EFTA and EEA
The European Economic Area (EEA) includes European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. EFTA countries that join the EEA are able to participate in the EU's single market without being EU members. They adopt almost all relevant EU regulations, including some of those involving the digital world.
The bilateral agenda between Switzerland and the EU is currently focused on the negotiation of the Institutional Frame Agreement in order to ensure a homogenous application of internal market laws in both the EU and Switzerland.
Seven countries are currently taking part in the process of the EU enlargement.
EU telecoms operators have large business operations in most of the enlargement countries. New national policies defining broadband deployment targets have been adopted in most of the enlargement countries.
The electronic communications markets are fully liberalised in all candidate countries. All countries have adapted their national legislation to comply with the eCommerce Directive and have set up national regulatory authorities (NRAs) for digital communications. However, national alignment to the EU legislation varies in spectrum policy and in the switchover from analogue to digital TV.
On audiovisual policy, only Montenegro and Albania have so far fully aligned to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive. Concerns about freedom of expression and media in the enlargement countries remain, and their status has deteriorated in some countries in recent years.
The amendments to the Turkish internet legislation are of particular concern, as they introduce a set of measures potentially interfering with the internet users’ right to privacy, further restricting the freedom of expression.
The Western Balkans
The European Commission adopted the Western Balkans Strategy on 6 February 2018. It also announced the launch of a Digital Agenda together with the partners in the region.
As part of that digital cooperation, the 5th Western Balkans Digital Summit took place on the 21 and 22 September 2022 in Pristina, Kosovo and many digital developments for the region were discussed. The launch earlier this year of the Regulatory Dialogue between the EU and Western Balkans, primarily focused on green and digital policy and additionally, the Western Balkans future involvement in the Digital Europe Programme was celebrated.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity were also at the forefront of the discussions, with the establishment of an AI Working Group to work on AI and AI-related topics and ensure joint action with EU countries. To prevent and better detect cybersecurity threats, the Western Balkans agreed to strengthen their cooperation with the European Commission and European Union Agency for Cybersecurity.
The Western Balkans will now partake in the annual reporting on Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) in accordance with the EU DESI methodology.
Participants also recognised the success of the Western Balkans in its regional roaming free regime and work on further reductions of roaming charges, including for data, between the EU and the Western Balkans was agreed upon.
Eastern Partnership (EaP)
EU relations in the digital economy and society with the 6 eastern EU Neighbours (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine) are developing within the frameworks of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Eastern Partnership (EaP).
Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have signed Association Agreements with the EU. The agreements include provisions for a Free Trade Area covering electronic communications, digital trust and eCommerce.
Cooperation with the EaP region aims to share EU experience of the digital transformation with the EU's eastern neighbours. It also aims to facilitate the implementation of the relevant parts of the 3 Association Agreements.
Together with DG NEAR, DG TRADE and the EEAS, DG Connect has developed a multiannual strategy aimed at advancing the digital economy and society in the EaP region. The strategy is in line with EU legislation and best practices. Highlights of this strategy include:
- the first digital economy action in the EaP region (.pdf) under the EU4Digital brand
- supporting the rollout of national broadband strategies in the EaP region
- eastern Partnership Connect (EaPConnect)
- enhancing the cyber resilience of the EaP region (.pdf)
The European Commission has developed the EU’s strategy towards the EaP region in full cooperation with the EU Member States and the EaP countries. The key milestones achieved over the past years are:
- 2015: The Summit Declaration (.pdf) of the EaP Summit held in Riga recognised the potential of the digital economy and society for the EaP region. Ministers from the 6 EaP countries and the EU Member States met in Luxemburg at the 1st EaP Ministerial meeting on the digital economy. In their joint declaration (.pdf), the ministers affirmed their commitment to exploit opportunities related to the digital economy and society.
- 2016: In their joint statement after the ministerial level meeting on the digital community held in Brussels, participants agreed to launch a number of regional thematic networks under the EU4Digital brand. The purpose of these networks is to share best practices and experiences and promote cooperation.
- 2017: Cooperation in the digital economy and society with and within the EaP region was endorsed through the joint declaration of the 2nd EaP ministerial meeting on the digital economy held in Tallinn on 5 October 2017. These conclusions also appeared in the declaration of the EaP Summit (.pdf).
- 2019: On 28 February 2019, relevant ministers of the 6 EaP countries and EU Member States met in Bucharest for the 3rd EaP Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy and adopted a joint declaration that included a Roadmap for an EaP regional roaming agreement by the end of 2020.
EU relations with the southern EU Neighbours (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia) in the digital economy and society are developing within the frameworks of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which involves all southern EU neighbours and Mauritania.
The Ministers in charge of the digital economy in the countries members of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) adopted a declaration pledging close cooperation in 2014. The declaration aims to help countries reap the benefits of the digital economy in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
The declaration resulted in the establishment of a Digital Economy and Internet Access Expert Working Group to reflect on the ways to progress towards this objective. The Expert Group brings together government officials and other stakeholders from the private sector, NGOs, international organisations and development banks.
The changes brought by the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy under Juncker’s mandate offered a new opportunity for the EU’s relationship with the Southern Mediterranean. This was discussed during the high-level stakeholder Digital4med conference on April 8, 2019 in Brussels.
The conference focused on areas that can have the biggest impact and where the EU has relevant experience and demonstrated expertise. The conference identified different types of cooperation aimed at triggering political engagement at ministerial level. The next step will be to identify concrete actions and to seek for political endorsement.
EU-Russia relations in the digital economy and society are framed within the overall EU policy towards Russia.