E-Residency 2.0: Paradigm shift, hidden in bland new white paper

The e-Residency programme introduced its new white paper on Tuesday, outlining the next steps to be taken in Estonia's extension of its state services to non-physical residents. While the paper itself is rather on the bland side, offering little new information, the implications are in fact considerable, as two of the programme's masterminds explained to ERR News.

The e-Residency 2.0 White Paper itself doesn't offer much in terms of new insight. The target groups and tasks it defines don't push beyond the immediately obvious, and even the most banal question — who the programme is actually for — remains unanswered.

Since its introduction in 2014, the programme has focused on increasing the number of Estonia's e-residents, while at the same time improving their experience. In terms of money invested versus revenue achieved, the programme has returned a solid profit, so far having earned back €17.8 million at a total cost of €7.4 million. Out of 48,000 e-residents, some 6,000 have started businesses in Estonia.

Going beyond tax revenue, creating new market for local businesses

According to Adam Rang, the programme's chief evangelist, tax revenue is just one aspect of a much bigger picture.

"Increased taxation is the easiest figure to count, but the largest contribution that e-residents make to Estonia is actually when they do business with other Estonian companies that are physically based here," Mr Rang told ERR News on Tuesday.

"So far though, this has largely just benefitted business services providers, as the first thing e-residents do when starting a company is to set up a virtual office here and employ a local accountant." While the actual potential for the local market is much greater: "E-residents have so many more needs," he added. "This is an untapped market for a wide range of Estonian companies, big and small."

This, then, is the actual contribution of the e-Residency 2.0 White Paper. As the basics are now taken care of, the next step needs to aim at developing a market for local companies as well.

"This White Paper gives us a clear mandate to do everything we can to help more Estonian companies from more industries serve e-residents," Mr Rang said. "If you are a graphic designer in Narva, a content writer in Viljandi, or a coder in Saaremaa, then the e-resident market is being created for your benefit too."

Added focus on soft power, 'Estonianness' and culture

As Arnaud Castaignet, the programme's head of international PR, told ERR News, the White Paper also highlights its potential for soft power, something that became apparent in the process of putting it together.

"It was very interesting to hear from interviewees that, in their opinion, they see e-residency as an improvement of Estonia's national security," Mr Castaignet said.

"When we attract the attention of world business and opinion leaders, or get the international media to talk about e-residency as an achievement of which Estonians can be proud, this increases the country's reputation and the world's awareness of Estonia's success story," he added. "This fits Estonia's national security policy, which is based on building international alliances andraising global awareness of our country."

Where the programme thus far focused on business and technology, culture will play a role in the future as well.

"Estonia has more to share with the rest of the world than just IT solution, Mr Castaignet said. "We see that a lot of e-residents become great promoters of Estonian culture as well, and we want to tell e-residents more about Estonia's story, history and culture."

This is why future efforts will also focus on documentary-style publications and activities. "It's time to start devoting our attention to developing a cultural platform that would help the Estonian intellectual sphere and society become even greater in the global digital world thanks to e-residency," he added.

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