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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: 261 - (26/09/02)
The Estonians are the smallest of the countries in transition, but one of the most successful. The two facts are related. Reform is easier to put over in an economy in which everyone knows everyone else. A cohesive, Protestant country with a long tradition as a Hanseatic League trading nation, Estonia has taken to capitalism like a duck to water.
Estonia had the good fortune to have as its first president after independence in 1991, a remarkable man in Lennart Meri, a great scholar of the Finno-Uguric languages and culture, to which Estonian belongs, along with Finnish and Magyar. He took a resolutely uncompromising line with the Soviets in communist times. He would not tolerate any concession, even verbal, to their ways. He was also a natural leader, impressing his interlocutors with his personality, an obvious choice for the presidency.
He in turn opted for youth in his first governments. He deemed the young generation less likely to be corrupted by Soviet-style thinking. Indeed, to a man they were Thatcherite. By 1992 they were ready to launch a new currency, the kroon, under a currency board system, which was done with German advice. They have not looked back since.
Premier in the US
While Germany is probably the closest Western partner for Estonia, the US is also massively important. The ties with Germany date back to the Middle Ages when Tallinn was a Hanseatic League city and when German barons owned large estates. Protestantism of course came from Luther's Germany and spread faster to Estonia than any non-German country.
But now the US is a vital support too. The US have a special regard and affection for the Baltic states, which were so long chafing under Russian and then Soviet domination. When communism finally collapsed the US could claim much of the credit so that the Estonians hold it in high esteem. Their one desire is to become anchored to the West as soon as possible. This means primarily to Germany in the EU and to the US in NATO.
Premier Siim Kallas went to Washington in September and got on famously with President Bush, who has been on a learning curve about the rest of the world since he assumed office, and especially since 9:11. He is likely to prove a much more knowledgeable debater in the next presidential campaign than he was for Gore in the last one, particularly on foreign affairs.
Kallas pledged total support to the US in its campaign against terrorism as a matter of course. Although not a large country, it is strategically situated on the Gulf of Finland and commands the approaches to St. Petersburg. Russia is always the eternal neighbour for Estonia and the US its natural counterweight.
Baltic and Nordic cooperation thrives
While Germany and the US are key allies, Estonia's Scandinavian neighbours across the Baltic Sea have played their part in its history and are doing so forcefully again. The Finns and Swedes are the key partners here.
Two high-level meetings took place in Tallin in September between the Baltic and Nordic states, one a foreign ministers meeting to concert a common policy towards the EU and NATO. Sweden is regaining its influence, even if not the dominance of the Baltic it had under Gustavus Adolphus in the seventeenth century.
Cooperation extends to cultural ties and environmental matters. The Swedes and Finns along with the Germans are the leading foreign investors in Estonia, which has an accumulated stock of FDI in excess of US$2bn. Estonia is on the way to becoming a fully Western nation once again.
Estonian government funds security upgrade at Tallinn airport
The Estonian government on 10th September gave 3m koons (0.19m euros) from its contingency reserves towards the acquisition of security equipment for Tallinn airport, BNS News Agency has reported.
Tallinn airport has, in accordance with security regulations endorsed by the government, increased the level of flight security at the airport but, due to a shortage of money, security is not still fully ensured, spokesmen for the government told BNS. The airport does not have equipment for detecting explosive substances, parts of the older X-ray equipment will have to be replaced and a state-of-the-art system for technical surveillance of the security fence installed.
A flight security audit of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) to be carried out in November, is putting the airport under additional pressure to upgrade its security technology.
Speaking to reporters after the government meeting, Prime Minister Siim Kallas said discussions on the funds to boost airport security had begun in the government some time ago... "Apparently we'll do it in such a way that the security systems to be purchased will remain state owned, to be leased to the airport free of charge," Kallas said.
Estonia calculates possible gains from EU membership
Together with Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia has most to gain financially from joining the EU in 2004, a European Commission document has said. It throws light on new members' budgets in the first years after accession, TV3 has reported.
If a major EU enlargement were to go ahead in 2004 quite a few candidate countries would have to pay the EU more than they receive in the first post-accession year. Those countries include Cyprus, Malta, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia...
Alar Streimann, the chief Estonian negotiator at the EU talks and deputy chancellor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declines to comment on the internal European Commission document, since he has not seen it. He did, however, confirm that there was a reason for more financial aid, since the Baltic states are behind the abovementioned countries in their level of development.
Streimann said: "It is true that, whatever the basis of calculation, it will be the Baltic states who will gain proportionally most of all from EU accession in financial terms, as matters stand at present. Partially, or indirectly, this is due to the fact that the Baltic states are the poorest."
Hannes Rumm, head of the EU information secretariat, has produced figures as to what the possible balance for Estonia might be after accession. The EU aid from structural funds will amount to 2.7bn kroons, while the membership fee is seen to be 1.2bn kroons, which means that the Estonian gain in 2004 is likely to be 1.5bn kroons. It is also possible that the membership fee will be reduced in the first years of membership.
Rumm added: "Since we will not in the first year receive the full amount of EU aid programmes, we would pay perhaps 25 or 50 per cent of the membership fee, or something like that, instead of 100 per cent."
The TV Correspondent concluded: "Nothing has been set in concrete though, as talks over the financial chapter are about to begin. Alar Streimann thinks that an outcome on this matter can be expected by the end of November or so."
FOOD & DRINK
Alcohol sale ban hits kiosks
At the beginning of September kiosk owners all over the country were bemoaning the loss of their main source of income now that a law that bans kiosk beer sales has come into force, Aleksei Gunter reported for the Baltic Times.
As of September 1st, beer, cider and other light alcoholic beverages can no longer be sold at Estonian kiosks - the small, roadside convenience stands that typically also sell newspapers, cigarettes, candy and other items.
The government said the law was aimed at making it tougher for underage Estonians to buy beer. Liquor stores are still allowed to sell beer, wine and spirits through the night, but cashiers may ask customers to provide ID proving they are old enough to buy alcohol.
Estonians must be 18 to buy beer, wine and cider and 21 to buy hard alcohol such as vodka or whiskey. Kiosks that defy the beer ban or liquor stores that sell to underage customers can face up to 50,000 kroons (3,200 euros) in fines.
But kiosk owners said they stood to lose millions of kroons without beer on the shelves.
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