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Governments and chambers of commerce from the region agreed to forge closer ties in accelerating the digitization of industry and government services as two agreements were reached at the close of the ministerial meeting Digital Transformation in the Region of Western Balkans, held as a side event of the Bled Strategic Forum.

Ministers responsible for digitalisation and the Representatives of the Governments of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia adopted conclusions in an effort to work together toward achieving the region’s potential.

The conclusions state the shared view that the countries in the region need to cooperate in political, economic, development, and other fields in order to accelerate development, and that digitalisation enables this cooperation since it facilitates cooperation and data compatibility.

The role of governments is to ensure an appropriate implementation environment for efficient digital transformation of society, thus the governments in the region and those that are already members of the European Union shall strive to establish sustainable cooperation.

The countries of the Western Balkan region shall follow the guidelines of the European Union with its European Digital Agenda, Digital Single Market Strategy, and policy recommendations for the collaborative economy, as well as global trends in the field of digitalisation, the ministerial conclusions say.

At the same time, businesses chambers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia signed a Single Digital Initiative pledging efforts to improve digital literacy, support digital transformation trends, exchange good practices, harmonise standards, exchange and share e-commerce expertise, and cooperate in securing funding.

Mr Boris Koprivnikar, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Administration of the Republic of Slovenia, said that the documents confirmed that the direction and purpose of the event was very much needed.

The ministerial conclusions and Single Digital Initiative were presented at the close of a panel that featured officials and business representatives discussing the challenges of digital transformation in EU countries and in the Western Balkan region. The panellists agreed that action needed to follow words.

Mr Koprivnikar said that the conference had been about what had already been done, now it is time to start sharing information and experiences. For him, the main change brought about by digital transformation involves completely changing how laws are written and redefining the concepts of labour and taxation to accommodate for the sharing economy.

Mr Vujica Lazović, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Information Society and Telecommunications of the Government of Montenegro, added that Montenegro was already using inputs from the EU to modernise legislation.

Mr Zoran Stančič, Head of the Representation Office of the European Commission in Slovenia, stressed that it was important for Western Balkan countries to start benchmarking themselves against their EU peers to accelerate the digital transformation, while also tapping into available EU funding by embedding digital initiatives in project proposals.

Representatives of chambers of commerce agreed that laws were problematic, but Mr Marko Čadež, President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, also stressed the need for governments to “build bridges to the new economy” in the form of new platforms allowing businesses in the region to connect globally.

Mr Marko Babić, Assistant Director of International Affairs and EU at the Croatian Chamber of Economy, said it was necessary to “move forward much faster”, while Mr Igor Zorko, Vice-President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Slovenia, also called for acceleration. But he also warned that the region had old labour-intensive industries that could easily bleed jobs with digital disruption, so that has to be borne in mind as well.