Prime Minister Janez Janša attended the first meeting of the Strategic Council for Digitalisation on 23. April. At the meeting, the members of the Strategic Council for Digitalisation spoke about the goals of the Council, the timeline and the organisation of the work. They also presented some content-related proposals.
In his opening address, Prime Minister Janez Janša thanked the members for their participation in the Strategic Council and for their willingness to cooperate in this body. As the Prime Minister said, the members of the Strategic Council for Digitalisation are not just representatives of ministries, government offices and public institutions, at least not most of them, “because we want this to be a body that develops proposals without being burdened with the task of how to work and implement those proposals.” “Besides, even in the direct government structures, there are not many people who would be able to handle this challenge on their own,” assessed the Prime Minister, assuring the members of the Strategic Council that they will get everything they need to do their work effectively.
Prime Minister Janša then presented some general findings about Slovenia’s position on digitalisation. “One of the problems with digitalisation is that compared to other EU Member States, the percentage of the population in Slovenia that sees the positive effects of technology and technological development is very low,” said the Prime Minister, adding that in Slovenia the level of scepticism in this regard is surprisingly high. “Until I saw the data I could not imagine it in this way; however, this scepticism affects all other areas, because if you do not believe that something will help you, you will not work on its development. In this context, this is a huge challenge not for the Council members but for all other authorities of social development and public atmosphere,” the Prime Minister said, adding that Slovenia is below the EU average according to the DESI index. “Most countries are better than us, but at 16th place, we are not that far behind. The area where Slovenia lags most behind is administrative services, because only 5% of these services are provided electronically; the economy is slightly better, but it lacks skilled personnel,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He also estimated that public administration has a serious problem in terms of digitalisation because the most desirable and best quality employees cannot be paid in the best possible way due to salary grades and and collective agreements.
“When we look at the rest of the problems associated with the General Administrative Procedures Act and the related implementing regulations, we have difficulty conducting procedures in a way that does not require people to go to the service desk,” the Prime Minister said adding that we face resistance to change in larger economic and other systems. If anything, digitalisation brings better transparency, better possibilities for access to real-rime information, which also brings responsibility; we also see who did what, when and how, and since in this way responsibility is individualised, this is a problem for all those who also have a sceptical attitude towards the words ‘change’, ‘reform’, ‘progress’,” said Prime Minister Janša.
The Prime Minister went on to present some graphs showing where our country stands. “The most pessimistic graph for us is the one that shows how the population sees the possibility of technology having a positive impact on change, progress, development and prosperity. It is followed by the EU Composite Index which indicates that we are behind the average and the Overall Ranking Index which indicates who is ahead of us and that it is not just GDP that has an impact on the ranking. Indeed, when Estonia was far ahead of us, its GDP was significantly lower; so it is a question of how to invest and guide development,” the Prime Minister said, adding that “if we add up the data, we see that the situation in terms of the digital index is not catastrophic, but it is also not as good as it could be given the potentials we have. “There is a lot of untapped potential,” assessed Prime Minister Janez Janša.
He went on to say that he did not want the Strategic Council to look at the reasons and blame, why the situation is as it is today. “The responsibility for digitalisation has been shifted from one ministry to another in Slovenian governments; in the previous term, a minister said at the beginning of his term of office at the parliamentary hearing that he was analogue and acted that way; as for technologies, we could go back into times when the Government Centre for Informatics was abolished; but our intention is to deal with the situation as it is, not to make it look better or more positive, but to try to improve it,” said the Slovenian Prime Minister.
In this context, the Prime Minister suggested some goals to be pursued by the Strategic Council.
“By 15 September, we expect you to submit a proposal for the digitalisation of the country, that is to say tell us what needs to be done in each area, how problems can be avoided, how much it will all cost, how it should be done and who is responsible for which task. If you submit proposals and data on this, that’s fine, but this is not the purpose; the purpose is to find out how things are going to be achieved. After all, our goal is for Slovenia to be among the top five countries according to the DESI index in five years”, said the Prime Minister. As a goal, he then highlighted the consistent implementation of the basic principle of a lean state. “In all administrative procedures, the state authority should be the one to obtain all the data necessary to carry out the procedure; these data are available everywhere in the official databases; so, it should not be up to the citizen to obtain the data. Of course, by entering and submitting an application, we give our consent for the state body to obtain these data”, said the Prime Minister. One of the goals is also to upgrade the physical digital infrastructure and connect all economic entities and households, but this requires basic knowledge of digital technologies. The use of digital technology should therefore be included in the school curricula. “Of course, this cannot be done overnight,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
He also pointed out that the technology can be used in good and in bad ways. “In itself, technology is neutral. Man decides whether to use it one way or another,” stressed the Prime Minister and recalled the statement of Francis Bacon who wrote that the sovereignty of man lieth hid in knowledge and that knowledge is power.
