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President of the Republic at the Opening of EuroDIG

President of the Republic at the Opening of EuroDIG © Urmas Kamdron


Dear citizens of the world wide web of democracies,

We live in a digital age. We are connected by optical cables and computers, but most importantly, by the faith in the sanctity of the individual human spirit and freedom.  We believe in these values. They are universal.

By this, I mean the whole package of freedom and democracy: free and fair elections, rule of law, independent judiciary, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. In the modern digitized society, a free Internet is just as natural a part of the package.

The exponential growth of the use of information technology and the Internet has changed our societies so much we can no longer imagine life without it. The Internet affects our cultures, our economies, the way we think and communicate, the way we govern our states and handle international relations.

While there are some authoritarian regimes out there who would like to replace the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance we have today into something different, "a governance of Internet", I firmly believe that security cannot be used as an excuse to limit freedom of expression. Cyber security, while important, cannot lie in highly restrictive legislation that plays into the hands of those who have a fundamentally different value system and no regard for human dignity and freedom of speech. Or who want to quash or limit free expression in the name of "domestic security". Those we should not trust to regulate our Internet.

We do not have to see freedom and security as mutually exclusive: indeed secure online interactions are a precondition for enjoying full Internet freedom.

Here in Estonia, we have managed the balance between security and freedom by providing a network of public and private e-services based on a secure online identity. I am proud to be the president of the only digital society that has a state. As of last year, we are proud to be the first in the world in Internet freedom according to Freedom House – we are No. 1 yet again.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The future of a secure and free Internet is not just a question about lifestyle. The Internet is a driver for economic growth and development. Since the 1980s it has blossomed into a global network of networks used by nearly four billion users today. Much of the world's commerce and communication pass through it. Internet access has become a key tool for development. Yet, we see too few governments in action in Internet.

I am proud that Estonia has chosen the furthering of good governance via ICT as one of the key priorities of our country's international development cooperation activities. Smart and knowledgeable use of ICT is an efficient tool for bringing about fundamental changes in governance. The benefit to government institutions, businesses and citizens from
e-services offered by government and also private businesses far outweighs the cost of investment made to create and maintain these e-services.

We in Estonia have been able to offer more efficient public services, and the efficiency gains from digital signature are estimated to be as much as 2% of GDP per year. These two percent benefit most of all simple people and SMEs, as neither has the capacity to handle big bureaucracy.

As the World Bank's last year's report "Digital Dividends" demonstrated, the countries to gain most from this digital revolution are those where technology goes hand-in-hand with relevant changes in the so-called analogue sphere –
the legal system, economy and developing the skills of people. Added value that digital technologies provide is more transparent business environment and more accountable government.

The World Bank's digital report clearly demonstrated that while adopting digital technology can provide a major growth impact and transform governance, it can only truly happen, if there are policies in place that support the digital adoption.

First, connectivity is an essential precondition, but it does not automatically result in Digital Dividends. Second, and that is much more complicated, but also much more rewarding,  one has to factor the ICT and digital technology into legislation and regulation. If regulation recognizes e-commerce as equal to physical, then the contractual security provided to small businesses would incentivize them clearly to seek out digital alternatives for their operations, as they are clearly both time and cost efficient by nature.

The Estonian solution that we have tried out and found to be functioning was based on creating unique online identity in a publicly developed and secure ecosystem. But it might not be the only way.

Here, in Estonia, fast changes have shifted the fundamentals of our society in many spheres of public life – in business, in governance and also
in the very way members of our society lead their lives. Today in Estonia we talk about e-governance and e-state, but what is much more important is that we are a digital society. A society where technology is thoroughly interwoven into the everyday life of people. And the people refuse to go back to pen and paper.

We do not want to bore you with stories of e-Estonia, but instead hope that our experience in this field can help and inspire. We recognise different societies face very different challenges while going digital. With our experience, we can provide some answers and point to a few potential caveats, but we must and will not call on others to do exactly as we do. EU is a union of different nation states and every state is also a culture. That culture must be preserved while going digital, because people expect it.

Dear friends,

As you know, Estonia will take over EU Council Presidency soon. Our Presidency has a strong digital agenda. We must make sure we maintain cyber space for the white powers and not abandon it to the dark forces. The future of the world will be digital. A prosperous and sustainable Europe embraces technological transformation by boldly seizing the opportunities offered by this trend.  At the same time, rapid change and new technologies always create vulnerabilities: our task will be to balance these risks and benefits fairly.

Our EU Council Presidency will focus on the establishment of a Digital Single Market, increased use of e-solutions and data as well as on the development of cross-border e-services.

We need to focus on facilitating the strategic discussions among Member States on the road ahead – as we expect to have EU Cybersecurity Strategy on the table by autumn. We will work to make the Network and Information Security (NIS) directive effectively work, for example, by leading the work of cooperation formats envisioned there.

We will also lead discussions on the proper institutional set-up on EU level, for example, by negotiations on the ENISA mandate in Council. Last but not least – we will do concrete actions to boost the cyber resilience of Europe, like holding  a tabletop exercise for defence ministers, and compiling a guidebook on how to react to cyber incidents on EU level. That will be quite a programme for 6 months, but together with our partners we can achieve it.

Digital society enables above all the free and free thinking citizens. Their interactions with state become effortless. For citizens, being the centre of the system does not only mean high quality public services. It also means having more opportunities to effectively have their say in politics. Not only on social media platforms or street demonstrations, but also by engaging the citizens in a meaningful dialogue with the Government permanently – 24/7/365. This is
Open Government of the 21st Century we need – a culture of governance where the power holders and citizens are de facto partners, sharing
a responsibility for the future of their country.

The digital disruption changes societies at least as much as industrialisation did, probably more. So, we need to develop our capacity to foresee and to be prepared for this fundamental change. I am convinced that these future trends will pose a challenge to our current understanding about work and welfare but also about global security.

I hope that EuroDIG will be able to dig into some of these questions.

Good luck and happy discussions!