Distinguished colleagues, delegates and participants
I am honoured to welcome you at the e-Governance Conference 2022.
The world today is racked by turbulence. The shocks of the COVID pandemic will ripple for several time. The situation has been exacerbated by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified assault against the Ukrainian state, against the Ukrainian people, and even against the very notion of Ukrainain-ness. The result is a vast humanitarian crisis and another severe blow at the functioning world economy. The relative stability of the post-Cold War era has been definitively shattered. The ideological conflict between democracies and autocracies has not only been revived but it has come knocking on the door of Europe. The resilience of our societies, of our democratic values and liberal principles have not faced such a challenge for over a generation.
I commend the e-Governance Academy’s foresight in identifying resilience as the focal point of this year’s conference.
While the situation may seem grim, I know we and our way of life will prevail. For one, open societies are those which drive the innovation to overcome challenges and come out stronger. Estonia knows first-hand how digitalization can increase resilience. In the nineties, having regained independence, Estonia had to rebuild its institutions from scratch. Going digital was the most efficient and cheapest solution. Today, 99% of our public services are accessible online at every hour of the day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these services continued uninterrupted, thus freeing up doctors, nurses, and administrators to fight the pandemic.
Estonia built its open and inclusive digital society on trust, transparency, and human-centric values.
Now consider Ukraine where 13 million people have been forced to leave their homes and nearly 6 million refugees have fled to other countries. Ukraine’s digital backbone has kept the state operable, helping deliver services online, even during war. Ukrainian refugees have been able to continue their education by accessing education services online.
All this demonstrates two things. One, the values we integrate into our digital architecture now will determine the direction of the 21st century going forward. So when we speak of bridging digital divides, facilitating the adoption of novel digital solutions, and promoting trusted connectivity, we are speaking of our democratic values, our highest standards, our highest ideals.
Two, a digital transformation driven by these values, standards, and ideals cannot take place without data protection, data interoperability, the free flow of data across borders, cybersecurity, and the rule of law in cyberspace. These are the prerequisites to developing and deploying seamless digital governance tools such as digital public goods. Without harmonizing the principles of taxonomy, without promoting open and standards-based reusability, and without sharing knowhow and capacities, we curtail our ability to make best use of what the digital transformation provides.
Of course, new technologies come with an assortment of risks and challenges. The cross-border use of digital technologies create interdependencies. Violations of privacy, hackings, and the spread of disinformation are commonplace. The number of malicious cyber operations has increased, targeting critical infrastructure, public e-services, the banking system, and the media. Cybersecurity has to become a natural and fully integrated part of all digital projects and partnerships.
Let us also not forget to place people at the center of the digital transformation. A human-centric approach means the adoption of technologies in an inclusive manner so that technology contributes to the well-being of all the people, including those most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Building up digital health systems, developing e-learning solutions or modernizing e-governance can only succeed if they advance fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law.
It is evident that we as people, businesses, governments, and countries share similar problems, and that our solutions to these problems are similar, too. Estonia is actively participating in several global initiatives that promote digital development.
In Europe, these efforts now belong under the Global Gateway strategy—the EU’s promise to deliver trusted connectivity across the world. Through Global Gateway and under the banner of Team Europe, Europe is supporting a more active and strategic engagement of its partners in driving values-based investments into high-quality digital and physical infrastructure, as well as in facilitating digital development in general. One such tool is the Digital for Development Hub, of which Estonia is a founding member.
I am pleased to let you know that at this very moment, Estonia is handing over an innovative digital platform—the Team Europe Partnerships Portal—to the European Commission. This platform, developed by the Estonian private sector, will support EU Member States in creating even stronger bridge across all of the EU’s development cooperation initiatives.
To build digital societies around the world, Estonia is also actively engaged in promoting the adoption of open-source digital public goods through initiatives such as GovStack.
All these initiatives and efforts enhance strong and long-term public-private partnerships which are crucial to a successful digital transformation.
Ladies and gentlemen
This conference has brought together leading experts and decision-makers. I invite you to share, to listen, and to learn, so that we could together build digital societies that are resilient and seamless; societies that are smart, secure, and open; societies that safeguard democracy and—above all—peace.