Estonia is ahead of the curve
2017-11-15 15:45:00 -

A small Baltic country with a strong voice currently holds the EU presidency. But will Estonia’s digital revolution match the influence of its Singing Revolution, asks Michael McGowan

I have just returned from Estonia, which holds the current six-month rotating presidency of the European Union. The country won its independence in 1991 following the so-called ‘Singing Revolution’ but today is determined to lead Europe with a digital revolution during its EU presidency, which lasts until the end of December.


Estonia is the most northerly of the three Baltic states, sharing a border with Russia and linguistic and cultural ties with Finland, whose capital Helsinki is just 80km across the Gulf of Finland from Tallinn.


The country is already a leader in digital technology, much like its northerly neighbour Finland, and along with Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom, is blazing the trail to achieve a digital world. Despite being a small county of 1.3 million, Estonia is determined to enhance the profile of its digital voice during its EU presidency. 


The country has lengthy experience of mobilising the creative talents and collective voices of its people, not just in technology but also in the arts. Perhaps more than any other country in the world, the history of Estonia is a story set to a song.


Estonians turned to music as a way of preserving their national identity, which was never more evident than in the Singing Revolution, based on its long tradition of choral singing, which achieved their independence from the Soviet Union without violence in 1991.


During my visit to Tallinn, the capital, I went to the impressive Singing Stadium, a short distance along the coast from the city’s port. The stadium is where, more than 25 years ago, hundreds of thousands of singers assembled to voice their protest songs against the Soviet occupation of their country more.


A quarter of a century on, Estonia is making its digital revolution a key priority of its presidency of the EU — and is again determined its voice will be heard in Europe and beyond.


Membership of the EU became one of the main objectives of Estonian foreign policy after independence. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country has become one of the most economically successful of the EU’s newer eastern member states.


Estonia has taken over the presidency of the EU ahead of schedule, as a result of the Brexit vote and the United Kingdom opting not to proceed with its EU presidency. The original aim had been for Estonia to combine the EU presidency with wider celebrations of the centenary of its republic. There have of course been some criticisms that Estonia was not adequately prepared for the presidency, but also that it was slow in responding to the crisis in Catalonia.

Since the Tallinn Digital Summit in September, there is no doubt that Estonia has made itself better known as a digitally advanced country, taking advantage – especially for a small EU country – to show what it is good at.


This includes international co-operation. Besides its membership of Nato, the country is interested in enhancing security within the EU and supporting the proposed reforms of President Macron of France.


Despite the distractions of the Brexit and events in Catalonia, Estonia is delivering a strong voice in letting Europe and the world know that it's is miles ahead of so many others in terms of digital government and fostering the digital economy.


We have yet to see if the digital revolution will have as powerful an influence as the Singing Revolution which helped to deliver the demise of the mighty Soviet Union and regain Estonian independence. But if any country has the potential to achieve it, believe in the people of Estonia.



Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.




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