President Kersti Kaljulaid was on a working visit to France on Saturday, where she held a speech at the graduation ceremony of the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). In her speech, the president said that it is time to revisit the concept of the social contract between a state and its people that aims at continuing state services to citizens no matter where they live and work.
Kaljulaid questioned the notion that someone earning an income across several different countries should still be looked after by the authorities of a single country of residence. In a time where the mobility of the labour force is only increasing, the rigid system of a single home or host state looking after an individual from birth to pension age is obsolete, Kaljulaid suggested.
In our day and age, a new, freer contract is needed: "A contract where the state takes responsibility to continue providing services to their people wherever they work and live. The citizens, in exchange, can contribute to the state's resources according to their income, whichever and wherever its origin," Kaljulaid said.
Kaljulaid equipped her vision of this new social contract with the freedom to switch as well, should an individual choose to do so. "You will want to participate and vote in the state you feel closest to, and pay the taxes to the state which provides the best support scheme for you, the globally working and living citizen," the president said.
After Kaljulaid took office in October 2016, plenty of commentators wondered what her agenda may be. Her immediate predecessor, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, made digital development his grand topic. Before him, Arnold Rüütel, if oriented more towards the domestic aspect of his office, presided over Estonia's accession to NATO and the European Union. Lennart Meri reintroduced Estonia to the world after its regaining independence in the 1990s.
Since Estonia's presidency of the EU council last year, Kaljulaid has made it a point to speak on issues of the future and the mobility of labour. Perhaps what we see in this speech is the outline of the personal agenda for which this president will be remembered.
The speech as published on the website of the Office of the President:
Please accept my sincerest congratulations! You are coming to the end of your formal education path, which we, the generation of your parents, lovingly prepared for you.
We did it with your best interests in our mind. Yet, we did it from the perspective of the past. You have acquired an education we thought would prepare you adequately for the challenges of your generation. Of course, as all loving parents before us, we've got some things right and missed some opportunities.
At some point, we realized that the technological cycle has been shortening. We did foresee, to a certain extent, that the 21st century would see the birth and death of much more inventions than the 20th century. After all, only petroleum lamp and horse cart truly expired in the 20th century. Most inventions just became more efficient, but survived.
We did not foresee that the first mobile phones we gave you would be from Stone Age by the time you graduate from university.
We did not foresee that the digital disruption to our societies would be so profound that many of you will be able to work very differently from us already at the time of your graduation.
We did not foresee that geography becomes meaningless for many professionals while seeking jobs. We did not foresee that many of you would not need to do what economists thought was inevitable for a whole century – gather into enterprises in order to work in the most productive manner.
We did not foresee that the proportion of people in developed economies working in industry would fall from about 30% when you were born to 19% today here in France, when you graduate and maybe to 3-5% of the whole workforce by the time you have been on the job market for 15 years.
We did not foresee that you would be the most powerful generation of history, free to work wherever you want, whenever you want, with whom you want and able to reconsider as often as you wish.
We gave you the freedoms we ourselves dreamt of – the four freedoms of Europe, Eurozone and Schengen. However, digital disruption is giving you a lot more than we could ever give you.
You will enjoy an absolute freedom globally, determined and defined only by your own imagination. You can work in different enterprises, even in different countries, simultaneously. You will not need to demand flexible working hours; instead, you will define them by yourselves. You will not accept to sit in one city or one country while you work. You will insist that even if you should work as a controller of an assembly line, you should be able to do so from a Mediterranean beach or from the top of the Alps. You will not accept long-term contracts or competition clauses, as you will definitely be able to sell your specialized skills independently and to many enterprises simultaneously.
We did not prepare you for that from the day one when you entered école maternelle. Nevertheless, I know that we've also got something right. We have taught you human rights and liberal democratic values.
From tomorrow, you start adapting our Europe and our world to the new era, which has dawned on you while you were growing up. The values you carry are much more important for this work than any technical skill we did or did not provide you with.
