Estonia: Europe’s Little Technological Giant

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Estonia is in the last month of its EU presidency. Having called itself the ‘digital presidency’ it is not surprising that many of the themes of this past month are digital: progression on the taxation of the digital economy and the free movement of data, approval of an ecommerce VAT package, and an agreement on further steps to develop 5G networks across Europe.

“We have to finalise several decisions we have been working very hard on over the course of the Estonian presidency,” said Klen Jäärats, director for EU affairs at the government office. “Our aim is to facilitate as many agreements as possible between member states on bills concerning the organisation of the electricity market. We also plan to reach an agreement on bills regarding accessibility and the coordination of social security. In negotiations with the European parliament, we also wish to make progress on laws that concern the recruitment of skilled workers from third countries, and the creation of a system for EU travel information and laissez-passer documents,” he added.

Estonia also led negotiations on an agreement to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), signed on December 11, with 25 EU member states participating. PESCO will allow countries to work more closely together in the areas of security and defence. This permanent framework for defence cooperation will allow willing and able member states to develop joint defence capabilities, invest in shared projects, and enhance the operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces.

The E-State

Digitalisation has always been a priority for the Estonia. The country’s National Statistical Office reports that in 2017, 11,096 people applied for e-residency, 827 more than the number of babies born in Estonia in the same year. At this rate, by 2021 Estonia will have 150,200 e-residents, mostly coming from the UK.

“By launching e-residency, the Estonian government aimed to make Estonia bigger – to grow our digital economy and market with new customers, to spark innovation and attract new investments,” said Kaspar Korjus, head of Estonia’s e-residency programme.

But it is not yet risk-free. In November, the government blocked 760,000 ID cards, due to security vulnerabilities.

“The functioning of an e-state is based on trust and the state cannot afford identity theft happening to the owner of an Estonian ID card,” said Prime Minister Jüri Ratas. “As far as we currently know, there has been no instances of e-identity theft, but the threat assessment of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Information System Authority indicates that this threat has become real. By blocking the certificates of the ID cards at risk, the state is ensuring the safety of those ID cards.”

The e-residency programme has had a positive impact on Estonia’s economy. According to Deloitte, it has brought in an estimated 14.4 million euros in income, helping economic stability. And numbers are expected to grow: up to 31 million euros in net income, and 194 million euros in indirect socio-economic net benefits by 2021.

eresidency estonia

High Ratings

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) recently gave Estonia a long-term sovereign rating of AA-, with a stable outlook. The AA- rating by S&P is the highest rating assigned to Estonia by an international rating agency. According to S&P, Estonia’s rating is supported by the state’s strong institutions, European Union membership, the flexibility of the Estonian economy and strong state finances.

In order to improve the country’s rating, it would be necessary for Estonians’ incomes to approach the eurozone average and for fluctuations in GDP growth and inflation to be reduced. Estonia’s economic development is accelerating thanks to investment growth and the reinvigoration of construction activity, which is supported by the current EU financing cycle.

“In the long term we need to move towards more sophisticated export structures,” Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson tells Emerging Europe. “More investment in R&D and intangibles are one of the keys to accelerated economic development. In 2018 there will also be an income tax reform, that will increase internal consumption which also contributes to the acceleration of economic growth” she adds.

A major risk — also identified by S&P — is a shortage of labour.

“The most important issue in the short term is the lack of a skilled workforce. The unemployment rate is below the historical average and the number of employed people is at record levels. It is very hard for companies to expand,” the Minister comments.

Brain Drain

“Despite having the highest rate of startups pro capita, Estonia is facing a brain drain, skilled and talented people are leaving, which is affecting our competitiveness,” Allan Selirand, director of Investment Agency Enterprise Estonia tells Emerging Europe. “We are not competitive on labour costs,” he says “but for the skills and the capacity of our resources.”

In order to develop the country’s competitiveness, there is a need to attract more people from other countries, not only in Europe, and to develop existing projects.

“The most competitive sector is currently ICT,” Mr Selirand says. “We have enough people enrolled in universities, but then the gap is more evident when they need to really work. Nowadays there is no even need of people with programming degrees because it can be taught to them, even if they are not good at programming.”

Even with a massive brain drain, Estonia ranks 12th in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index.

