Balkans: slow internet and unspent cohesion funds / Balkans / Territories / Homepage | Panda Anku

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Balkan countries are struggling to keep up with the rest of Europe in terms of internet connection speeds. The only exception is Romania, which is, unsurprisingly, the country in the region best able to spend cohesion funds on ICT

Internet speed performance in Europe is steadily increasing, but many countries, particularly in Southeastern Europe, are still well below the 100 megabits per second (Mbps) threshold that the European Union has set for itself by the end of 2025.

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Among EU member countries in Southeastern Europe, only Romania and Slovenia surpass the 100 Mbit/s download target, while Bulgaria, Croatia and Greece remain below it despite improved performance. However, among the candidate countries for EU accession, only Moldova breaks the threshold, while the others range from 76 Mbps in Serbia to 33 Mbps in North Macedonia.

Looking at the percentage increases in the window between the first quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2022, one cannot help but notice that in three and a half years, Cyprus’ performance almost tripled, while Greece doubled. Still, the two countries are still struggling to keep up. Cyprus has actually increased downloads from 18 Mbps in 2019 to 52 Mbps this year, Greece from 21 to 42 Mbps. Although they have made relative progress in doing so, which is on par with, if not better than, the other countries, the two countries still lack links on an equal footing with the other EU member states.

The situation in the cities

Figures by city are more meaningful than those aggregated by country as they give a more detailed picture of the area. For reference, the median download speed in European cities in the second quarter of 2022 is 66 Mbps, while it was 20.6 Mbps in early 2019.

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The city map shows that in Romania most urban centers, also in rural areas, can offer very good connection speeds, which are also competitive with Western European standards. Slovenia also has good connections in almost every city in the country.

On the other hand, in countries like Albania, Cyprus or Greece, most municipalities score below the European average and do not even compare to other countries in the region.

In Croatia there is a clear difference between the main centers like Zagreb or Split, which perform well, and the rest of the country, which, with some exceptions, perform poorly. This situation, which we also partly observe in Bulgaria, underlines the need and the objectives of the European Union’s cohesion policy, ie investments to develop financially disadvantaged areas and to reduce the urban-rural divide.

EU investments in information and communication technology

With this in mind, it is extremely interesting to examine how much EU investment has affected the situation. In order to help Member States to reach the connectivity targets set by the Union, the EU is allocating several hundred million euros, notably within the framework of the Cohesion Policy, to programs activating projects aimed at financing the development of digital infrastructures and the targeting the telecommunications sector.

During the 2014-2020 programming period of the EU Cohesion Policy, significant resources were allocated to ICT projects: around 905 million euros in Romania, 330 in Croatia, 305 in Croatia, 71 in Slovenia and 63 in Cyprus.

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However, as the chart shows, only part of these funds was actually spent, with Greece spending 34% of the total allocated funds while Croatia used only 8.4%.

Some of these spending programs for the development of information and telecommunications technologies are explicitly aimed at financing the roll-out of broadband for end users: on this particular issue, if one analyzes in detail what has been allocated and how much has been spent, the situation is even less rosy.

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Croatia and Slovenia instead spent minimal amounts, about 0.5% of the total, from their respective allocations, which amounted to about 136 and 51 million euros respectively. A worrying fact that deserves to be examined in depth by both the European institutions and local authorities. The reasons for the underuse of these resources are varied, ranging from structural problems in the implementation of these types of projects to dysfunctional management of the funds themselves.

Of the countries in the region, only Romania has spent a significant share of the funds allocated for broadband deployment, or 41% of the approximately €65 million. And in fact, the country is one of the best countries not only in the region, but in the whole of Europe in terms of the performance of the Internet connections.

We need to get to the root of the problem to ensure that the cohesion funds do not remain a major missed opportunity for these and other countries. If we try to broaden our view to all 14 EU countries that have been allocated funds to improve broadband, we can see how other countries have spent a significant chunk of the funds.

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France stands out among all, having spent all the funds made available: it is therefore not surprising that it is the EU member state with the fastest internet connection and the only one to exceed the average speed of 200 Mbit/s.

This content is published as part of the European Union (EU) co-funded project “Work4Future”. The EU is in no way responsible for the information or opinions expressed within the framework of the project. Responsibility for the content lies solely with OBC Transeuropa. Go to “Work4Future”

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