Speech by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas at the Estonian Presidency digital seminar in Brussels, 14 December 2017

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  • 14/12/2017 11:26

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Jüri Ratas
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas giving a speech at the Estonian Presidency digital seminar in Brussels (photo: Tauno Tõhk / EU2017EE)

Dear digitally minded friends,

With good reason, the Estonian Presidency has been called a ‘digital presidency’. It was our main priority because digital solutions influence every aspect of our society. From soil management to space exploration, there will be no area left untouched.

The cross-sectoral digital agenda of our Presidency had five inter-linked themes:  

  • The free movement of data;  
  • A smart European economy;  
  • e-Commerce;  
  • eGovernment;  
  • Trust and security.  

We also set the aim of bringing digital into all policy areas, from transport to agriculture, from space exploration to skills. 

The data economy is not meant to be something in itself but to make people's lives longer, happier and more secure. As the CEO of MAERSK, Jim Hagemann-Snabe said for the leaders in Tallinn Digital Summit, the digital revolution will not be about the rise of the machine; it will be about empowering the people. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

A European digital society is not a concept of a far future; it is here now.

A digital Europe together with the free movement of data is one of the five priorities of our digital Presidency. If Europe is to remain part of the digital revolution we need to make the most of it and look beyond our national borders.  

In September, at the initiative of Estonia and some others, the European Commission presented its draft legislation for the free movement of non-personal data. It is to complement the legislation on personal data that will enter into force next year. With strong political support, we hope to have a member state agreed position by the end of this year and political agreement in the first half of next year.

Europe has to seize the momentum and make use of these new technologies to regain our place in the world as a leading digital society. We all compete for innovation and talent, as Estonian tech entrepreneurs have said. 

I am also happy that Vice-President Ansip has taken up the call by the leaders to push ahead and have a European Strategy of Artificial Intelligence in 2018. 

Although I see some challenges, I also hope that Europe will follow up on the idea of European Disruptive Innovation Agency as proposed by the President Macron in Tallinn. The new multi-annual European budget next year will have to be digital.

We believe that Europe has plenty of common ground to come together and make the most of all the possibilities that face us today.  

Smart Economy 

It is clear that digitalisation will change our economy, the way we produce stuff and also the way we live and work today and in the future. Falling behind is not an option. The world is not going to wait for us. 

We need computing power and fast and reliable connectivity. This is the reason we have put so much work on European Communication Code, and I'm happy that the telecommunication ministers were able to draw up a Tallinn Declaration on 5G and a clear roadmap for it. 5G will transform not only communications, but kick-start a broader revolution that will bring us the internet of things and self-driving cars.

e-Commerce 

If we want to exploit all economic opportunities and European companies to reach global scale, we need a functioning digital single market with common rules.

It is a complicated task because we have many different options for our digital future and need to consider all aspects of Europeans wellbeing and security. We are happy that the discussions we led resulted in several important agreements.  

In July, it was decided in Tallinn that international tax rules needed to be updated to take into account the developments of the digital economy. A situation where online companies pay income tax only in the country where they are registered and not where they earn their profit is unacceptable. We agreed on an EU input to discussions at the international level about the digital taxation.

Through great effort, we reached an agreement on banning location-based restrictions on products and services in online shops by Christmas next year - we have ended unjustified geo-blocking.  

Economic growth is also supported by transparent tax policy. Last week, the EU finance ministers adopted the cross-border e-commerce value-added tax package making taxation easier for online businesses.

All this will support the goal of having single digital market.  

e-Government

I am a believer in free market, trade and capitalism. But I am far from believing that only the invisible hand will deliver us the infrastructure, the market and innovation for the data economy. We need the right mindset to deliver the eGovernment and seamless public services.  

Europe must keep up with technological progress and make it work in its favour. Thus, I am very glad to assure you today that a digital Europe and the free movement of data is a goal of all Europe. We reached a common understanding on this issue with 27 European Union leaders during the Tallinn Digital Summit

But to achieve a digital Europe, we cannot look only at markets. We need to improve the way government itself functions. The digital government contributes to a fair, inclusive Europe and saves resources for important public goods, such as security, health and education.

eGovernment and e-services are one way to make the life of a citizen easier and the government more efficient. In future, every service should also be available cross-border since the beginning. 

Member states share a common vision on making effective cross-border e-government a reality in Europe. We all confirmed that in October with a ministerial declaration on e-Government signed in Tallinn. 

We have also been taking legislative steps: 

An agreement between member states on the single digital gateway regulation will introduce the once-only principle at the EU level. This has been an idea and position of Estonia for a long time and is a key part of our trio programme with Bulgaria and Austria.

eGovernment is a driver of development and better governance. Developing digital solutions was also an important subject at the African Union and EU Summit couple of weeks ago. We see great opportunities for cooperation on that field.    

Trust and Security 

Today, nobody in the EU needs to be convinced anymore about the importance of cybersecurity. Our lives are digital, and our kids are online. 

During the past six months, member states have welcomed the cyber package and new ambitious strategy. We can achieve it only with enough resources and effort. 

We managed to finalise the European Union joint diplomatic framework for cyber, which enables us to apply economic sanctions when cyber campaign impacts us. 

Part of raising the bar in our political readiness was the first ever cyber exercise organised for the defence ministers of EU. This exercise opened many eyes to the impact that cyber attacks can have. 

Conclusion 

Estonia’s efforts to promote digitalisation were also reflected in practical solutions, by simplifying and digitising internal processes of the presidencies.  

The first digitally signed legal act of the European Parliament was passed in October, and a foundation was laid for the Presidency Portal to be used by all of the upcoming presidencies. Going digital is quicker, easier and cost-effective.  

Rapid change and new technologies also create challenges that need to be addressed, together at the highest political level. It is an opportunity to show that Europe stands united and is willing to lead when it comes to digitalisation of the economy, society, and government.  

I wish you fruitful discussions today and hope that a take-away from today’s conference includes valuable ideas to move forward with the digital Europe. 

Thank you!

Seminar: A digital presidency - takeaways from Estonia's programme for a digital Europe