On 7 February 2019, Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) took part in the 4th EaP Panel on Harmonisation of Digital Markets (HDM), organised under Platform 2 “Economic Development and Market Opportunities” in Brussels, Belgium. EaP CSF was not only present, but actively contributed to the discussion through written input and a presentation, prepared especially for this occasion by Mikhail Doroshevich (Baltic Internet Policy Initiative, Belarus) and Maksym Koriavets (Polissya Foundation for International and Regional Studies, Ukraine). The Panel focused on some specific issues: cyber-resilience, roaming, broadband and EU4Digital Networks – as well as the upcoming 3rd EaP Ministerial Meeting on Digital Economy in Bucharest, Romania on 28 February 2019.
The paper, prepared by EaP CSF experts: Doroshevich, Koriavets and Marianne Sakalova (Baltic Internet Policy Initiative, Belarus), presents a civil society perspective on HDM. It lists four recommendations, which are paramount to making digital markets work not only for the EaP region but in the wider, European context too. Despite incentives and “concrete tools for developing broadband infrastructure and digital skills” proposed within the framework of 2020 Deliverables, “progress in achieving expected [outcomes] is slow in most of EaP countries”, say the authors.
The problem is largely rooted in “digital literacy and equality”, and the EaP governments should take further steps in making digital skills development a priority, with appropriate institutional backing and support. “Currently, absence of national strategies and coalitions prevents partner-states from monitoring the situation with digital skills and making balanced decisions”, points the paper. The adoption of e-Competence Framework (e-CF) would be a welcomed step – that would, at the same time, allow to harmonise the standards and identify the necessary skills and competences.
There is much work to be done in terms of communication and gender equality in the sector – an element, which should addressed when deciding on the research and development (R&D) strategies. This is where institutional partners can draw synergies in inviting civil society to participate in policy formulation and implementation. There should be “an effective, harmonised two-way communication between civil society and governmental institutions”, a principle embedded in the concept of smart cities and e-services. The presentation finished on a point about creating bench-marking system for broadband.
DG CONNECT, one of the main EU stakeholders behind the Panel, presented the draft Declaration, to be adopted at the Ministerial – with participants have a chance to revise and discuss some of its points. There were also separate slots for discussion on best practices and research findings, such as the Study on a Digitial Economy and Society Index in the EaP or EU4Digital project, facilitated by EEAS, DG NEAR and the World Bank.