by Michael Lerner
Estonia may soon be closing some embassies abroad to save money. Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand stated on Thursday that “given the current international situation, the state of financial resources, and personnel available to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” the country can no longer maintain its present network of embassies.
Estonia currently has embassies and consulates in 97 countries around the world. But the government’s finances are in disarray. Tallinn enjoyed a budget surplus of $214 million in 2014, but that soured into a $413 million deficit last year.
The truth is that some countries are not as important as others in economic and diplomatic terms, so closing some embassies is an idea worthy of consideration. Kaljurand said the ones to be shuttered will be determined by the foreign ministry during consultations with the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and members of the government. It’s not as if Tallinn would be breaking off diplomatic relations with any of these countries, nor demanding that they close their embassies in Estonia (if they even have any).
As for consular affairs abroad, tech-savvy Estonia has a partial solution that could be scaled up: Estonian e-residency. This is a transnational digital identity, available to anyone in the world interested in administering a location-independent business entirely through the internet. Applications are accepted online, and if the candidate passes a background check, a smart ID card can be collected at one of the 38 Estonian foreign representations or border service points. (Future e-residents just have to present a valid passport and provide officials with some biometric data, such as fingerprints, tech site ZDNet wrote.)
Just over a year old, the program has far-outpaced its original target of 2,000 e-residents. It now has about 7,600 people from over 120 countries using Estonian e-services, said project head Kaspar Korjus. 530 entrepreneurs use e-residency to administer their companies, and 240 new startups have been created. The goal for next year has been raised to 25,000 new e-residents,and ambitions for the more distant future could be millions more.
Since e-residents can set up an Estonian company (and soon even create an Estonian bank account) without ever setting foot in the country, many more services could be digitized — reducing the need for physical embassies to process paperwork. One day Estonian “e-embassies” might outnumber real ones.