Estonians are very proud of the label of “e-Estonia”, with this concept becoming a trademark of the country’s administration. Since the late 1990s, Estonia has created an efficient, safe and transparent “ecosystem”, which, in their words, is unparalleled in the world. The scale of the change is particularly spectacular given that 30 years ago Estonia was an underdeveloped republic that was newly independent of the Soviet Union and poor in both its capacities and capabilities.
However, the breakthrough point, in hindsight, was rightly seen in the investment in information technology.
The foundation of the “Estonian miracle” was laid by the fact that almost immediately after the advent of the Internet, the Tallinn government made a quick and decisive commitment. By 1998, all schools would be equipped with computers with an Internet connection, a significant achievement reached even before 2000.
As access to the Internet was declared a basic human right in the Baltic state two years later and the country with a population of barely one and a half million was connected to the World Wide Web, from the capital to the smallest settlement.
Conscious construction began along an elaborate digitization strategy that began with the computerization of schools in the early 1990s, then, a quarter of a century later, the goal now is to gradually introduce artificial intelligence. In 2021, Estonia is the only state in the world where 99 percent of public services operate online 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The remaining 1 percent are marriage, divorce and real estate transactions — these can still only be done in person.
Thus, an Estonian citizen can access about 4,000 government and corporate services in an instant with the number code of his identity card, the precision and speed of online administration also greatly improves the quality of offline life: more time is spent on recreation and other activities.
Some highlights of the digitization process: Today, 1 percent of the state budget is regularly spent on the development of IT technologies in Estonia; 90 percent of the Estonian population is a regular Internet user, and the younger generations are “digital natives” (since the late 1990s, computer programming has been a compulsory subject in lower primary schools).
A significant part of banking services takes place online, with 98 percent of Estonians filing their tax returns electronically, which is just a 10-minute task to complete; digital identification and signature saves the state a lot of office costs and administrative time.
Forty-four percent of Estonian citizens vote electronically in elections; Estonians living abroad can vote online without any difficulty. With the reduction of bureaucracy and the digital preparation of decision-making, government meetings last an average of half an hour, compared with four to five hours 20 years ago.
Title image: Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.