With Britain missing its turn for the European Union presidency in light of Brexit, the rotating six-month duty has fallen into Estonia’s lap earlier than planned.
Until the end of the year, the northernmost Baltic country will lead the EU through a complicated period: On top of difficult divorce negotiations between Britain and the 27-nation bloc, Estonia will also oversee talks on the Russian Nordstream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany, an issue over which several diverging interests are likely to face off in Europe.
But Estonia's priorities lie elsewhere: As one of the planet’s most tech-savvy countries, the ex-Soviet nation now wants "to give a strong push toward creating a digital Europe." An important part of this ambitious plan is making free movement of data the EU's fifth freedom (after persons, goods, services and capital), with an aim to boost cross-border digital commerce and services and facilitate the daily lives of Europeans.
More than 22,000 foreigners have already become e-residents.
Estonia is a pioneer in e-government. On its website e-estonia.com, the country boasts that citizens can vote without leaving their homes, file their tax returns online in five minutes, sign official documents with a digital ID-card and even register a business in just 18 minutes. Speaking to the Financial Times, Prime Minister Juri Ratas said this avoided the equivalent of an "Eiffel Tower" of paperwork every month.
The pinnacle of Estonian digitization is its e-residency initiative. With a few clicks and 100 euros ($110), anyone in the world can become an Estonian e-resident, even if they never even set foot in the country. And as it faces a quickly aging population, the government is keen to attract entrepreneurs and highly-qualified workers from abroad.
More than 22,000 foreigners have already become e-residents, including more than 1,000 Britons who are worried about the consequences of Brexit. A sign, perhaps, of the (future) times.