We have seen our society disrupted by the development of the digital technologies. However, we have not yet been able to adapt it to the new reality. This work is yours.
The way you will live and work does not even fit our categories of employee, employer, self-employed person or unemployed person or a person on parental leave. You can easily be all of these at the same time.
You will not accept that your formal address will define the set of societal services available for you. You demand something different. A safe dock of a state you can get the services from as you need, wherever you find yourself.
We have not yet figured out how to change our social systems according to this new reality. Our current social model shadows the industrial working model.
However, if the old industrial work model is gone, the society built on the river of taxes flowing in from bigger and smaller enterprises, and being spent according to the social contract on people with certain home addresses cannot survive. You will demand all the redistributive services globally.
You will want healthcare wherever you find yourself. You will seek native language tutoring for your kids even when you are far from the language environment itself. You will want to participate and vote in the state you feel closest to, and pay the taxes to the state which provides the best support scheme for you, the globally working and living citizen.
Your income may come from many different enterprises in a number of different countries, some of them in and some of them out of the EU. Yet somehow, one state has to take responsibility to provide you with services from health care and education for your kids to pensions.
I know we should have thought of it earlier and presented you with solutions already. However, it is only dawning on us now that we should have done it. We are not ready and therefore we risk losing your taxes, your participation in our social system and your trust towards the state as the provider of security network. In principle, all of you in this room can just go private. You are well educated, you will have high salaries, and you can afford it. However, it will be the end of the social Europe.
It is urgent to figure out the new, free social contract between a state and a citizen, where the state takes responsibility to continue providing services to their people wherever they work and live. The citizens, in exchange, can contribute to the state's resources according to their income, whichever and wherever its origin.
Without this new model our society, which is able to provide the security networks we are so used to, is gone. Income differences will get difficult to bear if basic services like education and healthcare would stop being available to all. Social mobility will die. In addition, it will all happen at this crucial period when we need resources to help those more vulnerable in our societies to adapt to the change we are currently living in.
This change is unprecedented in its speed, but not in its nature. We know that transformation from agricultural society to industrial one was very painful for vulnerable classes. If we have taught you humanity the way we hope we have, you will act quickly. You will adapt our societies before the positive technological transformation morphs into negative scenario for vulnerable people.
You will also need to adapt the education system to the needs of your kids the way we never did. Your kids will be entering school being much more literate and knowledgeable than you were. They have the world at their little fingertips from the age they learn to swipe the screens. Educational programs available for kids are already paying attention to schoolchildren who have skills in math or language or geography far beyond the level of their school program. You have to adapt teaching them accordingly.
My son is 9. He has 35 classmates. Only one them has as bad command of English as expected by the textbooks of grade 3. Half of them speak fluently, though none of them can write. Many can solve geometry problems that they have found in the internet learning programs far above the grade 3, too. They risk being bored and misbehaving, and even if they do not, they waste their time at school by not adding anything new to the skillset they already have. These children do not fit into year-based system. They need a school, which will develop what they already have, while making sure they will not lack the understanding on how to be a human being, caring and compassionate.
I think your kids do not want to start from grade one and pass from class to class. They want to sit with their friends at their level and solve problems that stimulate them. They will want to take university level courses in some subjects while using smart nudging in order to gain basic skills in others. You must give this stimulating educational world to them.
As the technology gets smarter, you and your kids will live in the world where learned machines operate among them and do so independently. Machines will be smart in what they are trained to do, yet not have the general, unlimited intelligence of a human being. Our world is not adapted yet to this change. You must also take care of that.
Also, we urgently need international agreements, control and monitoring tools for Artificial Intelligence. If we think in these terms, all lower machine-thinking levels will be covered, too.
However, please do not be scared by the technological development. At personal level, please do not restrict your kids' interest to gadgets but make good use of their curiosity. At national and international level, please be better than us in smartly creating the legal space for technology development, use and control. Then you will reap the full benefits for the society and control the associated risks. I wish you all the best in exceeding the accomplishments of all the previous generations!
Editor: Dario Cavegn