Prime Minister´s Speech at the digital single market conference on 17 July 2017

17.07.2017 | 10:16

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Honourable Vice President, Commissioner, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to be here with you today in this former power plant. Today, it is a digital powerhouse and we are here to generate ideas for the future. This shows very clearly how old concepts can be put into a new context and can be re-used.

It is often said that Europe is built on coal and steel. Because more than 60 years ago the decision on joint governance of these key strategic industries was the foundation of Europe as we know it today.  The aim was to contribute, through the common market for coal and steel, to economic growth, employment and a rising standard of living.

Today data has become the “coal and steel” of the digital society.

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties. Many problems that we faced back in 1957 are still around. In 2017, we are as determined as Europe's founders were, to continue to build an ever closer union among the people of Europe.

The concept of the Single Market was introduced 30 years later (in 1987) by the Single European Act.

We now know just how critical this was. We have seen the rise of the service economy. Global capital markets have opened up. Free movement of persons has brought us physically closer. Without all four freedoms, the single market for goods would have fallen apart.

Now, 30 years later, we again stand at the beginning of an equally important economic transition - towards a data-driven economy. In the era of artificial intelligence and the internet of things, services and industrial production are becoming one. The solutions to difficult problems, the answers to the dilemmas we don't yet know how to solve, will come from the DATA economy.

Lowering our carbon production, ensuring health in old age, sustaining the European social model, safeguarding our citizens - all of these are only possible if the Single Market stays in front of technological development. For that reason, we even have a Digital Single Market strategy.

Technological change is changing market realities. Hard physical borders matter less in cyberspace, so we have no excuse for the Single Market not working as well for digital goods and services as it does in the physical world.

Technological innovation is not the end in itself, but a tool that can make the lives of people, companies, and governments easier. I believe that by using data, we will have better knowledge to make better decisions. And these decisions will lead to better services and better lives.

Dear guests,

A European digital society is not a concept of a far future, it is now.

A Digital Europe together with the free movement of data is one of the four priorities of the Estonian Presidency. If Europe is to remain part of the digital revolution, we need to make the most of it and look beyond our national borders.

The word robot was introduced to the public by Czech writer Karel Čapek back in 1920. Around a century ago, it was considered a science fiction, but today we have robots, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of things. Digital is the core to every challenge and opportunity Europe faces today.

Europe has to seize the momentum and make use of these new technologies to regain our place in the World as a leading digital society. Europe must keep pace with technological progress and fully exploit its potential.

This will contribute to improving the everyday lives of citizens, businesses and the Member States.

It must not come as a surprise that here in Estonia, we think of the Free Movement of Data as the fifth freedom of the EU.

I’m glad that today we will start a policy debate on what this freedom means and what Europe should do.

The motto of the Estonian EU presidency is “Unity through balance.” We believe that Europe has plenty of common ground to come together to successfully tackle all the challenges and make the most of all the possibilities that face us today.

We are talking about building a data economy in Europe.

Europe should be at the leading edge, where innovation happens first and not only in the private sector!

The free movement of data should also apply to the one third of Europe’s economy that is the public sector. Every person in Europe should be able to interact with the government with ease and without worry.

The digital government contributes to a fair, inclusive Europe and saves resources for important public goods, such as security, health or education.

E-government and e-services are one way to make the life of a citizen more convenient and the government more efficient.  Every service should also be available cross-border.

The Estonian Presidency intends to launch a discussion on long-term European plans for e-government and the implementation of the once-only principle across Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that something moves freely does not mean there should not be any rules – to the contrary. Clear rules and effective control are the only way to ensure that freedom is not abused. As the new EU data protection rules do for the free movement of personal data.

We need a political and economic debate on how Europe can promote an innovative and competitive data economy. We need to look at questions of access, reuse and control of data, also from the privacy point of view.

Without a clear legal and political framework, we will stay stuck in silos. If data is tied down or faces barriers, it is of no use to us.

Our data policies need to make way for transparently and securely unlocking data for the benefit of everyone.

On the 29th of September, I will welcome the heads of state or government and EU institutions to a Digital Summit in Tallinn to discuss these very same issues and to kick-start the digital transformation of the European Union.

Rapid change and new technologies also create challenges that need to be addressed, through cooperation at the highest political level. It will be an opportunity to show that Europe stands united and is willing to lead when it comes to digitalisation of the economy, society, and government.

I wish you really deep and fruitful discussions today and hope that a take-away of today’s conference includes valuable ideas for Europe to move forward with the free movement of data.

Together, we will make the free movement of data a reality!

Valitsuse kommunikatsioonibüroo