We will elect a new Riigikogu in ten months’ time and with it communicate our guidelines as to what kind of development we want for Estonia as voters.
It is significant that Estonia has turned 100, and that the next Riigikogu will start shaping the face of the 200-year Estonia. This is the moment when we should boldly look at the strategic problems of Estonia today and offer long-sighted solutions together.
Future-oriented decisions need to keep in mind that Estonia will be even smaller and older if recent trends are allowed to continue. We will have 45,000 fewer working-age people in seven years, and the Estonian population will fall by 125,000 people by 2040. At the same time, people’s expectations of standard of living will grow. As several population processes are inevitable and cannot be reversed, the question of how soon we will accept this new reality is all the more urgent. What decisive steps will we take to ensure stable and persistent development in the next 100 years?
Herein lies Estonia’s true long-term challenge. The problems the country faces are bigger than we admit today. To overcome them, we must be able to make difficult decisions in the fields of healthcare and education and reorganize our recent state administration if necessary. We should not waste time on belated problems, redistribute deficit in a long since unmanageable system, and squabble over the income tax rate from one election cycle to the next. We need to admit that current state administration, healthcare and social services, school and transport systems have had their day because they are all based on outdated expectations.
If our success was determined by our ability to execute rapid and effective reforms during the time after regaining independence, in the future, our success will be based on the ability to react to important trends when we first notice them. Our economy needs to be rendered smarter, our people healthier and happier, our environment cleaner and more viable.
To take Estonia forward, we propose six major strategic goals to form the backbone of a continually developing longevity of Estonia.
State administration and personal state. Basic services need to be available everywhere in Estonia: the state must ensure level-quality education, social services, and transport organization in all corners. That is why we must end the current postal code lottery where a person’s fortune or misfortune to share in society’s wealth depends on where they live and the capacity of their local government.
The primary channel of communication between the citizen and the state could already be a largely personalized e-state that would be available around the clock and everywhere, including on the screen of your smart device. No country can afford to send citizens in need of help to navigate a labyrinth of agencies. Many vital services can be anticipated and automated. The e-state – our flagship – has become outdated and requires a thorough reworking as a simple facelift will no longer suffice.
Governance. It is important for our governance to be purposeful but also feasible. Administration needs to be reorganized in a way that would allow extensive reforms to be carried out faster and smarter. Institutionalized management is largely a thing of the past and needs to be partially replaced with challenge-based management to ensure the functionality of the state for the next 100 years. We could have specific reform ministers with their own team and resources for fixed terms in future governments.
The economy. Entrepreneurial freedom is important for us because competition is a driving force. Abundance of regulation kills enterprise. For Estonia and our prosperity to continue growing, our economy needs more ambition and more working people. We need to do everything we can so that strong Estonian companies would become more international and could boost our shared prosperity everywhere in the world.
It is equally important to have as many hardworking people as possible working for our economy in other countries. Capital has a nationality, and it is important to consciously grow Estonia’s. The latter does not only stand for financial capital, but also human capital. We need to develop our enterprise, education and legal environment, and our infrastructure to attract ambitious companies that would like to do business through Estonia, leaving a part of the value added they create here. We need to tie Estonia together by investing in domestic connections and smart public transport and create new international connections to better link Estonia to the world.
Health. The best indicators for successful economic and social policy are active and healthy people. We need to abolish fragmented benefits and services and create a common benefits and support services system that considers individual needs. Taking responsibility for one’s health behavior needs to be rewarded. The treatment and “health insurance fund-based” approach should be replaced with healthy lifestyle and “health fund-based” thinking.
Education. It is time to introduce a uniform Estonian school model where children who speak Estonian, Russian, or other languages at home learn together. Instead of parallel societies, we will concentrate on raising united, educated and pro-Estonian generations. We need to prepare our children for working in international teams and multilingual environments in the future. More successful binding of general, vocational, and higher education is important. Education policy is the best long-term economic policy.
Environment. We need to be in the global vanguard in terms of adopting environmentally sustainable ways of life. Use of Estonia’s natural resources must yield maximal value added and put minimal strain on the environment. The emphasis should be on agriculture based on ecological balance, favoring diversity, and appreciating Estonia’s forests. Estonia can only be green.
Estonia needs a new political movement!
The current political debate concentrates on minor adjustments, instead of fundamental change and goals: how to cover growing healthcare and social expenses using purely technical tax changes; how to execute the administrative reform primarily by moving around local government borders and mechanically lowering the number of officials, without changing recent administrative distribution and responsibility; how to steer people’s health behavior using taxes, without changing the principles of healthcare organization.
Political debate and decisions lack ambition and the kind of bold steps that allowed Estonia to undergo groundbreaking development and catch up to Europe’s leaders in several areas.
Therefore, the main question of the elections to be held in ten months is not whether the PM will be called Jüri, Kaja, or something else. We have seen leaders drown in the swamp of party politics and grand ideas and plans forgotten in the past.
That is why it is paramount to ambitiously raise the quality of political expectations and not to accept recent political confrontations. By introducing higher standards on the arena of political struggle, we will create the first precondition for a more meaningful political debate.
Politicians act on competition and survival instinct. Every closed system needs a gauntlet thrown at its feet from the outside to change. With Estonia’s future development in mind, it is important we organize to find initiative able to take the country forward. Public debates and acts can shake parties out of their comfort zone and move the political focus from fine-tuning to what’s really important.
And so, we propose the creation of a political movement to bring together people who want to contribute to Estonia’s development, to offer competition and bold ideas to current parties in making Estonia better. Our goal is to look beyond a single election cycle – that is the only way to build the 200-year Estonia. We know that those who wish to contribute to Estonia’s development number many. Building the Estonia of tomorrow together, we will be able to celebrate the anniversary of an even smarter, healthier, cleaner, and happier Estonia in a hundred years’ time.
social scientist, head of the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
director of the University of Tartu Narva College
head of strategy and chairman of the board of the University of Tartu Clinic’s Children’s Fund
founder and executive manager of Nortal AS
member of the board of LHV Bank