Estonia holds an exemplary 13th place in Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. In Estonia, establishing a company takes 15 minutes in an online environment and communication with the government has been made increasingly simple through e-channels. The number of companies founded in Estonia in 2012 was 8.5% greater than in the year before. The number of bankruptcies has shown a significant decrease of 70% compared to 2009 which was the bottom of the recession. Looking at these numbers, one can state that entrepreneurial activity in Estonia has increased considerably and the wind in the sails of our economy is getting stronger every day. Below, I will provide a short summary of how the Estonian government has shaped its business environment.
The Success Story of e-Estonia
“e-Estonia” is an expression used to describe Estonia as a well-developed e-society benefitting both the state as well as the people living here. In Estonia, various electronic services have been created for handling one’s matters with the state. The online Company Portal and the Electronic Annual Report System are only a few examples of successful solutions.
As one of the leading examples of e-government, Estonia continues to reduce the bureaucracy related to entrepreneurship. Obviously, every entrepreneur should spend most of their time and energy developing their business and communication with the state should be as minimal as possible but as extensive as necessary. This is why, in Estonia, we are continually engaged in making entrepreneurs’ communication with the state more comfortable.
In terms of new e-services, one of the most challenging objectives is to create an e-accounting system for small companies and companies that are just starting in order to facilitate the habit of organizing the company’s books and to resolve one of the main issues of businesses – the timely and less arduous management of accounting. Also, a notifications calendar is being added to the Company Portal so each entrepreneur could access information concerning various obligations to the state (submission of reports, declarations to various authorities) in one place. The calendar will provide information as to the date of performance of the obligation and will send the entrepreneur reminders and notifications.
In addition to creating new services, we continue to develop existing services, keeping them technologically up-to-date. To this end, for example, mobile applications and mobile device support solutions are added to current e-services ranging from the Land Register to the e-Business Register.
Using e-solutions to process court disputes in 100 days
It is obvious that processing court cases within a reasonable time is a vital part of the right to a fair trial. On the one hand, drawn out disputes violate the society’s sense of justice and undermine the trust in judicial process. On the other hand, it also harms the economic environment if it takes too long to protect one’s rights. In developing its court system, one of Estonia’s priorities is to reduce the duration of judicial proceedings to 100 days. The use of e-solutions in Estonian judicial process, which is part of the plan to achieve the goal of proceedings taking 100 days, has become quite commonplace, thus making the judicial process clearer and more available while also facilitating the work of the courts.
For example, the e-file connects the information systems of the police, the prosecutor’s office, the court of first instance and the court of appeal as well as the procedural data concerning court cases, pre-trial and extra-judicial matters. In other words, this means that the prosecutor, the defence counsel, the court and most importantly each party to the proceedings themselves and their representative have access to quick and paper-free communication, ensuring the parties’ equal treatment in the proceedings.
When talking about the advantages of the e-file, one must not fail to mention savings and the simplicity of submitting data. As there is no need to print and mail the documents, the costs of delivery have decreased significantly. Furthermore, there is no need to enter and verify data repeatedly as many operations can be made using the portal. As to the future, people will soon be able to use the e-file to apply for state legal aid in a simpler process. Also, we plan to provide access to all procedural documents, dates for court hearings and decisions and people will be able to see and pay any public claims related to them. If a person has been fined for speeding, they will see their obligation in the public e-file and can pay the fine through the portal. All payment data will be immediately visible to the processor and the information will quickly be forwarded to the central system keeping track of state claims.
There were times when even the smallest debts were settled in long court proceedings, which was disproportionate and excessively expensive for the state. Since 2009, Estonia uses an expedited procedure for payment orders in which the filing and the processing of the application takes place only electronically in the public e-file. The proceedings have been concentrated to one department of one court, where 36 officials handle nearly 40,000 claims annually i.e. approximately 60% of all civil cases. The proceedings are managed and supervised by assistant judges but they make only the more complicated decisions as most documents are created on automatic templates and the court communicates with persons only via electronic means.
Although e-solutions are primarily focused on the technical side of things, we have, in addition to those, also amended our legislation and created simplified types of proceedings. For example, as an innovative solution, the court may deliver documents also through various social networks, e.g. Facebook, which saves state resources and time when looking for persons who do not want to be found. All of these measures in conjunction support the achievement of the large-scale objective of the Ministry of Finance for the next few years i.e. court proceedings of 100 days.
I am glad that the electronic proceedings have reduced the work load of judges hearing civil matters and they can now focus on the processing of more complicated cases. As queues in the court have shortened, it has directly eased access to justice and also the labour, administrative and management costs of processing smaller civil claims have decreased. I hope that by 2015, we will have got significantly closer to reaching reasonable durations of judicial process while maintaining the high quality of court judgments.
To conclude, I would like to encourage all progressive states to learn from Estonia’s positive experience as I can confirm that e-Estonia is a real and functional success story that grew out of the partnership between a forward-thinking government, a pro-active ICT sector, and a switched-on, tech-savvy population.