Digitalization has been heralded as “the next engine of growth” for the economies of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the idea that digitalization can transform the region’s economic model has never been more relevant than amid the current coronavirus pandemic. In the 2018 seminal “Digital Challengers” study, McKinsey & Company estimated that a concerted effort at digitalization could add up to €200 billion to the region’s GDP. Now, accelerated digital adaptation provides an opportunity for Central and Eastern Europe to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger and more resilient. If the region is to leverage digitalization to fuel economic recovery and overcome some of its own limitations—from market size and fragmentation to access to capital and the investor appeal of local technology clusters—there seem to be few alternatives to working together at a regional level.
But for a variety of reasons, it has proven challenging to build greater cooperation and policy coordination among CEE countries in this area. Even though there is a general consensus on the digital potential of the CEE countries, there is little clarity about how Central and Eastern Europe as a region can best move forward with digitalization to secure its full benefits and become leaders in shaping its future trajectory.
Convinced of the role digitalization can play in Central and Eastern Europe’s economic future and encouraged by new momentum in the debate, the Atlantic Council convened a task force of US and CEE digital innovators, experts, and thought leaders. This task force report seeks to move beyond the generalities about digitalization in Central and Eastern Europe. It lays out recommendations to strengthen regional cooperation on digital priorities, leverage existing regional forums such as the Three Seas Initiative, and amplify the region’s voice on the digital agenda—both in the EU and across the Atlantic.