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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 8,383 6,413 5,500 95
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 3,870 4,130 3,870 72
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 322 - (25/10/07)

Estonia is mired in numerous controversies right now, both at home and abroad. 

A corruption scandal
Two former Estonian government ministers and the CEO of the Baltic's biggest construction firm have been named suspects in a wide-ranging investigation into corruption. 

Estonia's Security Police, Kapo, is investigating whether bribes were exchanged in return for favourable land swap deals between construction companies and government ministries. 

Villu Reiljan, former environment minister, and Ester Tuiksoo, former agricultural minister, have both been named official suspects, alongside construction company Merko Ehitus and its CEO Toomas Annus. 

The recent naming of suspects comes more than a year after the case was first launched. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity at Kapo headquarters, with a string of people being called to answer questions. 

The allegations center on a series of land exchanges between the Land Board, a department of the Environmental Ministry, and several businessmen, Einar Vettus, Tarmo Pedisaar and Tullio Liblik. The former Land Board director general Kalev Kangur has also been named a suspect. 

The land exchanged was deemed unprofitable because it was restricted by environmental controls, however the businessmen were able to swap it for government-owned land in better locations. 
The case has now widened to include allegations that Tuiksoo, the former agricultural minister, accepted a bribe to relocate her ministry to a new Merko-constructed building called Delta Plaza. 
Tuiksoo denied any wrongdoing, and said the tender process to find a new premise for the ministry resulted with no suitable applicants. 

Reiljan, the former head of the People's Union party, aired Kapo's allegations against him during a press conference on October 16. 

Reiljan said police believe he received an apartment in a Merko building at a discounted price, and he is further alleged to have taken part in a hunting expedition that was paid for by the company. 

In his defense, Reiljan said he had never received land, apartments, money or other benefits. His lawyer, Aivar Pilv, has called for more detailed allegations to allow his client to defend himself. 
Merko Ehitus and Annus said it was "incomprehensible" why they were named suspects, and said the company had acted within Estonian laws. 

Under Estonia's criminal justice system, suspects are publicly named and their alleged wrongdoings aired before any charges are laid. 

Prosecutors said that it was possible that charges may not be brought against people named as suspects if there was insufficient evidence. 

Estonia's patience with Rene van der Linden has finally broken
Speaker of the Estonian parliament Ene Ergma has sent a letter to van der Linden, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), refuting numerous assertions he made during his recent visit to Estonia, reports BNS. According to Ergma, van der Linden's comments provoked widespread controversy and forced her to answer. 

"Your recent repeated misleading statements have created confusion and bewilderment both in the Estonian public and internationally," wrote Ergma, of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. 

The speaker added that the inaccuracies did not hurt Estonia alone but discredited PACE and endangered its international standing. 

"This leads to our request: give up spreading erroneous information about Estonia," Ergma said. 

The speaker of the Estonian parliament referred to Van der Linden's take on the voting rights of aliens in local elections and the right of juveniles to apply for Estonian citizenship. 

"You repeatedly erroneously stated that stateless persons have no possibility of voting in local elections in this country. This assertion is a lie," Ergma wrote. 

She pointed out that the Constitution adopted in a referendum in 1992 did not link the right of voting in local elections with citizenship but only with permanent residence in Estonia. 

"According to our Local Government Councils Election Act, an alien who has attained eighteen years of age by the day of election, who resides permanently in the territory of the respective town of rural muunicipality and and resides in Estonia on the basis of long-term or permanent residence permit is entitled to vote the election," Ergma said. 

The speaker said that van der Linden's assertion that children of stateless persons born in Estonia were not granted the right to Estonian citizenship was also wrong. 

"The assertion is wrong as well," she said. "A person under 15 years old born in Estonia is granted Estonian citizenship by naturalization if his or her parents apply for it." 

Ergma underlined that in that case the person has to take no tests or pass any additional clauses to be granted citizenship. 

The parliament speaker added that van der Linden's attention had been drawn to his mistakes even while he was still in Tallinn and expressed amazement that the PACE president had apparently not made any effort to correct his erroneous statements. 

Excerpts from the Estonian Citizenship Act and the Local Government Council Election Act were included with Ergma's letter, to confirm just how wide of the mark Van der Linden is. 

Even before his latest visit, van der Linden was widely seen as being strongly pro-Russian, Estonians being very prickly on this matter. On his previous visit, he was critical of Estonia's decision to relocate a Red Army memorial (as were many others). On this visit he referred to there being "millions" of disenfranchised people in the Baltic States. 

Van der Linden isn't the only diplomat to be the target of Estonian ire. Another recent visitor, the United Nations' special discrimination rapporteur Doudou Diene has also come under fire, this time from Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. 

In an interview with the regional newspaper Valgamaalane, Ilves told Estonians to be proud of their achievements. 

"We need not pay attention to such propagandistic statements," Ilves said, commenting on Diene's advice that Estonia should have several official languages. 

"If Diene recommended that several official languages should be adopted in Estonia, I will recall that there are four million Turks living in Germany," he added. "Why doesn't that country have several official languages?" 

Speaking of relations between Estonia and Russia, Ilves stated that the April disturbances, the so-called Bronze Soldier riots, had been planned long in advance - and not by Estonia. 

