Maksym Koriavets, Polissya Foundation for International and Regional Studies
Over the last 4-5 years, digitization of the economy and society became one of the priorities of Eastern Partnership policy and it continues to keep the attention of major stakeholders both from the EU and within most EaP countries.
Until 2020, Ukraine-EU relations in the context of the digitization of the economy and society were largely based on the “20 Deliverables for 2020” expected from the Eastern Partnership countries — a roadmap naming the harmonization of the EU and partner countries’ digital markets as one of the key expected results.
In May 2019, the European Union officially launched a new program “EU4Digital: Supporting the Digital Economy and Society in the Eastern Partnership” in Ukraine, which is formally aimed at expanding the benefits of the EU Digital Single Market for Ukraine and other EaP countries.
Within the framework of the mentioned preconditions, they formed the main directives of digital development for each country of the Eastern Partnership region, and how they should move closer toward the EU Digital Single Market: telecommunications rules; trust and security; e-commerce; ICT innovations; e-health system; digital skills. In recent years, Ukraine made some progress in the areas mentioned.
Ukraine identified digital transformation as a policy priority, and has already been recognized by the European expert community for its success in implementing ProZorro and eHealth systems, negotiating a common roaming space in the EaP, introducing 4G mobile coverage, and launching e-services in public and private sectors.
In 2019, the new government of Ukraine presented a rather ambitious plan for the development of the country’s digital economy, calling for the accelerated transition of the Ukrainian economy into a digital format. The newly created Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine set the following goals to achieve by 2024: 100% of public services should be available to citizens and businesses online; 95% of transport infrastructure, settlements, and their social facilities must have high-speed Internet access; 6 million Ukrainians should be involved in the digital skills development program; the share of IT products in the country’s GDP should be at least 10%.
Recently developed legislation on the digital economy and telecommunications, digital infrastructure, advances in cashless economy (e-Trade), electronic trust services (e-Trust), and cybersecurity are listed as the prerequisites for Ukraine’s approach to the EU digital agenda.
Among the EaP countries, Ukraine occupies a leading position in improving the regulatory and institutional environment for the development of telecommunications services and digital infrastructure. Since 2016, Ukraine has been holding a proactive position within the the Eastern Partnership Electronic Communications Regulators Network framework. Development of the Regional Roaming Agreement (RRA) in the EaP, aimed at harmonizing pricing and reducing roaming tariffs among the countries of the region, is the most tangible result of the network’s activity.
Ukraine’s pro-European aspirations for digital development in the telecommunications sector are confirmed by the development of a Roadmap for Ukraine’s integration into the European Union’s Digital Single Market. The roadmap provides for the implementation of the latest EU digital norms and standards, 75 EU laws and acts in telecommunications.
Ukraine has been rapidly developing the system of public e-services and electronic identification: they created the public services portal “Diia” and the Integrated Electronic Identification System, while the implementation of SmartID technology is ongoing and the optimization of electronic data registers has started, giving impetus to international cooperation in this area. Back in 2019, at a meeting of the EU–Ukraine Association Committee, Ukraine submitted a request for the mutual recognition of trust services in accordance with Article 14 of the eIDAS Regulation. After this step, supported by the EU4Digital project, Ukraine was chosen among other Eastern Partnership countries to take part in pilot projects for the creation of cross-border electronic signature systems. In 2020, they agreed on a two-year work plan for Ukraine-EU cooperation on electronic trust services.
In 2020, under the e-commerce component of the EU4Digital program, they started some activities to align EU-Ukraine e-commerce. Introduction of the “electronic residency”, allowing non-residents to remotely establish and conduct business in Ukraine, became another part of the Ukrainian government’s initiative. Introduction of an electronic consignment note system in Ukraine and the launch of a pilot project for the digitization of customs clearance procedures is another important step toward entering the cross-border e-commerce systems with the EU and EaP countries. For the first time, in July 2020, they launched a pilot activity on electronic delivery (eDelivery) for cross-border data exchange between Ukraine and the EU country (Poland). The pilot project’s success created preconditions for similar projects with other countries, in particular, in the EaP. In 2021, through eDelivery solution between companies from Ukraine and Armenia, they launched a pilot project on the usage of digital invoices.
