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Estonian report
by Euro Reporter
2014-12-03 11:47:05
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Estonia President Toomas Ilves loses battle in his own bedroom

Characterized by President Obama as “the son of refugees who returned home to help chart a path for a free and democratic Estonia,” Toomas Hendrik Ilves grew up a genuine New Jersey kid. He was the valedictorian of Leonia High and knew of Bruce Springsteen before the Boss released his first album. He graduated from Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, and his American first wife gave birth to their two kids here. When Estonia became independent from the Soviet Union, Mr. Ilves became Estonia’s Ambassador to the United States, Canada and Mexico – all at the same time. Now he is the president of Estonia, country of his parents, to which he returned to be with his new passion, the blonde bombshell Evelin, who he later married. Mr Ilves is a big fan of bow ties (his father wore one) and Twitter posts (39,000 are following @IlvesToomas). His path to the presidency of the Baltic home country of his parents—a country sold out by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and occupied first by the Soviets, then the Nazis and then the Soviets again—has been a storybook success.

In September of 2014, during his joint press conference with President Obama at the NATO Summit in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, Toomas Ilves, 61, a passionate supporter of a strong NATO, bravely called the leaders of the world to stand up to the “Russian aggression” in Ukraine. And yet he gave that speech with a heavy heart, for Mr. Ilves already knew of one battle he had lost. Just ten days before the September NATO summit, Estonian tabloid Kroonika broke the story that shook the little European country off its feet. The first lady of Estonia, Evelin Ilves, 46, had been spotted dancing, hugging and kissing in public with a young stranger during a noisy and crowded party in the posh Tallinn restaurant Komeet. Later, photographs of the passionate hugs and kisses surfaced, and even a short blurry video of the scandalous event became available to the public. The Estonian first lady and her partner left the party at 4:30 AM. A witness said, “[They] left the restaurant together and then both got into a car. It was a black Mercedes-S auto. There was a driver behind the wheel. And they left.” The Mercedes did not bring the First Lady home. In the tight-knit nation of Estonia (population 1.2 million) very few secrets remain out of public eye.

It soon developed that the young fellow spotted with the First Lady was a Frenchman named Vincent Aranegal, 28, an employee of one of Tallinn’s advertising agencies. At the time of this scandalous event, Toomas Ilves was in Estonia working in the President’s palace to prepare for the coming NATO summit. Right after the story broke, his wife left the country with the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, leaving behind this comment on her Facebook page: “Now I have to go through one of the hardest times in my life. Forgive me those who I hurt.” The Estonian president’s press secretary couldn’t hold her anger, loyally saying: “This is indecent behaviour towards one’s husband, no matter what position he holds.” Since then, Estonian First Lady was hardly been seen in public—especially together with her husband. And she never spoke on the matter—until now.

Last Tuesday, on the Estonian TV morning show “Tereversioon,” Ms. Ilves presented her own cook-book, which was obviously written during her recent reclusion, and baked a loaf of her own bread. By the end of the show, the host could not resist the temptation and asked Estonian First Lady about her summer affair: “I have to ask you about this. How have the summer events changed your life?” Following a long pause, with a trembling voice, Ms. Ilves answered: “Life goes on, I don’t know… I cannot comment on this now … I am concentrated on things that I know and that I can do. One of those things is bread.” “Did you feel like [now] there is less love in one place and more love in the other?” pressed the show host. “No, of course not. The love is only getting bigger all the time,” was the answer. Meanwhile, the handsome young Frenchmen has not shied away from the public. He doesn’t give interviews, but is often seen in Tallinn’s nightclubs, surrounded by young girls, obviously having a lot of fun. Mr. Ilves, the President of this small European country, fighting his adversaries on all fronts, has no comment about the question that most intrigues the Estonian public: Does he like his wife’s new bread?


Estonia offers e-residency to allow non-citizens access to government services and business online

The Estonian government has become the first country in the world to offer e-residency to non-citizens. Successful applicants will be issued a digital ID card with a computer-readable chip which, in combination with authentication PIN codes, will allow them to access a number of the country's e-services and conduct business online. Kaspar Korjus, the project manager, said the move was initially to help foreign residents in Estonia, often described as "the most wired country in Europe", participate in the country's "digital society" - the suite of government services that are provided online, including e-health, e-school, e-tax and e-voting.

