Dear members of the Riigikogu!
I am worried by our prospects. The horizon. Or more specifically – what is beyond the horizon.
There are so many threads we should be pulling on right now. Threads which lead to new opportunities, to new finds that help create growth and development. Also threads, which have been created by our previous aspirations, previous hopes and our desire to meet these expectations.
There are also threads, which today seem to mainly lead to worries and painful questions in our society. However even those have great potential – if we are not afraid and will start to entangle them now, they might turn out to be roads to success, rather than ways to patch up issues and alleviate troubles.
Every nation’s history has tales of misfortune turning into success. Let us remember.
Take the currency reform – it took us to the eurozone in 20 years, not having to fear for the endurance or strength of our money. It was born from the need to restore people’s faith in the value of money and the promises of state.
Our proportional tax system. Born from our inability to manage a complex model and our need to motivate people to make more money and declare their income honestly.
Our e-state. Born from our inability to construct a state brimming with papers and offices.
Does the list have to end here? No, it does not. We still have similar threads. Promising ones and those that seem, at first glance, rather discouraging.
Our oil shale energetics. It is obvious that one sector will soon break into two – the paths of oil shale and energy production will diverge. In a similar manner, we must be able to look at energy production separately from the social problems people in oil shale mining potentially face and how to solve them. Energy production must become green, and oil shale must be put on hold until a more sustainable application is found for it. The Tallinn University of Technology has spent decades researching ways to use oil shale products without releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Energy production will move on, regardless of whether European states agree to climate neutrality by 2050 or 80% climate neutrality. The measures are still the same. Greener alternatives must be welcomed in our grids – it is easy to accomplish this with laws, but slightly more complex by quickly creating green energy reserves. Without such reserves we can create a lot of green generation capacity, but somewhere our system will still keep the old polluting reserves.
These reserves can be offered also by the market but in that case, we must first establish the reserve market, which is a job for the people gathered in this hall. Green reserve technologies do exist, but room must be made for them on the market. These necessary rearrangements could give new opportunities for developers aiming to address smart grid peak load distribution services and even the development of a market for timing the production. In any case, it makes sense to once again create the famous Estonian open and permissive legal space for new technologies in order to avoid the state’s need to invest. That is how we can support the development of flexible energy production and retention system which will likely differ from today’s solutions also by the diverse opportunities it provides.
High CO2 prices and major daily price volatility will start creating new opportunities and alternatives if we become fast adapters. These alternatives do not come about if we use public funds to continue to hold on to the methods of the past, whether it concerns production or swiftly activating reserves. The alternatives will arise if we, together with our Nordic market partners and Southern grid development partners, set a common objective – to reach energy independence in the region and this time in a sustainable manner. Some quickly applicable ideas exist already. For example, we could cooperate with the Nordic states and use the Connecting Europe Facility to develop the grid infrastructure necessary for private companies to join together their offshore wind farms.
Our internally slightly unsound and ageing e-governance system continues to be both an opportunity and a source of worry– it requires additional funds not only to uphold the quality of offered services, but it must also prepare for the moment when quantum computers render today’s identification methods inadequate. We must think about how will we at that moment have fast access to new identification models that are also possible budget-wise. Fortunately, also here these solutions are already being developed in the private sector. Much before that moment, we must make the consumption of public services more convenient by finding resources to amend obsolete user interfaces, to maintain necessary cyber security, to make inter-system info exchange more efficient and thus guarantee that the once-only principle is being followed consistently. Besides budgeting, the people in this hall must work on adjusting our legal framework. New services tend to be proactive – the algorithms we have created decide to help someone somewhere based on the info gathered on someone or something.
For this, we need a new social agreement. We have so far agreed that the state cannot use someone’s data without their permission to make decisions about something. Some pilot services have also gone beyond that paradigm. For example, added pension is paid to retirees living alone – people are provided services without them having to be aware of it. But when it comes to paying out money, everybody probably agrees to the process.
But what if, according to a NEET youth law, a social worker arrives at the door of a NEET youngster to offer help because the system claims they are neither in education nor employment? A necessary service, as proven by the large number of young people who have received help as a result of this offer. However, to provide such services, we must update the data use agreement between the state and its citizens. We must rethink how and when a citizen of an e-state can decline such services.
The current law states that when a social worker knocks on a person’s door, they can always turn down the service. But by that time, the data has already been gathered. Do we agree to this or do we want an opt-out choice earlier on? How to solve this as a general principle, not by creating proactive service laws? If we cannot find an easily understandable and communicable solution, the trust of people in sharing their data with the state may start to decline. No one besides the Riigikogu can give an answer to this question.
The third big problem – our comprehensive school system is showing signs of stratification, regardless of the indicators being marginal compared to the rest of the world. But the signs do exist. The teachers of a prestigious school in Tartu note that results of students from the periphery of the municipality are less competitive than even ten years ago. This is a sign of risk.
We must react quickly to make sure that any child from any Estonian school can one day go to the University of Tartu and other great higher education institutions, regardless of their parents’ income or residence. This is our nation’s wealth, and it cannot be lost. It guarantees social mobility and is the most important element of social cohesion in the future for which we can take responsibility today. In any case there is a lot of uncertainty in the future. Let us at least look after this small piece of the future, which we are able to foresee today.