In the context of the national ICT ecosystem, innovations and ICT startups development, they created a number of preconditions for cooperation with the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. Starting from 2020, Ukraine can more cheaply share twice as much research data thanks to the EU-funded EaPConnect project, which provides a secure, high-capacity Internet connection for data transmission between Ukraine and the pan-European research and education network GÉANT. Within the framework of the EU4Digital program, to strengthen the national ecosystem of ICT innovation and startups, they developed a national action plan for improving national policies on access to finance for SMEs with digital innovations.
Recent achievements in digital skills development (eSkills) visible to European partners include the launch of the online educational platform “Diia. Digital Education” and government approval of the Concept for the Digital Competences Development.
The creation of the eHealth electronic health system was also praised by European stakeholders as one of the vectors on the country’s path to the European digital market.
The new EaP policy for 2025 sets long-term goals, with support for sustainable digital transformation as one of the five priorities identified by the European Commission (according to the proposal on long-term policy goals of the EaP for the period after 2020). Within the priority framework, the EU identifies the following main areas: digital infrastructure (strengthening independent electronic communications regulators, broadband infrastructures development, support for the implementation of partner countries and the EU agreements on roaming and spectrum); e-government (adoption of a legal framework for e-identification schemes and e-trust services in the Eastern Partnership); digital economy and innovation (the expansion of highly innovative digital startups in the EaP region through the spread of the Digital Innovation and Scale-up Initiative); digital skills; cyber resilience (development of legal, political, and operational cybersecurity systems based on EU legislation and best practices, including the EU cybersecurity certification system).
The optimal scenario for Ukraine in the development of relations on digitization in the Eastern Partnership policy framework provides the Committee on Digital Transformation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine gained success in implementation the following:
- continuation of work on existing opportunities:
- proper implementation of the Roadmap for Ukraine’s integration into the EU Digital Single Market (in the field of telecommunications);
- full implementation of the work plan of Ukraine-EU cooperation between electronic trust services;
- making signing of the Regional Roaming Agreement in the Eastern Partnership region possible;
- compliance with Ukraine’s plan for the 700 MHz radio frequency band release, regarding the Regional Agreement on Spectrum between the EaP and the EU;
- compliance with the Eastern Partnership Cyber Security Guidelines developed under the EU4Digital program;
- development of a comprehensive mechanism for measuring digital skills and competencies in Ukraine, under the requirements of the EU4Digital initiative
2. creating new opportunities for further harmonization of Ukraine, the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries digital markets:
- bringing powers of the national telecommunications regulator (NCCIR) in line with EU standards and norms, under the Independence Assessment Methodology developed by the EU4Digital program;
- launching new pilot projects on e-Delivery and cross-border data exchange between Ukraine, the EU and the EaP countries;
- Interactive buildup of domestic innovations, ICT, and startups ecosystem with international and similar European ecosystems and networks for innovative financial development support (the EuroQuity platform, the European network of business and innovation centers, the European network of business angels, Business angels of Europe, the European crowdfunding network);
- creation of a separate national coalition for digital skills and the creation of digital working positions, its accession to the Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs of the EU;
- development and adoption of a national contingency plan for unforeseen cybersecurity situations;
- development of a step-by-step action plan for the implementation of the EU Directive on network security and information systems (NIS Directive, EU 2016/1148);
- revision and improvement of Ukrainian legislation on personal data protection, consumer rights protection on the Internet and e-commerce taxation in line with EU requirements;
- bringing domestic regulatory framework and organizational mechanisms in line with EU requirements and standards for launching a pilot project to create a digital transport corridor between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea;
- development of a step-by-step plan for harmonization of the national legal framework on e-commerce, venture investments regulation, and e-health with European norms and standards;
- creation of a national network of innovation business incubators according to the standards of the European Business and Innovation Centre Network (EBN);
- initiating the creation of a separate national coalition for digital skills and jobs, based on the EU Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition;
- support for the official development and implementation of a digital competence framework for citizens (DigComp) and e-competences for business (e-CF);
- ensuring cross-border compatibility of the e-health system of Ukraine with EU and the EaP ones, and initiation of relevant pilot projects;
3. advocacy for EU activities:
- inclusion of three associated and other interested Eastern Partnership countries in the EU Digital Economy and Society Index;
- Ukraine’s and other EaP countries’ accessions to some scientific, innovative, and technological initiatives and programs, in particular: the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking, Coordinated Plan for Artificial Intelligence and Secure 5G Telecommunications Networks Deployment;
- adoption of a national coalition for digital skills and the creation of digital jobs in Ukraine in the Coalition for Digital Skills and Jobs of the EU.