"Russia has 143 million and Estonia 1.3 million inhabitants," he added. "It is supreme arrogance to believe that we are going to influence such a large country. If there is a desire to show us as being bad, they will do it." 

Ilves underlined that it was in Russia's interests internally to create a bad reputation for Estonia. 

Estonia FM puts a forceful case
The Baltic States are pre--occupied with energy issues as a winter looms. None more so than Estonia since it had a nasty spat with Russia earlier this year concerning removal of a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn and a subsequent cyberspace-war.

Gazprom's threat to cut gas supplies to Ukraine over unpaid bills is being seen as fresh evidence of Russia's desire to intermingle economic and political policies, according to a high-level meeting of European Union foreign ministers. At a meeting of the so-called "3+3 group" of Baltic and Benelux states held in Jurmala, Latvia, all six representatives agreed that mixing strategic and economic interests was now a fact of life in dealing with Russia. 

Asked about Gazprom's threat to cut supplies to Ukraine as a result of a $1.3bn debt, Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said: "Maybe I can speak for all of us. We briefly discussed this new information. There is no doubt that energy plays not only an economic but also a political role in the 21st century Russian-EU relationship. 

"I think the EU has to be ready for such issues in the future as well, and I must say that this discussion between Russia and Ukraine is at least partially connected with the recent elections in Ukraine." 

The Jurmala meeting was part of an initiative by some of the EU's smaller countries to present a united front not only to Russia's increasing control of energy supplies, but also to demands from some of the EU's larger member states that they should have their voting power restricted. 

Lithuanian foreign minister Petras Vaitiekunas was keen to remind the press of the Baltic states' achievements so far, saying "We three Baltic countries have really created a success story." 

However, the problems associated with adopting a common energy policy with regard to Russia became apparent when BNE asked if unity was possible on issues such as the Nord Stream gas pipeline planned to run below the Baltic Sea, in which Gazprom holds a majority stake. 

Benelux countries stand to enhance their energy security by plugging into a direct supply of gas from Russia, but the Baltic states and Poland would be bypassed, allowing Russia to restrict supplies if it so desires, without affecting delivery into the industrial heartland of Western Europe. 

Dutch foreign minister Maxime Ferhagen gave the official EU line, saying: "In general, we in the European union should deal with energy security and energy supplies for the future. We need an energy policy as such in the European Union. It is one of the issues that must be dealt with not only on an individual basis but also in a European approach. 

But even Ferhagen's reply had become somewhat equivocal by the end: "Regarding the Nord Stream line, in general it is possible for member states to have conflicts with suppliers, but there should be guaranteed supplies for all members of the EU including the Baltic states, and that's where we need an energy policy. I'm not against the Nord Stream pipeline, but I'm in favour of energy solidarity and energy security for all the member states." 

Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet was much more explicit, characterising Nord Stream as a deeply flawed project from the outset in which "the political reasons were more important than the environmental ones. We find that this is not correct and that is why Estonia finally did not give permission [to Nord Stream] to investigate the Estonian economic zone in the Baltic Sea." 

"We have always said that it was not correct the way this project was started, that it was discussed only with some countries around the Baltic Sea, and not with all," Paet told BNE, alluding to the fact that Nord Stream only contacted the Estonian government in its unsuccessful attempt to carry out a sea bed survey, after Finland raised objections to the original route. 

"There are lots of environmental concerns because we all know that the International Maritime Organization declared the Baltic as a fragile sea area, and that's why we find that it was incorrect not to investigate real alternatives to this route. 

"The main alternative was not investigated and the main alternative should be on the mainland, not in the Baltic Sea," Paet affirmed. 

Because of its wider EU implications, in many ways the foreign ministers' conference was even more significant than another meeting being held just 100 kilometers away involving the prime ministers of the three Baltic States. 

Latvian PM Aigars Kalvitis, Estonian PM Andrus Ansip, and Lithuanian PM Gediminas Kirkilas met October 2 and 3 in Dikli, Latvia. 

The Prime Ministers of the Baltic States discussed matters of trilateral importance as well as current foreign policy issues. 

On energy cooperation the Prime Ministers stressed the necessity of permanent co-operation between the energy authorities and energy companies of the Baltic States. 

The Prime Ministers emphasized the importance of the integration of power and gas supply systems into the energy systems and energy markets of the EU. Further development and implementation of interconnection projects in the region of the Baltic States should be fostered in order to ensure energy market integration within the EU. In addition, it was agreed that the power interconnection projects with the neighbouring EU countries should be further developed thus paving the way for further integration into UCTE and NORDEL systems. 

Other matters discussed included Schengen accession and cooperation, economic problems, migration, emissions quotas and visa arrangements with the United States. 

The Prime Ministers also reaffirmed their support for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. In this context they underlined the importance of solving all relevant outstanding issues such as the elimination of discriminatory railway tariffs and fulfillment of commitments regarding export duties on roundwood timber. 

There was some disappointment however that despite a concerted campaign to woo the U.S. over introducing a visa-free regime, the legislation approved by Congress does not fully meet expectations and as a result citizens of the Baltic states will still be subject to artificial barriers. The Prime Ministers reiterated that the visa free regime is one of the priorities of the Baltic States towards the US and expressed their determination to continue an open dialogue about political and technical aspects of the US Visa Waiver Program. 

The next Prime Ministers' Council meeting will be held during the Estonian presidency in 2008. 
   

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