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

European Free Trade Association members and the "European Economic Area"

The European Economic Area (EEA) includes the 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 legislation, including those for the Digital Single Market.

Switzerland has adopted various provisions relating to the alignment to relevant EU legal acts in the EEA agreement through a series of bilateral treaties, which gives Switzerland a similar, but not identical, status to the EFTA/EEA members.

Candidate countries or potential candidates to join the EU

There are currently eight countries taking part in the ongoing process of the EU enlargement. EU telecom operators have large business operations in most of the enlargement countries.

New national policy documents for electronic communications and information society sectors defining broadband deployment targets have been adopted in most of the enlargement countries. 6 out of the 8 countries have set political targets for broadband coverage or take-up to be reached in the coming years.

As for market access, the electronic communications markets have been fully liberalised in all these countries, although national alignment to the EU legislation varies. Most of the enlargement countries are lagging behind the EU in Spectrum policy. In several countries, the digital switchover from analogue to digital TV is being delayed. All countries have aligned their national legislation to the eCommerce Directive

All enlargement countries have set up national regulatory authorities (NRAs) for e-communications, but in most countries, the institutional frameworks fall short of ensuring an adequate level of their financial autonomy.

As regards 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 remains as it has deteriorated in some countries in recent years. The amendments to the Turkish internet legislation is 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 European Union's eastern neighbours

European Union 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 policy frameworks of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the Eastern Partnership (EaP), and the Digital Community, which once in place, will help secure some of the benefits of the EU's Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy to the EU's neighbouring countries.

The untapped potential of the digital economy and society for the Eastern Partnership was recognised in the Riga EaP Summit Declaration in May 2015 and the EU Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions in November 2016.

In June 2015, the ministers in charge of the digital economy and society of the EU Member States and the EaP partner countries met at the 1st EaP Ministerial meeting on the Digital Economy and affirmed their commitment to work together in order to address similar challenges and exploit similar opportunities.

In October 2016, at a Ministerial level meeting on the Digital Community with the 6 EaP partner countries, the European Commission presented five EU4Digital regional EaP networks focusing on:

  • telecom rules
  • ICT research, start-ups and innovation
  • digital skills
  • electronic identification, trust services and cybersecurity
  • eTrade, including eCommerce, eCustoms and eLogistics

These networks, together with a sixth network on eHealth which was launched at a later stage, will serve as platforms for sharing best practices and experiences among the 6 partner countries and with the EU, promoting synergies and developing ideas for joint harmonisation projects.

Progress in this work and future plans will be presented for endorsement at the 2nd EaP Ministerial meeting on the Digital Economy on the 5th October 2017 in Tallinn, and the Brussels EaP Summit on 24th November 2017.

Russia

The EU-Russia Information Society Dialogue between DG CONNECT and the Russian Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications took place annually until 2013. Two EU-Russia working groups on "ICT research" and "ICT infrastructures for education and research", involving the Russian Ministry of Education and Science met regularly until 2013.

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

The Western Balkans

The European Commission adopted the Western Balkans Strategy on 6 February 2018. The Commission announced that together with the partners in the Western Balkans, it will launch a Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans. The Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans is one of the six flagship initiatives of the Western Balkans Strategy. It sets out measures to support progress on the following five key areas identified in the Western Balkans Strategy:

  1. A roadmap to reduce the cost of roaming;
  2. The deployment of broadband;
  3. The development of eGovernment, eProcurement, eHealth, and digital skills;
  4. Capacity-building in trust and security, and digitalisation of industries, to ensure that all sectors benefit from digital innovations;
  5. The adoption, implementation and enforcement of the acquis in the area of the digital single market.

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.