For Estonia, the homeland of the popular services such as Skype and Taxify – “online” has become a way of life.
When the conditions of a pandemic coronavirus, the world was quarantined and “plunged into the online” meet Estonia. For this country – the birthplace of popular services such as Skype, Transferwise and Taxify (now known as Bolt), – “online” has become a way of life.
99% of the features, including voting in elections, taxation and business management, available online, and in addition the country has a program of “digital citizenship” e-residence as an opportunity to register the business in the EU.
Estonia – Baltic state, with less than half a million citizens, has become one of the world leaders in the field of digitalization and IT technologies.
First steps in number
In 1939, before the Soviet occupation, Estonian GDP was approximately the same as the GDP of Finland. But in 1991, at the time of the restoration of independence, Estonian GDP thirty times inferior to Finnish. Due to the lack of gas for heating, the government even planned the evacuation of the capital Tallinn.
To overcome the crisis, Estonians had to resort to rapid changes and to “invent their own Nokia”.
The father of Estonian economic reform was Mart Laar, who was Prime Minister between 1992 and 1994 (and again in 1999-2002). He had a radical reform of the public sector – in fact, fired all state employees, gaining new composition of the public sector only on a competitive basis.
During the Prime Minister Laar returned to the owners of private property confiscated during the Soviet occupation, the privatization of large enterprises. The joint efforts of Laar and head of the Bank of Estonia Siim Kallas was carried out currency reform.
Market reforms have been recognized by international partners as a success, only the period from 1994 to 1998 the level of foreign direct investment has doubled.
Along with “classic” market reforms in Estonia in the 1990s started to create your “electronic government”.
It was a challenge to the state where only a minority of the population had access to computers and a third have never used the Internet.
It required hard work to ensure “digital literacy” and build confidence in electronic management tools.
But e-services quickly became popular, because computers don’t take bribes and, therefore, digitalization has contributed to the eradication of corruption. Moreover, every citizen can see who has accessed his personal data, and, if proven abuse, could prosecute such public servants.
First, the use of electronic instruments began in the banking sector in 1997, while the model of “digital identity” began to be used in the early 2000s.
“Fathers” of digital reform
Its role as a catalyst of digital reform in 1996 was played by the initiative at the time Ambassador of Estonia to the United States (and subsequently, 2006-2016 – President) Toomas Hendrik Ilves, called “the tiger Leap”.
Under this program, every school in Estonia had to be provided with computers and the Internet, and information technology – to become one of the indispensable tools in the educational process.
The path from idea to its implementation was quite short. Already in 1997, the initiative is a state program with Federal funding.
However, the present “Estonian miracle” – turning the country into a world leader in implementation of IT technologies occurred somewhat later, in the beginning of this century.
Thanks to the project Look@World (continuation of the program “tiger Leap”) was the combined efforts of both the government and private entities, for whose account free access to wifi and Internet in almost all localities of the country became commonplace.
And more than 10% of the population were free courses in basic computer literacy.
All this has created a basis for the adoption by the Estonian Parliament of the law on electronic ID and allow Estonian citizens to use electronic signatures, but also provided an opportunity to submit in digital form to their tax return, to view online their own medical records in health care institutions and even participate in the elections.
The driver of these changes among the political forces was the reform Party (RE). Established in 1995, since 1999 included in the majority coalition government, and in 2002, reformatting the coalition government, led by the government.
The leader of the RE Siim Kallas, head of the government in 2002-2003 was the start of a new wave of digital reforms, has made great efforts for the adaptation of Estonia to the European norms and standards, allowing the country to join the EU in 2004.
The tandem of the government and President
However, the transformation of Estonia into a truly digital state most associated with another agent RE – Andrus Ansip, who in the next government he held the position of Minister of economy and engaged in digital transformations.
Interestingly, in the elections RE not won, however, traditionally included in the government coalition. In 2005, as in 2002, after another reformatting of the coalition, Ansip became Prime Minister and retains the post until 2014, is one of the most long-lasting Prime Minister’s deadline for EU member States.
The main “pillars”, which built its policy RE, was the policy of economic liberalism and transparency, together with the formation of a “digital state”.
This greatly helped the new Premier tandem with President Ilves, who in the late 1990s was one of the originators of the concept of e-Estonia as head of state – promoted it to the world.
Already in 2005, the government conducts an experiment – the local elections take place online. But after two years voters have the opportunity to vote via the Internet and in the parliamentary elections.
A real challenge for Estonia was the “bronze night” in 2007. In response to the government’s plans to move from the center of Tallinn monument to the Soviet soldier Russia have staged protests that escalated into looting. And government sites suffered the devastating cyber attacks by Russia.
This threat led the government to the next innovations, particularly the use of blockchain technology – distributed databases stored in different places, harder to destroy with one attack.
By analogy with the previous loud digital project “tiger Leap”, this is called “Protection of tiger”.
However, the reforms did not end there.
A significant achievement was the e-Health program 2008. Created in the framework of electronic patient profiles allows to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and to have instant access to patient data in critical situations.
Subsequently, in 2014, there e-Portal – digital services for motorists and car owners.
Advances in digitalization have led to the economic acceleration. For three consecutive years, from 2016 to 2019, growth of the Estonian economy amounted to more than 4%, with the largest contribution to the growth of the economy belonged to the it industry.
In 2014, Ansip “has gone on increase”, becoming Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for digitalization.
The party was in power even longer, because in the period 2014-2016, the government was headed by another representative of Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, who was at that time one of the youngest Prime Ministers in the EU.
With him in 2015, Estonia is forging a partnership with Luxembourg – it was there in a highly secure data center are kept “backups” of databases, are vital for Estonia’s digital infrastructure.
Continuity in reforms
In 2016, when due to a split in the coalition RE joined the opposition, and President Ilves concluded his second term and left office, it would seem that there is a risk of the suspension of the reforms.
However, this did not happen, and the trend to digitalization is preserved. Despite the change of government, the Centrist party whose leader led the new government, did not turn reform.
Program digital citizenship has proved its efficiency, the government expects that by 2025 the number of e-residents of Estonia will be 10 million people, eight times the number of citizens. And the number of “ordinary” citizens is also growing. From 2017, the rise in population.
Estonians return home, because I believe in its success.
And the reform Party continues to propose further steps to liberalize the economy and digitalization (in particular, promotes the idea of technological digital revolution at the European level and the introduction of a single digital EU market).
Party headed by the daughter of Siim Kallas – Kaja Kallas, won the elections to the European Parliament and national parliamentary elections of 2019.
And although the party, despite the largest faction in Parliament, for the first time in many years, not joined the coalition, she remains a leader in supporting the state. So a new stage in the implementation of reforms – is not far off.
And most importantly, 30 years of independence proved that Estonia is able to adapt to crises, and sees them not only challenges but also opportunities.
So, with high probability, when the world will be released from quarantine, Estonia will be even stronger, because it has become a country that sets trends for others.
Sergey Gerasimchuk, “European Pravda”