“I have been operating in Estonia as an entrepreneur for the past seven years and will continue doing so in the future as this is one of the most convenient places on earth to run your business,” Pavvo Pauklin, CEO of Netcorp tells Emerging Europe. “The easiness of handling all company related operations online (including communication with the office and signing documents electronically) really saves a lot of time and makes your physical location irrelevant,” he continues.

Since 2011, Netcorp has provided software development services and outsourcing consultation, with an almost 100 per cent success rate in their projects.

“It is fairly easy for a foreign investor to operate in Estonia – among its advantages are simple tax system, low levels of bureaucracy, reliable and widely used digital systems, ease of acquiring various permits, treaties for avoidance of double taxation with over 50 countries and so on. Foreigners can buy real estate just like locals, and buildings are not subject to real estate tax,” Toomas Prangli, co-managing partner at Sorainen tells Emerging Europe.

“The e-residency initiative lowers the threshold of bureaucracy even further, meant as it is to establish and administer a company online, independent of the owner’s location. At the same time, Estonian e-residency does not solve all problems. One major issue is that banks, facing their own pressures for fighting money laundering and terrorism, have increasingly refused to open bank accounts for foreign e-residents,” he says.

According to Netcorp’s Mr Paulkin, there are three factors which make Estonia a great place to do business: ease of running your operations online, language skills – it’s easy to run your international business since English proficiency is very high – and an adaptive nature – Estonia is a small country which is by nature compelled to adapt to the outside world.

“Therefore it is very likely that it will be one of the fastest adaptors to new technology trends and business models which drive today’s world. And that includes regulations. For example, this goes for enabling self-driving cars, regulating cryptocurrency related issues, regulating (drive) sharing economy services (Uber and such like) and AI related issues. The captive nature enables Estonia to be a good testing ground. Its home market is very small to be considered as a primary market. However, the small size and willingness to adapt enable it to be a great place to test business concepts of all kind,” he says.

“Estonia cannot be a mass scaling outsourcing centre like Romania or India. Estonia is just too small for that. But in my opinion, it has been able to become a smart and quality outsourcing destination. By that, I mean that Estonia has a big competitive edge in areas where business ethics, proactive thinking and problem-solving skills are crucial. That’s the niche where Estonia will continue to succeed in coming years,” Mr Paulkin concludes.

TALLINN ESTONIA- JUNE 17: View of the modern high rise buildings on border with an old part of the city on June 17 2012 in Tallinn Estonia

Global Front-Runner

“There’s no doubt that Estonia’s environment is attractive to foreign investors. It is a politically stable country with an open, market-based economy,” Sorainen’s Toomas Prangli continues, referring to the legal market.

“Any investor will find numerous advantages in Estonia. First, it is well-known as a global front-runner in IT and has been dubbed the world’s most advanced digital society. Second, the country’s tax system is simple and has zero per cent corporate income tax on retained or reinvested earnings for companies. Third, the country boasts an educated labour force, with more great people to come to the market. At the same time, salary levels remain below European average,” he says.

But recent tax reforms introduced by the new left-wing government have not been supported by the business community.

“While the new government has not shaken the foundations of Estonia’s liberal market economy, it has taken several tax initiatives. Among them have been proposals to introduce new taxes on inter-group loans, car pollution, sugared drinks and alcohol. Granted, many of those proposals have been pulled back, but they have left the business sector feeling insecure about the future. It seems that the decades-long political agreement of not experimenting with taxes has been abandoned, albeit not yet on the fundamental level,” Mr Prangli explains.

“Perhaps the main reason for foreign investors to think twice before entering Estonia is a simple fact that the country’s internal market is tiny, and so is its stock market. For companies who could use the country as a testing ground, this would, in turn, be convenient. Entrepreneurs active in Estonia are used to thinking outwards right from the start,” he concludes.

Bulgaria’s Turn

From January 1, 2018, Bulgaria takes the reins of the European presidency. The Bulgarian minister in charge of the Bulgarian presidency, Liliana Pavlova, said that for her country, preserving and strengthening the unity and the solidarity among member states would be key.

On one hand, it will continue the digital single market promoted by Estonia, on the other hand, it will also focus on compromises in areas such as migration and the future of cohesion policy.

“The Estonian presidency was successful. In our hearts we had a clear wish that our presidency would result in a slightly better Europe that is more hopeful, more unified and balanced,” Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said.

