan added.

When it comes to the EU’s engagement in the digital transformation of the Western Balkans, Brkan assessed that the EU is highly engaged, from funding projects and monitoring the digitalization process to providing assistance, supporting the alignment of legislation with EU standards, and participating in EU initiatives related to the digital agenda.

However, he believes that the effects of these processes could be greatly amplified through a joint effort to facilitate the early integration of the countries in the region into the EU’s single digital market.

“This would enable all of us, in addition to aligning with EU legislation, to benefit from this process. Issues related to online security, the protection of minors and other vulnerable groups, transparency in political campaigns, the proliferation of illegal and harmful content, and many others are challenges that countries in the region are unlikely to address effectively on their own,” says Brkan.