VIENNA – Macedonian society is still very’ paper based’, and citizens hold strongly trust the paper rather than clicks. This is a reason why more intense and constant campaigning and communication to explain the benefits of digitalization and the digital access to public services to citizens is needed, it was concluded in the Policy Brief “Digital Europeanisation in North Macedonia: Slowly moving forward”, published within the “WB2EU Network”.
The authors explained that the digitalization of public services in North Macedonia was promoted, similarly to all other policies of importance, as a crucial part of European integration and the country’s alignment to the acquis communautaire. The Policy Brief concentrates specifically on the issue and problems of implementing the system necessary for functioning digital wallets (electronic Identification, Authentication and trust Services, eIDAS).
Within the European integration process of North Macedonia, the digitalization and digital wallets are part of the broad topics of Chapter 10: Information society and media. The authors recalled findings of the latest European Commission Report where North Macedonia is overall moderately prepared in this area.
“In particular, the European Commission commends the country for increasing the number of available electronic services for citizens and businesses. However, it expresses concern over the delayed finalization and adoption in the long-term Information and Communication Technology Strategy, which was prepared but got stuck in the institutional labyrinths of the public sector”, the authors stressed.
Generally, in the Policy Brief authors explained that from Chapter 10, the country is putting much emphasis on digital literacy and improving skills, which can significantly contribute to digital success of the new strategy and overall digitalization of Macedonian society.
“According to former Minister of Information Society and Administration (MISA), Damjan Manchevski, the first step of the government was to create a predictable and stable legal environment for digitalization, created in a constant process of consultations with the business sector”, Policy Brief stated adding that this is why Government invested much energy on enabling the digital identity, as a driver of the digitalization of public services.
The Law on Electronic Documents, Electronic Identification, and Confidential Services were brought in 2019 in full accordance with the eIDAS Regulation of 2014 and created the basis for the work of the common digital market and conditions for alignment of the means of electronic identification.
“This was intended to enable the functioning of the market of confidential services, as well as the increase in trust towards the electronic services. Furthermore, the authors explained that the Law on Electronic Management and Electronic Services regulated the work of public administration entities regarding the transfer of electronic data and documents and the implementation of the electronic service”, the authors explained.
However, the authors underlined that experience shows that citizens must be more informed about digitalization efforts and opportunities.
“For example, the system for electronic applications for school children exists and operates, but it is extremely rarely used. Furthermore, Macedonian society is still very ‘paper based’ and citizens strongly trust paper rather than clicks. Simply, electronic documents still do not have the importance and value among Macedonian citizens as much as paper ones do”, Policy Brief stated.
The authors offered five recommendations for improving current problems in this area. They believed that more intense and constant campaigning and communication is needed to explain the benefits of digitalization and digital access to public services to citizens, particularly the older generations.
Institutional inertia is noted as one of the main problems related to digitalization. According to Policy Brief, certain public institutions refuse to connect to the system and establish internal procedures “simply because there is not a specific law directing them to do so”, the authors explained.
“Increased communication between the MISA and reluctant institutions in order to convince them of the benefits from being a part of the digital system and offer digital services. The Inter-Ministerial Working Group needs more resources in order to be able to process more laws and impose digitalization on institutions”, the authors recommended.
They added that it is necessary to quickly establish the Agency for Digitalization and Registers and establish a new institution/organ tasked with cyber security in public administration.
The authors identified that part of the problem lies on the side of civil society and expert audiences because digitalization has been tackled by a limited number of projects and civil society organizations in the past few years.
The Policy Brief is published in the framework of the WB2EU project. The project aims at the establishment of a network of renowned think-tanks, do-tanks, universities, higher education institutes and policy centres from the Western Balkans, neighbouring countries and EU member states that will be most decisive for the enlargement process and Europeanisation of the region in the upcoming years. The WB2EU project is co-funded by the European Commission under its Erasmus+ Jean Monnet programme.