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Estonia: Pioneer of digitalisation in Europe

View of the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia, with medieval towers, red roofs and green trees standing out under a dramatically cloudy sky.

The historic city centre of Tallinn, Estonia, with its striking towers and red roofs. Photo: Unsplash

When people look beyond Germany's borders, they usually look to Estonia with amazement and nods of recognition. The Baltic country with a population of around 1.3 million has made digitalisation its trademark and the Internet a basic right. 95% of households have broadband access, free WiFi is available almost everywhere, all 500 schools are fully digitally equipped, and digital first also applies in public offices and authorities.

In 1991, after Estonia gained independence, the small Baltic country had to build up its public administration practically from scratch. Politicians relied on the gigantic growth in the possibilities of the internet, and the digital state became part of the identity and a national obligation. A milestone in the digitalisation of the country was the introduction of "X-Road" in 2001, an interoperability tool that allows data to be securely exchanged between private and public organisations.

Only weddings, divorces and house purchases offline

Today, Estonians can communicate with public authorities around the clock via one-stop government wherever the internet is available. This means that citizens have access via a centralised government portal. All administrative matters can be dealt with online there. Estonians only have to be there in person for three procedures: Marriage, divorce and the purchase of flats or houses, which cannot be done online.

All this is made possible by the digital ID card introduced in 2001/2002, the identity card or residence permit with a personal digital identity. Even newborn babies are given their eleven-digit ID on a wristband. This means that people in Estonia can easily view their medical records, children's school grades and all tax matters online. With the electronic prescription, they can have medication prescribed by a doctor over the phone and collect it from the pharmacy using their ID card. There is no need to visit the doctor. With the e-Residency card, they can easily set up a company electronically and even vote. More information on the digital pioneer Estonia can be found here in the SCCON news blog.

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