The upcoming rotating presidency of the EU will focus on the future of work and the role technology can play in transforming social systems in the context of the new industrial revolution.
Estonia, in particular, has embraced technology like no other country in Europe to transform its economy and government.
The EU’s ‘tech nation’ par excellence is ready to preach the bright opportunities offered by the digital era during its semester at the EU’s helm. A dozen conferences are scheduled to explore how different sectors can benefit from the disruptive impact of technology.
But the digital transformation of the economy has raised eyebrows across Europe about the destructive nature of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In order to minimise the risks and seize the opportunities associated with this disruption, Estonia intends to focus the debate on how technology could help us to make our social protection schemes smarter, less costly and more useful to citizens.
“We all know that social systems need to change,” Estonian officials said.
The small Baltic country will organise several high-level political discussions and conferences to better prepare citizens and states for major transformations in the economy and the workplace.
The presidency will organise a conference on the future of work (“making it e-easy”) in September and the future of manufacturing (Industry 4.0) in October.
When it comes to preparing citizens for the future of work, Estonia will emphasise providing the right skills and the social safety net needed to support workers with increasingly intermittent careers.
Regarding the welfare state, Estonia intends to share its own experience with member states to make the case for providing services remotely.
The upcoming presidency will focus on the potential of e-Health to handle medical prescriptions and to consult medical records. But diplomats acknowledged that the latter could be more difficult given the privacy issues involved.
These high-level discussions, especially the future of work conference, will feed into the Social Summit that Sweden will host in Gothenburg in November and the reflection process on the EU’s social pillar led by the European Commission.
The Commission is already looking at the digital transformation as one of the key forces that will shape the EU over the next decade.
Its reflection paper on the future of social policies stressed the importance of providing the right skills for the new kind of contracts and the increasing job instability brought by new models like the collaborative economy.
“While new types of contracts can be a stepping stone to the world of work, there is also a risk of increasing labour market polarisation, with evidence of rising wage inequalities and people with low skills trapped in low-quality jobs with few prospects of advancement,” the paper warned.
Despite the potential challenges, the upcoming Estonian presidency believes that the benefits still outweigh the risks, as long as governments start adapting their systems to the new reality.