Taavi Rõivas, Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia, explained the extraordinary gains the digital landscape is bringing to Estonia to an IPI audience, May 3, 2016.
“Estonia saves two percent of GDP by signing things digitally,” he said. “Imagine if it could go global.”
Since regaining its independence in 1991, Estonia has achieved significant economic growth. Estonia is still on the rise and is known as one of the world’s most wired nations with a highly tech-savvy population, and serves as a model not just for former Soviet states, but the international community more broadly.
The Prime Minister suggested that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, signed at the UN at the 2015 General Assembly, could be one way for such policies to reach more nations. “Innovation has to be a central part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
He explained the philosophy behind Estonia’s commitment to making government accessible to a 21st century citizen. “There is a reason behind each tech-savvy policy,” he said, emphasizing that citizens can do everything from filing taxes to checking their health records online.
More than just providing convenience, these policies improve democratic legitimacy, he argued. “Simple citizen-oriented solutions,” such as a 2005 move to online voting in Estonia, he said, “means more participation and more democracy.” Estonian elections now receive participation from citizens living abroad in 116 countries.
Another practical impact for Estonians has been the medical benefits from a nationwide electronic health record. Patients are “easier to treat if you know their medical history,” he explained, which saves both money and lives without the need for duplicate testing.
Even President Obama praised Rõivas’ e-goverment policies during a joint press conference in Tallinn in September 2014. Obama joked that he “should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health care website,” which had many technical difficulties during its rollout.
In a talk show appearance fitting for the world’s youngest head of state, Rõivas was asked by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah this March about a claim by Jeb Bush that Estonians take only 5 minutes to file their tax returns through an auto-populated smartphone app. He quipped that Bush’s assessment was almost right. “Now it takes only three minutes,” he said.
The event, titled “Digital Estonia: Harnessing the Power of Information Technology for Improved Governance,” was held as part of IPI’s Global Leaders Series.
Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations, moderated the conversation.