E-society in SE Europe
More then 350 participants from 10 different countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Czech Republic and Ireland) participated at the second International E-Society.Mk Conference organized by Metamorphosis Foundation in Skopje from 15-17 November 2006.
The focus of the conference was regional approach to ICT policy creation. The conference provided broad participation of experts, policymakers, advocacy groups and other stakeholders from Macedonia, the South-East European (SEE) Region and EU to share knowledge and experiences through series of panel discussions and workshops. It provided an excellent opportunity for different stakeholders from the region to discuss challenges ahead, share information, experience and exchange knowledge. Moreover, it brought a regional perspective to local problems and provided a possibility to foresee future ones.
Countries in the SEE region share similar historical and political background, as well as future aspirations towards joining the EU. All of them share the need for development of information society as tool for economic and social development. However, they have various levels of achievement and diverse foci in both policymaking and implementation. The level of sharing of good practices and regional cooperation in the SEE has been unsatisfactory. Current and future needs require increased networking of information society experts, both at policy and practical level, especially synchronization of governmental communication system by adoption of same standards, with a view on leapfrogging to EU level. This need is also evident within the civil society, as increased solidarity, backed by sharing of experiences and expertise on regional level will contribute to the local effectiveness of NGOs.
Considering the Macedonian example, almost all relevant stakeholders, from political actors of all stripes, to business and civic sector representatives, have repeatedly expressed the need for building of information society in the country, both as mainstream element of economic development, and as vehicle for increased inclusion of various communities and groups. This national-level agreement lead to completing of several important legislative and policy efforts, most importantly the Law on Electronic Communications, and the National Strategy on Information Society Development. Sponsored by UNDP and FOSIM, the National Strategy for Information Society Development was created by a multilateral expert Task Force, coordinated by the Commission for IT. Under patronage of the President, it was accepted by the Government in June, and adopted with consensus by the Parliament in September 2005. Similarly, most of SEE countries adopted National ICT Strategies but lag behind with their implementation.
During the conference discussions it was emphasized that SEE countries need to undertake essential and well coordinated efforts in order to achieve the level of development present in the countries of European Union. NGOs in partnership with governments and the private sector must play a crucial role in the development of information society and ensuring that the transition toward the information society is conducted in a way beneficial to all segments of the society and in a manner that does not endanger individual rights and freedoms. As Mr. Antoin O Lachtnain from EDRI-member Digital Rights Ireland pointed out "It is vital to put citizen's welfare and dignity at the heart of the e-society".
Furthermore, it was underlined that it is unlikely to have high impact without the full involvement of NGOs which represent the interests of citizens in various ways and act as a bridge across the gap of trust which very often exists between citizens and governments.
The challenges the region will face in the future will require increased cooperation, more skills, increased productivity and a deeper understanding of the issues arising from using ICT and their influence on our society.