“We are smarter, more experienced, and more confident than before. We have learned, and made efforts, and we have done it. And what is perhaps most important — we are better understood in all of Europe, and we have more friends than before,” he concluded.

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WARSAW POLAND - DECEMBER 28 2016: Downtown Warsaw Financial center in Warsaw Poland. Warsaw is one of the most economical successful capital in Europe in last few years.

Mixed Results for Emerging Europe in New WEF Equality Report

wef

After Economic Shocks Armenia Plans for Macroeconomic Stability

yerevan armenia minister of finance

Romania’s PM Resigns

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - June 29 2017: Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose during a swearing-in ceremony at Cotroceni palace in Bucharest capital of Romania June 29 2017.

CEE Emigrants Could Boost Their Countries’ Economies

Londoners walking through Millennium Bridge with St.Paul's Cathedral at the background after sunset - London, UK

CEE Is Key to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Shanghai skyline Panoramic view of shanghai skyline and huangpu river Shanghai China

Meghri Becomes Armenia’s Third FEZ

armenia emerging europe

SEE Link — Sharing SEE Europe’s Hopes for a Brighter Investment Future

Industrial Production Prices in New Increase

electricity

Western Ukraine Could Be an Entry Point into the Country

More Brexit Fears As the UK Proves To Be A Needed Member

City of London view from Waterloo Bridge. This view includes: St. Paul`s Cathedral The Gherkin Tower 42 and Blackfriars Bridge.

Ukraine’s Gas Reserve Estimates Revised Upwards

Industrial concept. Liquid gas container. Gas storage in the port. Pipelines in the refinery

Estonia Proposes Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Robots

Robotic hand accessing on laptop the virtual world of information. Concept of artificial intelligence and replacement of humans by machines.

Economic Confidence Rises Across Eurozone

Bulgaria Keen on Euro Adoption

FRANKFURT GERMANY - MAY 16 2014: Euro Sign. European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for the euro and administers the monetary policy of the Eurozone in Frankfurt Germany.

Romanian Opposition Unites Against ‘Crime Syndicate’ Government

Lech Wałęsa: Hard Options Can Force Nations to Get Down to Work

IMF Concludes Latest Moldova Review, Releases New Money

Reflection of a Soviet building in Chisinau Republic of Moldova

New Start-Up and Innovation Report Names Estonia and Slovenia as Market Leaders

Tallin, Estonia - July 06,2017: Scenic view of the modern part of the city of Tallin, Estonia

Poland & Ukraine Should Join Outsourcing Forces

outsourcing

Poland’s Q2 2017 Growth Is Stronger Than Expected

WARSAW, POLAND - MAY 07, 2016: Building Palace of Culture and Science among the modern buildings of the city

Mixed Results for Emerging Europe in Legatum Prosperity Index

prosperity

Growing Rzeszów

Rynek Glowny in Rzeszow. Rzeszow Podkarpackie Poland.

Regional News Outlets: The Real Target of Poland’s New Media Law?

poland media

Baltics Seek Lockstep With High Tech States

Euro money: Macro view of euro coin and bill. Suitable for financial, monetary, euro or European Union concepts and ideas

Moldova Launches New e-Procurement System In Search For Positive Change

Photo team work process, holding contract hand, signs documents. Account managers young crew works with startup project.New idea presentation, analyze marketing reports.Blurred, film effect, horizontal.

China Agrees to Build High-Tech Business Park in Serbia

BELGRADE SERBIA - SEPTEMBER 29 2016: View on the city center and the junction of Rivers Sava and Danube in Belgrade Serbia.

Georgia’s Great Potential

The highland agriculture lands in Gudauri with the herd of sheep grazing here Georgia.

Poland Is Set To Become a Large Economic Zone

Aerial view over the building materials processing factory. View from above.

Romanians Take to the Streets in New Mass Protest

e-Estonia: Believe the Hype

Czech Republic Approves 2018 Budget

Ten czech crown coins money on black marble background

Bad Payers Still Causing Problems for Romanian Firms

Close up Romanian currency note, LEI or LEU, Romania

Bulgaria: Real Estate’s New Frontier?

