The European Commission works closely with third countries in the vicinity of the European Union.

European Free Trade Association members and the European Economic Area

The European Economic Area (EEA) includes European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. EFTA states which join the EEA are able to participate in the EU's single market without being EU members, adopting almost all relevant EU regulations including those brought by the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy.

Switzerland

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.

Candidate countries or potential candidates to join the EU

Seven countries are currently taking part in the process of the EU enlargement. EU telecom operators have large business operations in most of the enlargement countries, and new national policies defining broadband deployment targets have been adopted in most of the enlargement countries.

The electronic communications markets have been fully liberalised in all candidate countries. All countries have adapted their national legislation to the eCommerce Directive and have set up national regulatory authorities (NRAs) for eCommunications, although national alignment to the EU legislation varies in spectrum policy and inthe digital switchover from analogue to digital TV.

On audio-visual 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, announcing the launch of a new Digital Agenda (DAWB) together with the partners in the region.

The launch of the agenda brought a positive momentum and increased visibility of all digital actions. The first Digital Summit in Skopje in 2018 was a clear demonstration of ownership of the digital actions of the Trieste Summit Multi-Annual Action Plan by the governments of the six Western Balkans. It established a permanent cooperation mechanism among the Western Balkans, and recognised the importance of involving the business sector.

The representatives of the Western Balkan Partners signed a Statement of Support for the Digital Agenda at the EU-Western Balkans summit on 17 May 2018, and the European Commission presented its contribution to the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans at the Digital Assembly in Sofia on 25 June 2018.

The Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans is one of the six flagship initiatives of the Western Balkans Strategy, and good progress has been achieved on the following areas:

  1. A roadmap to reduce the cost of roaming: The entry into force of a Regional Roaming Agreement in July 2019 committing to the introduction of “Roam like at Home” brought price cuts of up to 90% on charges for users roaming within the Western Balkans.
  2. The deployment of broadband: Proposals are being prepared for the €30 million Western Balkan Investment Framework funding, and the Thessaloniki – Sofia – Belgrade 5G corridor Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2018.
  3. The development of eGovernment, eProcurement, eHealth, and digital skills: The Commission has secured an €8 million regional Cyber security programme, and the GEANT network ensures that universities and research centres in the region are connected between themselves and with their counterparts in the EU.
  4. Capacity-building in trust and security, and digitalisation of industries, to ensure that all sectors benefit from digital innovations: The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking has created a positive momentum for the widening and use of High Performance Computing (HPC) technologies in Europe.
  5. The adoption, implementation and enforcement of legislation in the area of digital: The College adopted its annual Enlargement Package in June 2018. Serbia is soon to open Chapter 10 (delayed adoption of Law on Electronic Communications). Montenegro is close to closing chapter 10 (independence of the regulator and administrative capacity to be addressed).

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, including provisions for a Free Trade Area covering electronic communications, digital trust and eCommerce.

Cooperation with the EaP region aims to share the experience of building the EU's Digital Single Market with the EU's eastern neighbours and facilitate the implementation of relevant parts of the three 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 in line with EU legislation and best practices. Highlights of this strategy include:

 The European Commission has developed 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 of the EaP Summit held in Riga recognised the potential of the digital economy and society for the EaP region. In June 2015, 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, the ministers affirmed their commitment to exploit opportunities related to the digital economy and society.

Southern EU Neighbours

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) met in September 2014 in Brussels and adopted a Declaration pledging close cooperation to reap the benefits of the digital economy for the Euro-Mediterranean area. This resulted in the establishment of a Digital Economy and Internet Access Expert Working Group to reflect on the ways to progress towards this objective, gathering 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 offer a new opportunity to put the EU’s relationship with the Southern Mediterranean on a new footing. This was discussed during the high-level stakeholder Digital4med conference on April 8, 2019 in Brussels, which focused on areas that can have the biggest impact and where the EU has relevant experience and demonstrated expertise. The conference identified types of cooperation aimed at triggering political engagement at ministerial level, and the next steps will be to identify concrete actions and to seek for political endorsement.

Russia

EU-Russia relations in the digital economy and society are framed within the overall EU policy towards Russia.