We also have boys and young men who drop out of schools and universities and obviously need an amended education model more quickly than the girls. We have Estonians all across the world who need a global school for their children, which can offer everyone a complete Estonian high school curriculum online. All three problems can partly be solved by more technology in our schools. Research shows that although girls used to get better grades in English before the dawn of the Internet, today it is the other way around. Same age children’s knowledge used to be comparable but today, this pattern fails to hold in very different subjects. Our schools must transform from places of teaching into places of supported learning where if necessary every child can engage in slightly different activities, using the study materials accessible to them. Of course, these materials would offer them assignments based on feedback, allowing children to advance their knowledge and build bridges between subjects. Yes, everything is beginning to look like a computer game, which might seem eerie to us older people, but it also ensures our children can acquire knowledge in a way that fits their needs.
At the same time, despite the progress technological schools are making, we must pay special attention to developing children’s communication skills and their ability to function together as a society. Schools become the place where the acquired general competence, as we like to call it today, is the fine art of being human, which includes developing empathy and understanding social processes. In civic studies classes, children should be better equipped to understand democracy, the opportunities an individual has to participate in democratic processes and the accompanying responsibilities. Youngsters’ knowledge of why the rule of law matters, why choices cannot always be made by simply listening to the majority, what universal human rights are and why free speech and media are important must be improved. How to make yourself heard without bullying others both at school and later at work. A violence-free society is the result of well-developed social skills. Here we still have a long road ahead of us.
We are facing many similar issues that can also lead to opportunities. Neither today nor in the future will there be time to make sense of all of them in one speech and offer solutions.
The administrative reform that was not accompanied by legislation to reform municipality funding. Without a substantial, direct and usable tax income prescribed by central authorities, the principles of subsidiarity or of local autonomy are not conceivable in Estonia’s governance. Let’s put more trust in our local municipalities! To a large extent, they are skilled enough, and they have enough bright people and drive to be given more room to manoeuvre and freedom of choice.
Our ageing population, the increasing need for disease prevention so our state would retain a working care system, which would be able to meet health care costs. A lot of health problems have become predictable by the general state of health, genome fond or simple common sense and can thus be alleviated and avoided by counselling.
Our universities, the best of which is among the top 300 global schools while still teaching our children in Estonian as the only alma mater in the world– however as any non-consolidated sector, they face shortage of funds.
High schools in Kohtla-Järve and Jõhvi have taken a brave leap of faith by encouraging students to only learn in Estonian. The lack of a similar solution in Narva. The people of Sillamäe who struggle to provide their children with Estonian-language studies.
Our knowledgeable social sector, which while full of people with kind hearts who have used Norwegian and European funds, support and inspiration by good willing local municipalities, often pushed by the problems of their kin to create a field, which has expert skills yet cannot offer the best services due to the lack of attention of the leadership. For their words are bigger than their budgets.
Our sexual violence help centres that have been operated by lone enthusiasts for years and see a clear increase in guidance-seekers only to realise that if the state does not systematically contribute more, we will have let down those whom we tell to– never stay silent, come and tell someone what happened.
Our youngsters who want a violence-free Estonia where all children grow up in safe families without adopting the behavioural patterns indicating that force, vile words and crude acts are what prevail and pave the road to success.
To put it briefly, all those who believe in miracles. Who do not think that the world is inevitably a fight to survive, an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth struggle that favours the stronger, the pushy and the more cynical. All those who have not been let down, who are not cynical yet and refrain from acting solely in accordance with their own interests.
We are backed by the Estonian constitution. We are backed by a circle of international friends who have similar base values. And those who have less freedom and opportunities than we do place their trust on us.
But we also have a self-confident parade of fools. Such proud incompetence and such an arrogant attitude towards thoroughness, research, and education – this also is a thread that leads to a problem, a tight spot. But we can turn the issue into cultural success, language innovation, research innovation, and policy innovation just by pulling in the right direction.
Today, continuing to stand up for universal human rights and democratic values is often uncomfortable, easily attacked and belittled. But then again, these the more difficult moments, are the times in history that help us to figure out what Estonia is really like. Do we value democracy or a totalitarian still life? Do we love freedom or are we afraid of it? Do we trust power or values? Do we look for smart solutions or spend funds to stick to old ways? Are we curious to take up opportunities the world presents us with or distrusting and isolated?
You in this hall are the ones who are directly responsible for making sure these questions get answered. You are free to design the answers but only as long as you abide by the constitution approved by the Estonian people. You are free in your decisions but not completely – according to the constitution, you must keep in mind the expectations of all people in Estonia, rather than those of your voters.
You are the wardens of the rule of law – this is a bigger responsibility than simply being a legislator. You cannot escape this duty or hide behind a group identity or your political affiliation. Do your decisions address questions important in society? I believe they do. Can the Estonian people continue to trust their constitution and the promises secured by law, even if they are long term? I believe they can. You can bring hope and security, but you can also bring cynicism and the belief that every one of us, including those in this hall, only stand for their own interests or those of a small circle of people.
I at least hope caring and benevolence win. I believe it will win, because it is all up to you, dear Riigikogu. Good luck!