Lessons from Estonia and Good Practices from Germany in a European perspective:
Mindset Leadership, Participation, and the Role of SMEs

By Vincent Ehrmann

On Monday, December 13th, SME Europe of the EPP organized a digital workshop titled: “Lessons from Estonia and Good Practices from Germany in a European perspective: Mindset Leadership, Participation, and the Role of SMEs.”  

The workshop was hosted by Dr. Horst Heitz, SME Europe’s Executive Director, who discussed the relevant topic with expert Dr. Florian Hartleb, former research fellow at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, current political consultant for digital transformation in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and Managing Director at Hanse Advice Tallinn.

Dr. Hartleb opened the workshop by stressing the importance of digitalization during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the one hand, it has been perceived as a means of surveilling the people, yet it’s also praised for allowing the exchange of digital health data to fight the virus. In our private life, weaknesses were exposed, for instance in home schooling or remote working from home. The solution, according to the “Estonian Model”, is to see and use the state as a digital service provider.

To become this, a state should embrace the role of digitalization in modernization. Dr. Hartleb continued to identify the 5 different pillars of digital transformation: Access, Inclusion, Abilities, Knowledge and Trust.

Applied to Germany, access should be improved. Dr. Heitz and Dr. Hartleb referred to the late investment in digital infrastructure in the German countryside, as well as regulations hindering the fast process of projects. A lack of competition is also pointed out.

Inclusion, trust, and abilities prove to be a particular challenge to the German population, as they are very data sensitive and skeptical to change. Estonia achieved its success by educating pupils on digitalization from a young age and making electronic ID compulsory, as well as creating a “one generation” policy.

Lastly, knowledge needs to be extended. Germany has some digital infrastructure, but it is simply not known by most of the population. In addition, banning private actors from schools, universities, and government programs also hinders the ability to enhance people’s knowledge of digital products and possibilities. One successful example of increasing the popularity of digital products is the creation of a “click mentality”, which is even applied to general and EU elections.

Both Dr. Heitz and Dr. Hartleb concluded that these steps present a challenge to a state and their SMEs, but digitalization will create new fields of work, work models and everyone faces the same challenges. There is still a lot to be done, but the Estonian model is inspiring, as it follows a practical approach, much like an SME.

The publication of this document received financial support from the European Parliament. Sole liability rests with the author. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.