On 10 April 2019, Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) took part in EaP Platform 2 meeting in Brussels, co-organised by EEAS, DGs NEAR and GROW. EaP CSF representatives, Marianne Sakalova (Baltic Internet Policy Initiative, Belarus) and Veronika Mochvan (Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, Ukraine), discussed issues related to connectivity, market development and opportunities.
The participants looked at business and structural reforms, and what stands on the way of boosting intra-regional trade. Even though programmes, such as EU4Business, provide much-needed leverage and support, there is untapped potential in promoting further integration between EaP countries. The Platform also drew on the outputs from the last Digital Ministerial (28 February 2019, in Bucharest, Romania), and challenges in harmonising digital markets across the region. In many way, we still see a fragmented policy response from the authorities (even on key issues, such as digital literacy).
Sakalova, who also represented EaP CSF at the Digital Ministerial, shared civil society’s concerns on gender and educational opportunities, in promoting digital skills in the EaP countries. EU4Digital initiative has revealed that “the region is lagging behind in the sphere of digitalisation” and its transition to digital, global economy. Moreover, there is “a persistent gender gap in access and use of digital technologies”, which has a negative impact on women and the labour market. Pointing to 2018 Women in the Digital Age EU Report, Sakalova reminded the audience that “women represented only 21.5% of all workers in digital jobs in 2015”.
In the later part of the day, participants discussed how to ensure better competition and open access to markets. Availability of finance, and finding the capital to cover the early growth stages, continues to be a struggle for most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region. In that respect, there is a real need to diversify financial markets, develop bond markets and facilitate the creation of alternative sources, such as crowdfunding.