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Among the pioneers in SEE: North Macedonia officially introduced digital IDs to its citizens

North Macedonia became one of the first Balkan countries which have started to deploy a nationwide digital identity solution
Image credit: Tamas Marton for Pexels
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This week, North Macedonia became one of the first Balkan countries which have started to deploy a nationwide digital identity solution, offering various digital public services to its citizens. In the Western Balkans, only Croatia has implemented a similar eID solution so far.

The project, which is enabled by global payments company Mastercard and operated by the Bulgarian trust service provider Evrotrust, will offer long-distance, digital-only verification and communication between governmental institutions and citizens, as well as businesses in the country. 

The solution uses the national population register to cross-check digitally submitted applications, thus ensuring the given identity belongs to the right person and highest level of assurance. In this way, North Macedonia’s citizens will be able to obtain documents from public institutions, remotely open a new bank account, or get a prepaid or postpaid mobile phone account using their digital identities.

To ensure data security, Evrotrust has fulfilled all of Mastercard’s requirements for decentralized storage of personal data, meaning successfully implementing the process of cross-checking personal information.

A year and a half after it was originally announced, the eID project is part of a long-standing national effort to introduce e-government solutions in North Macedonia. For comparison, neighboring countries and EU members such as Bulgaria have yet to introduce such digital solutions in its public services. Romania has also introduced a pilot project for digital IDs earlier this year, in August, while Greece is planning to introduce such services in the first half of 2022.

“I believe that the trust in the Mastercard brand as a worldwide leader will help us boost the trust in digital services. This is very crucial for digital services – trust in the institutions and also trust in the private eID schemes is something that is important for all digital services to be used by all citizens, where everyone will believe in the system in the background”, Nikola Nikolov, state advisor for information systems and technologies at the North Macedonia Information society ministry said at the Western Balkans Digital Summit in Podgorica on Tuesday.

“Macedonian citizens will have remote digital services for the first time now and this will also further support the digitalization of the economy”, Nikolov added.

In the beginning, the service will be free for the first 150,000 Macedonian citizens who will register on the country’s e-services portal, thus opening a digital identity profile.

The eID service will be integrated with financial and public institutions, the first of which is NLB Bank, one of the biggest banks in North Macedonia.  

In practice, the electronic identity will allow the bank’s clients to identify and sign e-documents with their qualified e-signature, from anywhere in the world.

“Technology has paved the way for introducing functionalities that not long ago seemed light-years away. We are grateful to our partners from NLB and from Mastercard for their superb collaboration and insistence on taking digital to the next level in the Republic of North Macedonia”, said Alexander Stanev, Chief Operations Officer at Evrotrust, who also recently opened an office in the country.

Currently, Skopje’s Evrotrust team consists of two people, whose main focus is business development.

“For the time being, there is a significant interest in the services offered by Evrotrust in North Macedonia, and depending on how this goes, it is very likely that we will further expand the team there”, Evrotrust’s CEO Konstantin Bezuhanov told The Recursive.

“The financial industry can benefit dramatically from the ID service digitizing various internal and external processes including – remote onboarding for customers and merchants, KYC / KYB processes, applying for credits and/or credit cards, verifying identities and signing various documents remotely”, Vanya Manova, Country Manager of Mastercard for North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo, added. 

 “We welcome North Macedonia among the first countries in Europe to commit to this digitalization on a top national level”, Manova concluded.

 

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Bojan Stojkovski is a journalist based in Skopje, North Macedonia. He has been covering foreign affairs and technology in the Balkans region for over a decade.