More than 450 people attended the first ever Digital Conference for the Eastern Partnership, held virtually on 27 September, including national and EU officials, and other public and private sector stakeholders involved in the digital transformation of the Eastern partner countries.

The conference, organised as the opening event in the EU4Digital Steering Committee meeting this week, took place at a time when the pandemic has brought digital technology to the forefront of public attention.

EU4Digital: impact in telecoms, ICT and eCommerce

Three prominent EU4Digital experts then highlighted the impact and priorities of the EU4Digital Facility in the key areas of Telecoms infrastructure and regulation, ICT ecosystems, and eCommerce solutions for online trade.

In this fast-changing environment, Dombrovskis stressed the importance of sustainable competition models and of strong, balanced regulation, mediating between government, service providers and consumers. He identified the next steps in the Eastern partner countries as continued reviewing and strengthening of the regulatory framework, smart investment and market development for sustainable competition, promoting user empowerment by enabling usage of digital services, and monitoring broadband developments.

One of the most visible effects of the pandemic has been to accelerate the growth in eCommerce, and the EU has now set a target to grow eCommerce between the EU and the Eastern partner countries by 50%. Walter Trezek, senior eTrade expert at the EU4Digital Facility, showed ‘How pilot eCommerce solutions can foster online trade between the EU and EaP’. He explained how EU4Digital had built on its analysis of the eCommerce value chain and challenges – namely lack of harmonisation and lack of awareness – to successfully pilot a ‘digital warehouse’ helping SMEs in the Eastern partner countries to list and sell their products on international eCommerce marketplaces, in a solution that provides a single place for sellers to enter the data needed by marketplaces, customs and delivery businesses for cross-border eCommerce.

EDTECH: how to digitally empower 1 million EaP citizens

The Conference then opened a panel discussion on ‘EDTECH: how to digitally empower 1 million EaP citizens’.

The speakers all highlighted the importance of digital literacy in ensuring competitiveness, and highlighted best practices in the EU, internationally and at corporate level, stressing the importance of public-private partnerships. In Ukraine, Valeriya Ionan highlighted the successful ‘DIIA digital education project’ based on online edutainment series, tackling issues ranging from how to pay online bills or conduct online classes all the way to artificial intelligence. Antoaneta Angelova- Krasteva concluded the discussion by stressing the “need for collaboration between stakeholders and across sectors and borders”, and urging Eastern partners to make best use of the opportunities available under EU programmes.

Make or break

“Digital is a make-or-break issue,” concluded Mathieu Bousquet, Head of Unit A3 ‘Thematic Support: An Economy that works for people, green, digital and connected’ at DG NEAR, in his closing remarks at the end of the Conference. “It is a transformative process that offers opportunities to build back better. As in the realm of biodiversity, it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Taking stock of the results achieved under EU4Digital, he said the activities of the facility were now “reaching a level of maturity and producing tangible results” in the sectors of telecom rules, trust and security, eTrade, ICT innovation, eHealth and eGovernance. But he also stressed the bigger picture, saying these results were building a more sustainable basis for integration by reusing EU solutions and assessing against EU and global benchmarks, developing partnerships with other international organisations, and developing concrete solutions supporting the integration of Eastern partners into EU digital markets, EU value chains and EU economies.

Paraphrasing the words of Robert Schuman, he concluded: “I believe that integration into the EU Digital market will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity” – something in which EU4Digital has played a vital role.

You can watch a recording of the Digital Conference for the Eastern Partnership here.