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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Tuesday, 16.10.2018, 03:31

Going digital in the Baltic Sea Region

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President Digital Single Market European Commission, Baltic Rim Economies, ISSUE 4, 18.12.2017.Print version
The Baltic Sea is home to one of the most economically dynamic regions in Europe and the world. However, deepening regional integration has been a longstanding issue for the countries that share a coastline of some 8,000 km, on account of their differing economic priorities and political concerns.

While the region enjoys a high rate of economic growth, it also suffers from a relatively low level of internal competitive pressure; some of its national country markets are just too small. It is another reason to intensify Baltic integration, for more balanced collective prosperity. This is why, back in 2009, the EU designed a macro-regional strategy – its first - to accelerate the Baltic Sea region’s (BSR) integration and boost its economy – by promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, trade and digitally-driven growth. Better cooperation on digitisation and research can improve competition in each country, as well as in the BSR as a whole.

 

The Digital Single Market (DSM) that we are now building for all EU countries will have huge significance for BSR economies. They themselves have a big part to play in this project. In terms of digital readiness, BSR countries are relatively advanced and rank as frontrunners in many areas of Europe’s digital economy. The digitisation levels of their economies and societies are mostly above the EU average. In some cases, way above. So, digitally speaking, the region is well placed to embrace technological progress and thrive on it. In addition, several BSR countries have a dynamic landscape for digital startups, along with like-minded attitudes towards developing and using digital technology in general.

 

However, there are some substantial differences between them in terms of digital progress. Denmark, Finland and Sweden occupy the top three spots in the European Commission’s 2017 Digital Economy and Society Index. However, Latvia and Poland both fall below the EU average, although their problem areas are more specific. In Latvia, for example, more people are going online and using e-government services. But half the population has no or low digital skills, although this is improving slowly. Latvians are increasingly shopping online, but businesses are using technology in only a limited way. Estonia’s digital landscape tells a similarly divided story. It is Europe’s champion for providing digital public services. The level of digital skills is above average, so is people’s internet use. But while several Estonian companies make use of e-invoices and cloud services, the low overall integration of digital technology by Estonian businesses puts the country well below the EU average.The EU as a whole is no stranger to the digital divide. National and regional differences like these are not unique. But we cannot allow them to expand any more if we are to build a fully functioning DSM across Europe. They should be minimised and ironed out.

 

Better regional integration in terms of digital policies allows innovative companies based in one country to grow and prosper from a larger and more developed home market. In the longer term, and as the DSM becomes a reality across all EU countries, they will benefit from a more integrated market on a regional and European scale. One of the DSM’s main aims is to use digital technology to link together people and businesses; countries, regions and communities. That means removing all the digital differences around Europe, all the barriers – legal, administrative, technical – that are holding up its progress and spread. That way, everyone gains from the many opportunities offered by the digital age. The DSM strategy aims to improve access for people and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe; to create appropriate and fair conditions for digital networks and innovative services to thrive, backed up by highquality infrastructure across Europe; and to maximise the potential of the digital economy, making the most of areas of new growth. Europe’s regions - their towns, cities and villages – have a major part to play in building the DSM. This is where things are really put into practice, at grassroots level. If they do not work on a smaller regional scale, how can they work in a uniform and coherent way across the vast territory of the European Union? In the digital world, that is vital - and especially in a single market. For many years, Europeans have enjoyed the benefits of a common market based on four freedoms: the free movement of goods, people, capital and services. This unique marketplace - the world’s largest - is the foundation for the modern European Union as we know it. But it is not yet working properly in a digital context. Our challenge is to extend the common marketplace that we have now for the physical world into the world of bits and bytes. That is what the DSM is about: allowing the freedoms of Europe’s single market to enter the digital age. Europe’s regions – including all the BSR countries - are where the work to build a digital single market and economy begins in earnest. They are the starting point for Europe’s ultimate digital success. 






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