Books on Estonia
Update No: 309 - (26/09/06)
Estonia has a new president
In a surprise result a Western-leaning former diplomat and journalist was
narrowly elected Estonia's president on September 23rd, ousting the incumbent,
Arnold Ruutel, who had been favoured in the race.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, 52 was reared in the United States and has a psychology
degree from Columbia University. Ilves received 174 votes from the 345-member
electoral college, made up of lawmakers and municipal leaders, compared to 162
votes for Ruutel, the electoral committee said.
Ruutel's disadvantage was perhaps that he is 78 years old and would therefore
have been in his eighties for most of his term of office. That may have been
held against him in a country which has a decided cult of youth. Curiously the
two presidents Estonia has had since independence were both over sixty when
elected, the first, Lennart Meri being an exceptionally distinguished man, the
leading Estonian dissident through the long dark night of communism and the
world's leading scholar of Finno-Uguric languages and cultures, to which group
Ilves said after his election that he wants to take the former Soviet republic
"more to the centre of Europe."
"Estonia should be among the idea generators in Europe," he said at a
news conference. This it already is with its initiation of the flat tax, an idea
taken over from radical fre market economists in the US.
Ilves - known for always wearing bow ties - is expected to integrate the country
further into the European Union and firm up already warm relations with the
United States. Estonia joined the EU and NATO in 2004 and is hoping to adopt the
euro in the next few years.
Ilves is a two-time foreign minister and former ambassador to the United States,
Canada and Mexico. He is also a former journalist for Radio Free Europe in
Born in Sweden to Estonian parents, he moved to Estonia in 1996. Critics had
dubbed him "an American in a bow tie" and said he had spent too much
of his life abroad to understand current domestic issues.
They also said he had no experience in dealing with Russia, Estonia's huge
neighbour, with whom relations have been icy since the Baltic country's regained
its independence in 1991. "The road to Moscow goes via Brussels,"
Ilves said, when asked how he intends to handle relations with Russia. Brussels
is the main seat of the EU's institutions.
His five-year term as president starts from October 9th.
While holding few powers apart from representing the country abroad and being
the supreme military commander, the president is seen as a balancing power above
the fray of partisan politics.
But past presidents - especially Lennart Meri, who died earlier this year - have
shown that the head of state can also have a large influence on domestic opinion
and become an internationally respected figure.
Bush coming to town in November
The United States never recognized the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and
Lithuania into the Soviet Union in 1940, and has kept close ties with the three
countries since they regained their independence in 1991. Each one of them is
regarded with special affection by Americans, who well remember their key role
in bringing down the Soviet colossus,
There was something awful about the way these three were gobbled up in 1940 that
sticks in the gullet. Every thinking American knows this.
President George W. Bush is one of the same. He will visit Estonia before a NATO
summit in neighbouring Latvia in November, Estonian officials and the White
House said on September 7th. Bush will stop by the Baltic country on November
28th for talks with Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and President Ilves in
what is sure to be a cordial atmosphere.
Estonia joined the alliance, as well as the European Union, in 2004. The former
Soviet republic is a close US ally, with troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A White House statement said the president's trip would underscore NATO's role
in "fostering a Europe whole and free." It said the visit would
highlight "new allies that have successfully transitioned to free-market
democracies, contribute to the war on terror and offer lessons learned and
expertise to others pursuing liberty."
Former US President Bill Clinton visited Tallinn in June 2002, but Bush's visit
would be the first to the country by a sitting U.S. president. In February,
Clinton received one of Estonia's highest honours, the Order of the Cross of
Terra Mariana, for supporting the Baltic nation's bid to join NATO.
Here is a Finnish perspective on events:-
President-elect Toomas Ilves wants to unite nation
The office of the Presidency has a powerful symbolic significance in
Estonia, and the President is a key figure in moulding public opinion. He has
practical power primarily in questions of appointments. One task of the next
president will be to put forward a new commander for the Estonian armed forces,
to replace Tarmo Kouts, who is moving into politics.