Poland Fails to Spend Billions of Euros in EU Funds

euro banknotes

Moody’s: CEE Creditworthiness Holding Up

Man's hand holding pen and checking spreadsheet

Trans Adriatic Pipeline Will Fuel Albanian Growth

Xanthi. Greece - July 30 2017: aerial view of construction of gas pipeline Trans Adriatic Pipeline - TAP in north Greece. The pipeline starts from the Caspian sea and reaches the coast of southern Italy

Poland Must Preserve Wilson Spirit

21st century Manufacturing Arrives at Great Stone

Great stone

Ukraine to Make New Privatisation Push

Montenegro Accelerates Legal Reform

montenegro law reform

Estonia Leading CEE Country in WEF Competitiveness Index

pharmaceutical factory woman worker operating production line at pharmacy industry manufacture factory

Chickens Blamed for Romanian Budget Deficit

Two white chickens or hens inside a chicken coop or hen house seen through chicken wire.

Warsaw Rising: The Polish Capital’s Skyline Gets Even Taller

varso

Romanian Cabinet Reshuffled as New Splits Emerge in Ruling Party

BUCHAREST ROMANIA - MAY 25 2014: The Victoria Palace. Victoria Square.

Go East

HSBC Opens Warsaw China Desk

Czech PM Loses Confidence Vote

andrej Babiš

ICT Growth Continues to Boost Bosnian Economy

ict, it

Macedonia — Stepping Out Of the Shadow Of the Balkans

Romanian Competition Council Approves OTP Purchase of Banca Romaneasca

BUDAPEST HUNGARY - JUNE 22 2014: People walk by OTP Bank in Budapest. OTP is the biggest commercial Hungarian bank with 1500 branches in 9 countries.

Bulgarian Capital Pulls Above Its Weight

sofia

Albania’s Economy Not Benefiting From Largest Oil Reserves in Region

Derek Chollet: There Is a Resurgence of Supporters of the Transatlantic Relationship

white house

Poland’s Business Constitution Must Be Finalised

Front of finance ministry in Warsaw Poland with a fountain framing the entrance. Could be used for images about Euro currency problems

Still Potential for Growth in CEE as Economies Stabilise

How Did We Get Here?

Amazing Panorama to City of Plovdiv from nebet tepe hill, Bulgaria

CEE Nation Brands Still Behind Western Counterparts

TALLINN ESTONIA- JUNE 17: View of the modern high rise buildings on border with an old part of the city on June 17 2012 in Tallinn Estonia

Double Ratings Agency Boost for Bulgaria

Putin Urges Belarus to End Oil Transit Through Lithuania

Athens Greece - May 27 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers

EU Commissioner: CEE Groceries Are Not of Poorer Quality

Vilnius Lithuania - June 13 2017: Nordica shopping center in Vilnius is very popular with locals and tourists.

Beyond Borders: Immigration Within the EU

refugees immigrants

Euroscepticism in Serbia: An Image Problem?

IMF Increases Growth Forecast With Emerging Europe Prominent

Dambovita river and center of Bucharest at sunset time Romania.

ICT Given Huge Boost in Belarus

MINSK, BELARUS - AUGUST 15, 2016: Aerial view of the southwestern part of the Minsk with Palace of Sport and old and new other buildings. Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus.

Despite Public Anxieties, Migration is Playing a Key Role in ECA Growth

Bratislava city aerial panoramic view. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia.

Estonia Posts EU’s Highest Inflation Rate in November

Rising food and grocery store prices is estonia and cost of living concept. Man counting food and consumer goods money with pen, paper and calculator at home. Budget of disadvantaged and low income family.

Bulgarian PM Sets Out Priorities at EPP Group Debate

Prague Czech Republic - February 15 2016: The Prime Ministers of Bulgaria Boyko Borissov is speaking during a press conference after meeting of The Visegrad Group (V4) in Prague Czech Republic.

A Risky Evaluation of Croatia’s Economy?

ZAGREB, CROATIA - JULY 17, 2017: Square Ban Josip Jelacic with tourists and trams on a summer day in Zagreb. City of Zagreb is the capital of Croatia.

Larisa Manastirli: Where is Bulgaria After Ten Years in the EU?

Polish Convenience Store Sector Booms

Estcoin: Estonia’s Own Digital Currency?

1 euro coin money (EUR) currency of European Union Estonia over blue background

Global Players Dash for Tempting CEE

dollar pound euro coin on euro background.

Investors in Poland Unfazed By Article 7

Warsaw EBRD annual meeting

Sunday Trading in Poland Under Renewed Threat

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