“With the development in the digital age, mainly the development of artificial intelligence, a clear message should be added to this statement that man must also retain sovereignty in the age of artificial intelligence. This will be a challenge in the future,” the Prime Minister assessed, adding that just a few days ago, the European Commission presented the first-ever proposal for the regulation of artificial intelligence. “This is the first attempt to set the rules for, for example, the use of facial recognition technology, the setting of the boundaries to protect the dignity of the individual, privacy and personality. The Commission is apparently taking a real interest in limiting data collection about our habits, as these can be misused in all kinds of ways,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
“The digital age has brought about the threat of cyber attacks. Because of this, cyber security is one of the priority topics of Slovenian Presidency and is also important when discussing digitalisation in general, as cyber attacks can be harmless or very serious. The latter can be illustrated by a meeting in the Netherlands, where all government communication was available to the Huawei company, because the mobile operator was using its technology,” said the Prime Minister and added that the worst kind of a cyber attack is the one causing the collapse of the electricity grid. “Some countries rank such an attack at the same level of threat as a nuclear threat and their national security strategies therefore include a commitment to counterattack with nuclear weapons, because an electromagnetic pulse or a cyber attack that causes the electricity grid to collapse could destroy a whole civilisation,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
“When you prepare the concepts, keep in mind that we are committed to progress and the good, and we must defend the good. All concepts should take into account ways of ensuring that the technology is safe, both in terms of dignity and privacy of individuals and in terms of the technology itself, the state and activity as such,” specified the Prime Minister.
He concluded that the challenges are many and the goals are set high. He also suggested that the members of the Strategic Council meet in a similar or extended composition in mid-September to discuss the final draft of the proposal for the digitalisation of the country with the goal of “becoming one of the five most digitalised countries in Europe and devoting all necessary resources and energy to achieving this goal.”
At the end of today’s meeting, Prime Minister Janez Janša assessed that the participation in the meeting will pay off. “When I was listening to the discussion, I wondered if we set the deadline for the proposal too far into the future, as you have illustrated the current situation well and presented some good proposals on how to get to the top in five years. The main issue that remains is to find the right man for the job,” said the Prime Minister. He then commented on the situation in Israel, as many speakers highlighted the country in their speech. “During my visit to Israel last December, we signed an innovative cooperation agreement. Israel ranks sixth in the world in innovations and third in artificial intelligence. When we talked with the Chairman of the Board of the Israel Innovation Authority after the signing of the agreement, I asked him about the key reasons that Israel ranks so high. According to him, the first reason is the environment that attracts knowledge from outside, through tax policy, financing, etc. The second reason is that young people join the army after secondary school, where they learn discipline, taking risks, and how to use technology. Today, the Israeli army is no longer just guns, it is high-tech,” said the Prime Minister and added that Slovenia will strive to emulate good practices in terms of creating an administrative environment that includes organisational and technological solutions.
“We already have many solutions but do not use them, maybe there is no interest to use them, while some solutions simply require a level of knowledge we do not have,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. According to the Prime Minister, the main problem is finding a person to do the job. “The solution to that is someone we can either attract or train properly and pay accordingly. Otherwise we will be unable to attract the first one or keep the second one at home. It is not just about the salary but about the fact that the person who creates something also invests at home, if the environment accepts the person,” the Prime Minister said, examining that our biggest problem is that we have become a society where the emphasis is no longer on success as a value but on envy, which leads to levelling and agendas simply follow. “This is currently evident in the discussion on the de-bureaucratisation act, which should provide for an employer contribution cap, which we call a development cap. Our efforts are being hampered by institutions from which we would never expect something like this,” said the Prime Minister, adding that this is caused by the inability to see two steps ahead.
“They are unable to see that if more knowledge was refined here, salaries would increase, income would be higher, and more money would be in the pension fund,” said the Prime Minister. “The positive energy and synergy of today’s meeting were palpable and I hope they could also be felt on the digital platforms. Many of today’s proposals could already be implemented, we do not have to wait on the final plan. The key, however, is in the support and in making people understand that the solution to this issue, i.e. finding the person for the job and rewarding their work, is in everyone’s interest. We live in a society where we are part of the market economy. Honest pay for honest work has been one of the drivers of progress for a thousand years. If we do not recognise this, we are holding ourselves back,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša and again thanked everyone for their contributions both today and in bringing Slovenia to the forefront of digital Europe.