"And then we just decided, why not let's just open it up to all foreigners also so that they could be involved in Estonia more openly," Mr Korjus said. E-residency does not grant citizenship rights or function as a travel document, but it will enable people to incorporate a company, set up bank accounts and access the EU market from a virtual online base in Estonia, using the government-backed digital ID. Mr Korjus said he expected the offer would be most appealing to people in the tech industry.

"Especially technology-based businesses which don't have cash flow so much ... and entrepreneurs who actually can see that this is a platform where Estonia gives a face on the internet to everybody in the world who desires it," he told 7.30. "This means that you can actually start building your own start-ups, your own services, and start authenticating people there, because you know and can trust them."


Estonia aims to be an e-superpower

The small Baltic country of Estonia hopes digital innovation will turn it into a global superpower in e-commerce by offering foreigners’ e-residency IDs and opening the door to doing business online throughout the EU. Estonia says it is the first country to offer e-residency identification cards to people worldwide, and the novel venture dubbed "10 million Estonians" is set to take effect in December. "Estonia has reached the limit of growth that can be achieved through savings and efficiency, so in order to keep our country growing, we need to increase the client base with global companies that are connected to the Estonian economy," said Taavi Kotka, a former IT entrepreneur now chief information officer for the EU and Eurozone member state. “We can offer them a hassle-free business and administrative environment and a foothold in the EU," he told AFP, explaining the opportunities outlined on Estonia's e-residency website. In theory, anyone could apply for e-residency, and for the equivalent of 50 euros, obtain an Estonian digital ID card providing access to a multitude of government and private sector e-services that slash the cost of doing business - without conferring citizenship rights. Arne Ansper, a cyber-security expert with the Tallinn-based Cybernetica IT company, describes the e-residency ID card as "a tool for secure and legally binding online communication with other parties."
Entrepreneurs from China, India or Saudi Arabia could use e-residency to set up shop in Estonia and do business anywhere in the 28-nation EU via the Internet, Kotka said. All transactions can be done remotely using digital signature, he added. Although the European Union recognizes digital signature, most states in the bloc currently do not have a reliable service. So far, nearly 10,000 people have expressed interest in acquiring e-residency, with roughly a third hailing from the United States, followed by Finns, Russians, Britons, Canadians, Indians and Bangladeshis among others. The first IDs are expected to be issued by year's end. Initially, around 7,600 companies with a majority share of foreign capital already operating in Estonia stand to benefit the most. These businesses generate around 60 percent of Estonia's exports and 36 percent of employment. According to Indrek Kasela, a partner at private equity fund Amber Trust, doing business the old fashioned way does not come cheap. "Up to now this has cost our companies tens of thousands of euros a year in travel, legal fees, courier costs and time. E-residency would allow us to handle all administrative work online," he told AFP.
Digital IDs are not new to Estonia. Many of the 1.3 million Estonians have embraced using a digital ID for a wide range of government services since 2002. Ninety-five percent of Estonians file their taxes online and the digital signature facility has been used more than 180 million times to endorse everything from bank transactions to contracts. Estonians can also vote online or start up a company with a few mouse clicks and keystrokes within the space of an hour. A range of features has been put in place to ensure security and transparency, including hard-to-crack 2048-bit encryption and so-called X-road-enabled systems requiring two PINs to complete a transaction. Estonian officials maintain that so far, the system has not been hacked or abused. To apply for e-residency, an individual needs to explain their connection to Estonia or substantiate their interest in using its digital services. Initially an applicant must come to Estonia in person to provide biometric data like fingerprints to the police and border guards, but plans call for embassies to process applications - possibly next year. Interior Ministry spokesman Mihkel Loide admitted that while "e-residency itself will not create new risks but may, indeed, amplify the existing ones, such as digital fraud and other cyber-crimes."

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