Future of Europe dominates Estonia summit

Eastern European desire for innovation clashes with Western caution and political upheaval

Theresa May speaks with Swedish PM Stefan Lofven at Estonia's summit
(Image credit: VIRGINIA MAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

Brexit, Germany’s shock election result, Catalonia's independence referendum... Europe’s leaders are gathered in Tallinn, Estonia, for a digital summit – but their focus is elsewhere.

Estonia, which holds the EU presidency, and other eastern European economies are keenly attuned to the possibilities offered by digital, Politico says. They are aware of the disproportionate reliance on American technology and are keen to redraw the map in Europe’s favour.

But western Europe thinks differently: just this month, France, Germany, Italy and Spain proposed a new way to tax internet companies, the EU Observer points out. Emmanuel Macron arrived waving an agenda for taxation and tougher regulation.

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Worse, what was “billed as a stargazing ‘digital summit’ ... now risks being hijacked” by the broader political landscape, the FT says. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did not even attend, instead holding crisis talks on Catalonia’s independence referendum. Greece’s Alexis Tsipras is preoccupied by the IMF’s demands for yet another bank recapitalisation.

Meanwhile, Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent 30 minutes huddled together, according to Bloomberg. It’s unlikely that a newly-weakened Merkel, who may not be able to form a government for at least two months, had digital innovation at the forefront of her mind.

Still, it's likely the Estonians knew what was coming. As Politico points out, “For an unofficial event with no fixed agenda, it was exquisitely choreographed and tightly controlled” to minimise Theresa May’s ability to push her Brexit demands and keep leaders talking amicably without actually saying anything.

And the organisers took the view that just getting everyone in one room was a coup for the small Baltic state. “The timing is perfect,” one Estonian official told the FT. “All the big elephants will be in the room.”

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