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President of Estonia pushes for common systems across Europe

Toomas Henrik Ilves wants to encourage European governments to build secure and interoperable IT systems.
Written by Olli Sulopuisto, Contributor on

The best way to get cross European e-goverment moving forward is to force their hand of governments, argues Toomas Henrik Ilves, the President of Estonia.

Speaking today at the Slush startup conference in Helsinki, Ilves said many European countries already have achieved the needed levels of IT sophistication needed for the next step of coordinating across borders.

"You need a law that will obligate governments... to only ask for your data once," said Ilves.

That will force governments and administrations to actually develop IT systems that are distributed, secure and usable. Building his argument on the success of Estonia's X-Road infrastructure, Ilves said there's no real reason why, for example, the Estonian and Finnish digital prescription systems shouldn't be compatible.

"Every year some 70,000 Finnish pensioners come to Estonia and take their medical records with them. It would make more sense to take along your ID card," Ilves explained the practical benefits of a interoperable systems.

"Ultimately we'd want it to work all over the EU. Not only with prescriptions, but say your medical records," he said.

Also speaking on the first day of the conference, former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila and Skype founder Niklas Zennström both emphasised the importance of building a startup ecosystem, though they approached the subject form different perspectives.

Ollila's talk concentrated on the things startups can learn from big companies. He said that every small company will have to think about growth and eventually face the kind of bureaucratic decisions that most startups dread.

"What the heck is this manual, do we really need it?" Ollila recalled discussions they had at Nokia in the 1990s.

Especially hard is keeping alive the spirit that made the company feel special, even after it grows past 200–300 employees, though Ollila admitted that not every company has to hire that many people even though they've grown to be global superstars.

The easy mobility of entrepreneurs and developers is good for the startup economy even though it might be painful for individual companies, said Zennström.

He said that the competition for the best technology companies between various European capitals was a boon for the sector as a whole. The benefits extend even to the level of individual employees, as working on a startup will make people "much more employable".

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