Opening address by Minister for Culture Indrek Saar at the Estonian Presidency conference: Smart solutions for sustainable and inclusive societies

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  • 12/09/2017 11:54

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Minister for Culture Indrek Saar
Minister for Culture Indrek Saar gave the opening address at the Estonian Presidency conference 'Smart solutions for sustainable and inclusive societies' (photo: Estonian Ministry of Culture)

Opening address by Minister for Culture Indrek Saar at the Estonian Presidency conference 'Smart solutions for sustainable and inclusive societies'.

Your Excellencies,

Conference participants,

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to welcome you here in Tallinn at the Estonian Presidency conference ‘Smart solutions for sustainable and inclusive societies’.

A digital Europe is one of Estonia’s four overarching priorities of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And it is no wonder – we are known for being e-Estonia.  According to the Digital Economy and Society Index 2017, Estonia is leading in the EU in terms of supply and use of digital public services. This is, of course, because Estonia has such a sparse population density in rural areas – which makes life so much easier. Or maybe because Estonians are quite introverted and have a problem with standing so close to one another in queues.

The reason a digital Europe is one of the top priorities for the Estonian Presidency is because we believe that the EU must deliver the benefits of technological progress to every citizen and business.

Digital technologies have drastically changed our lives – and culture is no exception to this. The way people produce, access and use cultural content today, the way they connect with cultural institutions is increasingly done over the internet, via digital platforms and social media. While embracing the era of the digital shift, cultural institutions have the challenge of involving the audience in a more effective way. Otherwise they risk losing their relevance to society, to their local communities and their funding sources, which would inevitably have a negative impact on the level of their creative ambitions and artistic excellence.

I believe it is true in other fields as well. Digital, in fact, is a shortcut. And – by definition – a shortcut must be something that makes access effortless, and also makes sense to use. We need to listen and work together with our audiences. Because the best solutions can be born from collaboration between public, private and NGO sectors towards a common goal in order to provide smart solutions to our common challenges.

Our common challenges – and new opportunities – are the result of the changed environment. To achieve the best results in taking the issue forward in the sphere of culture, we believe that the topic of access to culture via digital means and audience development needs to be addressed at the highest political level. And in this regard cooperation among the member states, between the government organisations as well as cultural institutions and the audiences, is the only way forward.

Innovation is not just a question of technology; it is also about state approach. For example, Estonia has pioneered a new regulation, in force as of this year, regarding the storage of digital source materials of publications and films and making them available by law; and has established the basis for mutually useful cooperation between the state and the private sector. This means that it is no longer necessary to separately digitise publications and films that will be published from 2017 onwards, because digital source materials will be handed over for storage together with the completed publication.

Not everything that is digital needs to be taken into practice by default, but nevertheless, the enormous opportunities have to be considered very wisely. It is a means to create a more cultured, vibrant and more open society.  Thanks to our e-governance, citizens can more easily go about their daily business in dealing with various government institutions and participate in the decision-making processes. The state governance is transparent and bureaucracy is kept to a minimum.  

e-Estonia is never going to be fully complete. It is a continuous work in progress because we are continuously working to improve our society. Therefore, we are open to new ideas and willing to learn from the best practices of other countries.

However, for me, the prefix ‘e’ in e-Estonia symbolizes not only our belief in progress and the possibilities of modern technology. For me, the ‘e’ also symbolises ‘Europe’. e-Estonia means a very European Estonia. According to the latest polls, 77% of Estonians support our membership in the EU. That is because we believe that a Europe that is united, keeps working together and is more cohesive can offer citizens more prosperity, security and better possibilities. We want to invest in the EU. Every day. Together with you.

I am sure the ideas discussed here will help us all to take the topic forward and also for us as the Estonian Presidency. 

I wish you all an inspiring conference and I hope you have a fantastic stay in Tallinn!