The Estonian e-Residency Programme 

& its Effect on Government-Citizen Relationships from a Democratic Point of View (2019)

Essay written on Digital Government-Citizen Interaction, focused on the case of Estonia's e-Residency Programme.


Estonia launched its e-Residency programme in 2014, an ambitious programme with which Estonia became the first country to issue digital identities to citizens of foreign countries who did not have a residency in Estonia themselves (Korjus, 2018), and to provide them access to Estonian digital state services. Whilst this e-Residency does not give foreign nationals Estonian citizenship nor does it count as a valid travel document, it does provide the opportunity to make use of world-leading digital infrastructures and services remotely, as being ‘an international passport to the virtual world’ (Sullivan & Burger, 2017). The results are significant. In the first four years after its launch, nearly 50,000 people from 165 countries registered as e-residents which together started 6,000 companies (Korjus, 2018). Here we touch on an important goal of the project. The Estonian e-Residency programme aims to allow foreign citizens to start an online EU-based business (Korjus, 2018, Korjus, Vargas Alvarez del Castillo, & Kotka, 2017). With this, Estonia strives to create a platform that could ensure more global inclusion into the European digital single market, whilst on the other hand enlarging its digital community and, ultimately, its economic “size” (Korjus, Vargas Alvarez del Castillo, & Kotka, 2017). Theoretically, the more foreign citizens are connected - in this case virtually - to Estonia, not only would this provide a strong global community sympathising with Estonia and strengthening itsninternational ties, it would also create many business opportunities for Estonia following from a growing demand for support in managing an EU-based online company (Korjus, 2018) (e.g. help in opening Estonian bank accounts, establishing safe communication facilities, etcetera). The Estonian e-Residency programme is an interesting case of a governmental digitisation project, because it creates new democratic challenges and opportunities. In this essay, I will discuss the Estonian e-Residency in relation to the concept of the digital divide to answer the question “what effect does the Estonian e-Residency have on existing government-citizen relations from a democratic point of view?” I will analyse the case along the theories on the digital divide by Van Dijk (2012), the Service State & Surveillance State perspectives by Lips (2010), to explore what stakeholders are at play, and how the Estonian government addresses this programme as an opportunity.