Estonia to lead debate on the future of social systems in the digital era

The rise of on-demand services such as Uber is disrupting careers and forcing welfare systems to adapt. [Alper Cugun/Flickr]

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.

How to become a successful ‘tech-nation’ from scratch

Amid global concerns about economic growth, countries without natural resources like Estonia or Israel have converted technology into their main source of prosperity.

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.

App economy jobs come under Commission scrutiny

The European Commission will change an EU law on employment contracts by the end of the year in a move to create standards for precarious jobs created by online apps like Uber and Deliveroo.

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.

EU cautions governments against banning Uber, Airbnb

Services such as ride-hailing app Uber and home-rental site Airbnb should only be banned as a last resort, the European Commission said on Thursday (2 June), as it seeks to foster development of the “sharing 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.

Europe looks for digital growth recipe to revive ailing economy

More investment in skills and the completion of the digital single market are among the top priorities in order to relaunch economic growth in Europe, experts and policymakers agreed during a European Commission conference yesterday (6 April).

  • 12-14 September: Future of Work Conference - making it e-easy.
  • 24-25 October: ManuFuture 2017 (on Industry 4.0).
  • 17 November: Social summit for fair growth and employment in Göteborg.

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