Close-Up In Estonia, e-mail is all you need

The facts are clear: Germany is the world’s fourth-largest economy with a highly innovative background and immense developments in new technologies and innovations. Yet, we must admit that there is another country just as inspiring: Estonia, where I currently live. 

Estonians have a lot going for them, but they won’t admit it themselves as they are rather reserved and modest. They could proudly add an additional “e” in front of their country’s name in English, just like its name in Estonian – Eesti – because Estonia is a pioneer in the efficient “electronization” of its public administration.

The Baltic state does not possess the ideal conditions for this. Estonia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Until then, Moscow virtually wiped out the upper and middle classes in the country and the Russian government only permitted Estonians to work in agriculture. Additionally, Estonia is a small state with as many residents as the Czech city of Prague. Despite all this, the nation has attained leadership in electronization faster than any other country and without overpriced public procurements.

Digitalization has been the norm in Estonia for a long time now. It held the first electronic election in the world in 2005. Furthermore, an Estonian ID card can be used in any number of ways. It helps users connect to Internet banking with an electronic ID reader as small as a USB drive. Estonian ID cards can be used as health insurance cards, as passports and even as driver licenses. Pharmacies record their loyalty points on it and libraries consider it a library card.

In general, Estonians don’t need paper at all. One e-mail and an electronic signature suffice to solve any problem. After requesting communication with an office, they receive the necessary document as a PDF file almost immediately in their inbox.

However, we must also take a  look at the other side of Eestonia. Estonians fear for the security of their data due to hacker attacks from Russia. One of its biggest cyber conflicts occurred in 2007 when hackers attacked the governmental and commercial servers and blocked bank accounts for days.
Although no data was lost during this event, Estonia had been backing up important data outside of its borders, especially after annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. For that reason, the government established its first data embassy in eastern Luxembourg this year, which is expected to begin operations by the end of this year or early 2018 at the latest.

After all this, Estonians still maintain their digital leadership. Incidentally, if you were wondering where Skype was created in 2003, you’d be correct to guess: in Estonia.

I am certain that this small country can be an inspirational example for Germany, which could follow its lead and join it as a digital forerunner.