Digital Europe: Meet the Female Politicians Shaping the Future

Part 2: Finland

Anne Berner, former Minister of Transport and Communications, talks about the Finnish secret behind their successful transformation, data as the fifth mode of transport, and the binding factor between CO2 emissions and digitalization

Finland is the third most advanced digital economy in Europe according to the European Commission Index. What are the unique strengths and advantages that have helped Finland reach this position?

Good connectivity within and outside Finland is a necessity to reach global markets. In the digital era, high speed and quality connections are therefore a prerequisite for businesses and citizens alike.

The fact that Finland enjoys 99% coverage of high-level mobile networks has enabled us to gain new real-time connectivity and also to digitize sectors such as transport and mobility. Digitalization, however, requires streamlined regulations and structures on which we have worked proactively during my ministerial term. We were the first to open necessary data by law to enable one-shop-ticketing and new business models for mobility.

Finland intends to build a global ecosystem and aspires to be a digital hub. How would you rate the R&D happening in your country at the moment?

We position ourselves between Asia and Europe and within a short reach from North America. Global scalability and interoperability steer all our action and cooperation. We have also worked together with the public and private sectors side by side to tackle the challenges that innovation alone can’t solve and have used cities, and even sea areas, as test beds.

I am extremely proud of our companies leading development in challenging sectors such as maritime automation and especially Mobility as a Service. Also, I am very happy that our examples and active role in international fora as well as enabling regulative framework and mindset has attracted so many investors to join us in this development.

Finland has always had a very positive mindset when it comes to digitalization. But are there any ongoing debates regarding the risks and repercussions related to a complete digital transition?

Trust and transparency are crucial elements that a regulator must take into account and ensure during disruption such as digitalization. Otherwise, citizens are not able to take the leap of faith to more intelligent and digitalized services. As a result, the whole industry suffers and society does not gain the benefits of the new era.

In addition, we must make sure that during the digital transition, the industry continues to develop services that are accessible and fulfill the needs of passengers with restricted mobility. I believe that legislation is in place, but we must continue an active discussion with stakeholders and survey the market development in order to learn the actual impacts of the new legislation.

Could you tell us about three main projects undertaken by the Finnish Government currently?

Digitalization has been a cross-cutting theme in the Government’s Program and as I look back to the past four years of governmental term, one of the key achievements of Finland regarding digitalization is the reform of transport legislation, the Act on Transport Services, which transforms the idea of data as the fifth transport mode into legislation. The new act, which came into force last year, promotes digitalization of transport services and is the first in the world to enable uniform and mobile travel chains.

Another key project is to create a favorable operating environment for digital services and business models based on digitality and to promote the use of big data, encourage business operations, and launch experiments based on user-centered management of data. Lastly, I am grateful that cutting our CO2 emissions have been at the top of the priority list of the government. I am certain that with the help of digitalization and renewable energy sources, the transport sector will do its part on reaching our emission targets in the future as well.

What motivates and excites you about digitalization? Do you think digitalization also affects women and creates a paradigm shift in gender equality?  

Digitalization creates new possibilities for us, and I find this very fascinating. I am happy to see young women in Finland who are pioneers in this area. One of them is Sonja Heikkilä, who is one of the most prominent promoters of Mobility as a Service. While still in university, she boldly looked for new ways of organizing mobility, and later worked in various organizations to develop these ideas into concrete services for us to use in our everyday lives.


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