Estonia has celebrated the first anniversary of its groundbreaking e-Residency scheme at an event in capital city Tallinn. And plans to scale the program far faster in its second year.
Journalists and dignitaries observed a speech by Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas, who spoke of the program’s “very exciting” first year at the E-Estonia Showrooms, just southeast of the capital’s historic center.
“E-Residency puts Estonia on the frontline of public digital services,” he added. “More than 7,200 e-residents, among them more than 530 entrepreneurs and more than 240 established companies during beta launch, inspires but also binds us to develop the program further, to offer more relevant services.”
The scheme’s original goal, to have ten million ‘e-Estonians’ by 2025, said the country’s CIO Taavi Kotka, may seem far away but he has been very pleased with progress so far. E-Residency, he added, was not about taxes. “Estonia will never become a tax haven, so we have to find our own way to reach these numbers.
“It is like an app store,” added Kotka. “The more partners and services we have, the more people in the world can take advantage of all the good things we have to offer but also increasing Estonian economic space.”
Edward Lucas, a journalist at British magazine The Economist, became the first Estonian e-resident a year ago. In a statement he claimed there is no reason people should not have a choice of identity provider, as they do in other services.
“People may trust a foreign government more than they trust their own government and I think just as we have competing credit cards – we have VISA, Mastercard, American Express and so on – we should have competing providers of identity,” said Lucas. “This is the way forward and I think you have done a really good job in getting your offering on the table first.”
Estonia may only be a tiny state of 1.3 million on the Baltic Sea, between Russia and Latvia. But since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 it has cemented a position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.
The nation’s citizens have access to a wide range of government services thanks to a smart-ID card, and its X-Road project assures safe passage of data between public and private bodies.
“I think it has had a not-so-direct result already, but people are beginning to know about Estonia in a much bigger way,” he says. “If you can be entrepreneurial, and you see that the nation you live in can be technologically advanced too, then it gives you a real boost.
“It’s also great to show that a tiny nation-state, that many people do not know about, can make such a huge impact in the world of technology,” adds Tamkivi.
E-Residency costs 50€ ($53) and can be applied-for online, before picking up an identity card from one of 38 Estonian foreign representations worldwide. The online process, and card issuance, were launched six months ago.
“Estonians have enjoyed e-services for years, we vote digitally, we sign papers digitally, but opening up the system to foreigners is still an enormous work since we need to translate the interfaces, amend the laws and optimize many parts of the system,” said e-Residency program director Kaspar Korjus at the anniversary event.
“At the same time we also are winning from all these changes, because it improves the services locally as well. I think it is the coolest government startup in the world!”