On the eve of the EU Digital Council to be held in Brussels on 24 October, gathering all the EU member states’ Prime Ministers and Heads of State to discuss the digital economy, innovation, and services at the EU level, the Croatia EU Business Council (CEUBC) and Google organized a workshop in Zagreb to discuss the Internet economy opportunities in Croatia, the region, Europe and even at the possible future Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), between the EU and the US. The workshop was held on 2 October at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Zagreb.
The CEUBC and Google are bringing together key policy decision makers, politicians, business representatives, activists and promoters of free and open internet, exchange internet best practices and share successful business stories, and demonstrate in concrete examples how Croatia can benefit from Internet and Internet Economy. We want to start a national discussion about the role of Internet and new technologies in the lives of Croats, and encourage Croatian politicians ,businesses as well as trade associations to fight for the advancement and development of the Internet on EU level – because it brings benefits to Croatian citizens.
The workshop was attended by a select group of high-level Croatian government officials, the Chairman of the Croatian parliamentary (Sabor) Committee on EU Affairs, Daniel Mondekar, trade association representatives, CEO’s of state-owned and private businesses, law firms, high-education institutions, etc. Moderated by CEUBC President, Natko Vlahovic, the workshop was opened by Mr. Josko Mrndze, CEO, Google Adriatics, who gave a comprehensive presentation on the Internet market and trends in the industry in Croatia and the region. After Mr. Mrndze’s presentation, Croatian Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Mr. Davor Stier, held a Google Hangouts video-link presentation and active discussion with the 30 participants from his office in the European Parliament. Other workshop presenters included: Ms. Leda Lepri, Croatian Ministry of Public Administration and Ivo Lukac, Board Member of the Croatian Independent Software Exporters (CISEX).
Croatia as one of the smaller EU countries can benefit tremendously from Internet Economy – Croatian entrepreneurs can export their products and services abroad and students can access global top-level education. Croatian people embrace Internet and new technologies, and can become Internet leaders in the region. Croatia will have the right to discuss Internet Economy at the EU Digital Council on October 24 in Brussels – we want to inspire Croatian politicians and the Croatian Prime Minister on how Croats can benefit from the Internet, and we want to encourage Prime Minister to actively support the Internet Economy during the Digital Council, and join the coalition of innovative, pro-technology, pro-internet oriented countries (Estonia, Ireland, UK, Slovakia).
The primary takeaways from the workshop included: the need to increase the investment in ICT education, hence the need to produce a significant increase in ICT graduates. Presently, there is a disproportionate number of social sciences graduates, as opposed to the high private-sector demand for technology and ICT graduates; the need to increase the ICT infrastructure capacity throughout Croatia and other EU members states. This issue is especially prevalent in the need to expand the ICT infrastructure to sparsely populated and rural regions, where the commercial incentive to build this infrastructure does not exist and will need to be subsidized both by the state and the EU; the need to increase the proportion of government spending on R&D. According to Eurostat (Jan 2013), Croatia allocates 0.8% of the country’s GDP into R&D, while the EU 27 average is 2.0%; the highest allocation is by Finland (3.8%). Another key area that was discussed was Croatia’s capacity and means to absorb EU structural and cohesion funding to assist in the upgrading and building of Croatia’s ICT infrastructure, education of the general public, SMEs and entrepreneurs, as well as the support of numerous ICT projects.
Mr. Stier discussed how investment in the Internet economy in Croatia is a matter of job creation and addressed the criticism that the creation of high-tech and ICT jobs takes the place of traditional labor-intensive jobs (e.g. factory workers). He cited statistical analyses from various EU member states that the creation of 2.7 – 5 new jobs equates to the loss of 1 traditional job, which means that increasing high-tech development and job creation actually equates to the total minimum doubling of new jobs, not to mention that the newly created jobs are high paying jobs, which also slowly increases society’s middle-class, quality of life, and spending capacity, thereby indirectly and positively contributing to the economic growth of an economy.