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estonia

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  ESTONIA

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
45,227

Population
1,423,316

Principal
ethnic groups

Estonians 63.9%
Russians 29%
Ukrainians 2.7%

Capital
Tallinn

Currency
Kroon

President
Arnold Rüütel

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Background:
After centuries of Swedish and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940, it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe.

Update No: 255

The Estonians have their 10th government in twelve years. It was inaugurated on January 22nd, just a fortnight after the previous government under Premier, Mark Laar, resigned. 
The new premier is Silim Kallas, with a majority for his coalition government of 62 to 31 in parliament. His government consists of reformers and centrists, like all the previous nine governments, his is totally committed to EU membership as soon as possible.
The incoming centre - left government is in an invidious position. It wants to close negotiations with the EU by year-end. But to do so it will have to close more of the 29 chapters of the acquisition communitaire. It has finished 20, but others have concluded 28. 
Tallinn has still not reached agreement on vital issues such as fishing rights in the Baltic Sea, the sale of land to foreigners and controversial oil-fired electricity plants. Estonia cannot be sure that it will enter the EU with so many unsolved problems, whose solution has been too long delayed. 
Another vital issue is NATO entry, now in the post - 9:11 world a strong possibility. The key defence ministry is held by the 27-year-old Sven Mikser of Centre, which like all other parties in Estonia is committed to full NATO membership for the country. In late February Estonia committed itself to up defence spending to two per cent of GDP. But this is of course little more than a gesture. 
The switch in government did not happen as a result of elections, which are not due until March 2003, but to the inter-party and inner party wrangling inseparable from coalition politics in Estonia's complicated political life. 
Tensions within the ruling centre-right coalition - in power for 32 months, a record in Estonia since independence - broke out in early December. Reform, one of the two ruling parties, joined with the main opposition Centre party to run Tallinn City without informing Mr Laar's pro Patria party and the Moderates. This made the government unworkable, Laar admitted in December. 
The finance minister in the government and leader of Reform was Kallas, a tough economic conservative. He was the natural figure to form a new government, which he did by bringing in the Centre party of populist, Edgar Savisaar. It has been critical of high-profile privatisations and of the Laar government's austere budget, approved by parliament, and awaiting the president's signature.
The ministers of the science, finance and agricultural ministries are also all under 40, prompting one criticism of the government that it is a cabinet of 'political greenhorns.' But backing youth has become a tradition in Estonia. Mark Laar led a cabinet of those mainly in their 20s and 30s shortly after independence. It was the conviction of the president of the time, Lennart Meri, a sexagenarian himself, who was the leading anti - Soviet dissident, that the intervening generations had been irredeemably corrupted by the compromises that they had to make in the Soviet period. He plumped for youth. 
Kallas, who is keen to up pensions and social provisions, is more concerned about the problems of social polarisation than his predecessor, Laar stood for rapid transition; Kallas does for mollifying its costs. While one in every two Estonians has a mobile phone, there are many falling behind. The growing divide "could one day sweep away everything we have achieved," he warns.

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ENVIRONMENT

European funds to help with Estonian water and rub
bish projects

Estonian Finance Minister Harri Ounapuu, signed on 27th February, within the framework of the ISPA aid programme, contracts worth nearly 275m kroons, which will go to the Tartu water management and Parnu rubbish dump projects, ETA News Agency has reported. 
The total cost of the Tartu water and sewage network expansion project is 17.02m euros or 266.3m kroons. The European Union (EU) will finance the project via the ISPA fund with 12.08m euros or 189m kroons...
The contracts for work on the projects are to be signed by autumn 2002 and the work should be launched at the beginning of 2003. 
ISPA has forecast it will allocate 813m kroons to Estonia this year.

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

No major changes to 3G licences in Estonia

Estonia's new government does not intend to make changes in principle to the plan for issuing third-generation mobile communications licences currently under preparation, BNS reported. Edvard Saarma, head of the communications department at the Transportation and Communications Ministry, said he was continuing preparation of an amendment to the telecoms law necessary for issuing new licences.
He said it was possible that the participation fee of the licence bid, provisionally set at 50 million kroons (30.2m Euros), could change in either direction. According to the amendment bill drafted last year, the state is going to issue four licences to third-generation mobile communications operators.

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