Ilves said at a press conference on September 23rd that he would use the power
of his office to work on behalf of the people. He also said that he would serve
as a national unifier, as polls indicate that more than 60 per cent of the
people supported him.
Prime Minister Andrus Asnip of the Reform Party, who also supported Ilves, saw
the election as an important phase in bringing the division of the nation to an
Backing Ilves were his own Social Democratic Party as well as the right-wing
liberal Reform Party, and an alliance of the conservative Pro Patria and Res
While the powers of the Estonian President are largely ceremonial, the
Presidential race has nevertheless ignited the passions of the nation, and has
sharply divided the Estonian people. Thousands of supporters of Ilves gathered
in the Tammsaare Park next to the venue of the meeting of the Electoral College.
Ruutel's supporters mustered up a much smaller group.
"It is a question of principle. The people have expressed their opinions in
opinion polls. Now we will see if the message gets through or not. Otherwise the
same thing that happened in Hungary could happen here", said IT
professional Marten Vill, who predicted that Ilves would win.
Ruutel supporter, Centre Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar, said before the vote
that Ruutel's election would have a positive impact on development in Estonia.
He fears that with Ilves, the impact would be negative. "Ilves is
unpredictable in domestic politics", Savisaar said.
Casting a shadow over the vote was a court appeal lodged over the choice of two
The cities of Loksa and Sauen had first sent supporters of Ilves to the
Electoral College, and some of the representatives of the local councils had
later tried to replace them with supporters of Ruutel.
If both appeals are successful, Ilves would be deprived of the margin required
for being elected President.
But somehow now there is a momentum building up for a new president. That is
Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Budget surplus continues to rise
The Estonian economy is showing healthy signs of growth with the budget surplus
already reaching three billion kroons (192 billion Euro) as of the end of July,
New Europe reported.
The Estonian Finance Ministry, while announcing the figures, attributed the
healthy revenue expenditure ratio to the buoyant economic scenario.
When calculated on a seven months basis, the budget revenues were estimated at
17.2 per cent higher compared with the corresponding period of 2005. Most
significantly, the figure advanced by a billion kroons in just one month in
In all, the ministry said 37.3 billion kroons were paid into the state budget
over the January-July period, 60.8 per cent of the annual 2006 target.
Expenditures for the period amounted to 34.3 billion kroons, or 55.9 per cent of
Estonia continues to adhere to a surplus-based fiscal policy, with the
additional revenues going to a reserve fund. Recently the government endorsed
the size of the 2005 budget surplus - 1.8 billion kroons (115 million Euro) -
and decided to place the full sum into a pension reserve. Earlier this year, the
Statistical Office reported that the size of the surplus was 1.6 per cent of
GDP, the fourth highest in the EU. According to Eurostat, in 2005 Denmark had
the biggest budgetary surplus of 4.9 per cent in 2005.
Inevitably, political parties were at odds how to use the surplus, with Villu
Reiljan, the leader of the populist People's Union, one of the three parties in
the ruling coalition, proposing that the funds be used to boost the social
Work on Estlink cable begins in Gulf of Finland
The laying of the submarine section of the Estlink power cable connecting
Finland and Estonia started in Tallinn on September 11th. The 350-megawatt cable
is due to couple the Baltic and Nordic electricity markets for the first time,
News Room Finland reported.
Three-fourths of the 100-kilometre cable is to be laid at the bottom of the Gulf
of Finland and pushed slightly beneath the seabed to protect it, Indrek Aarna,
the chief executive of contractor Nordic Energy Link, said. Work on the cable is
due to be completed in September. The cable is to be taken into use at the end
of November or the beginning of December after tests have been completed. The
project is a 110 million Euro joint venture between Baltic utilities Eesti
Energia, Latvenergo and Lietuvos Energija, as well as Finland's Pohjolan Voima
and Helsinki Energy, the news report said.