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ESTONIA


 



In-depth Business Intelligence 

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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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
45,226 

Population
1,341,664

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Estonians 63.9%
Russians 29%
Ukrainians 2.7%

Capital 
Tallinn

Currency 
Kroon

President 
Arnold Rüütel


Update No: 298 - (27/10/05)

Estonia first country to hold online elections 
On October 16th, elections to local municipal councils took place in Estonia. Along with the spring resignation of the government, this was a major event of its internal political life. 
In the process Estonia, which has a record of leading the way, as with its introduction of the flat tax, scored yet another first. It became the first country to open its local elections to internet voting on a nationwide level, although only about one percent of the votes were cast online, AP reported.
Estonia, with a population of roughly 1.4 million, counted a total of about half a million votes in its local government council elections, according to preliminary numbers on the Estonian National Electoral Committee's website. Roughly 6,000 of those votes were cast online, according to preliminary town-level tallies posted on the site.
Election officials told the Associated Press that they considered the elections a success and had received no reports of glitches or attempted hacking. In January, they tested the system by having approximately 800 residents in the city of Tallinn register their responses to a poll.
The online system works through use of an electronic identification card. Since 2002 the card has been mandatory for all Estonian residents older than 15. The card is intended as a means of proving one's identity at any place - from banks to government offices - that normally requires identification to process forms or transactions.
To vote online, users must insert their cards into readers connected to their computers and log on to the voting website. Once authenticated, they cast their ballots through an encrypted system and then affix their digital signatures to verify the selections before transmitting them.
Estonia is said to be the first country that has carried out internet voting nationwide in an actual election, although France, the UK and the U.S. have also conducted pilots.

Municipal elections in mid-October mollify Russians
On October 16th, elections to local municipal councils took place in Estonia. Along with the spring resignation of the government, this was a major event of its internal political life. 
The main theme of the elections was the strategic question of mutual relations with its eastern neighbour, Russia. The European Union militated in support of those political forces in Estonia, which agree to a moderation of positions concerning Moscow and the Russian-speaking population of the country.
Estonia's Centrist Party, enjoying support from the country's Russian-speaking minority, has the greatest credibility with the population, as follows from the early returns of the elections. Centrist Party candidates collected over 25 per cent of all votes cast. The Centrists now have the ability to form municipal bodies of power on their own in Estonia's three biggest cities - Tallinn, Narva and Kohtla-Jarve, a very marked shift.

The Battle for the Capital
The elections in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, were the most revealing. The fact is that Estonia is an agrarian country with a very low population density. In separate municipal councils, such, for example, as Ruhnu, the number of inhabitants amounts to only a few thousand. But more than 400.000 persons live in Tallinn, and that is more than a third of the population of the country today.
In the capital the Centrists received the backing of 41 per cent, in Narva, 59 per cent. In Kohtla-Jarve they shared 67 per cent of the votes in alliance with the United People's Party that campaigns for the interests of the Russian-speaking minority. 
A Juhan Kivirahk opinion poll in Tallinn believes it is the votes of Russian speakers that determined the outcome of the voting in the capital. 
The Centrist Party has support from the Russian-speaking minority due to its policy of resolving the problem of Russians' social status, in particular, citizenship and language matters. The party also seeks normalization of relations with Russia. 
Over 20 per cent of Estonia's permanent population (260,000 people) do not have Estonian citizenship. An overwhelming majority of them are Russians. Over 100,000 permanent residents of Estonia are Russian citizens, but many more are of Russian origin.

A Geopolitical Prospect 
During the municipal elections sharp local questions made up most of the agenda. Despite entry into the EU into 2004, Estonia still suffers from a high rate of unemployment (in 2004 - 9.7 %), a low level of social security, a low birth rate, a low competitiveness of the local agrarian sector in the European market, a low level of health services, and so on. A serious problem also is the high level of corruption in the municipal councils. 
However, it is clear to everybody in Estonia that these problems are profound and their solution will hardly be affected directly by the municipal elections. The main theme of them concerned geopolitics and mutual relations of Estonia with its eastern neighbour, Russia. Considering the above-mentioned strategic value of municipal elections in Tallinn, various forces, both in Estonia, and over its borders, tried to transform these elections into a vote over the further foreign policy of the Estonian state. 
The situation was aggravated this year after the refusal of the Estonian Parliament to ratify the agreement on the Russian - Estonian frontier, already after its text was coordinated at the level of the Ministries for Foreign Affairs. Official Moscow saw this as an insult. Simultaneously, a sharp reaction of the Kremlin caused quite valid statements of the Estonian politicians about the necessity to demand compensations from Russia for 45 years of occupation of Estonia.
Finally, one more irritant for Putin's regime became an active participation of the present Estonian leadership in the encouragement of the process of democratisation in the post-Soviet space. Especially negative for the Kremlin was the aspiration of Tallinn to take part in the settlement of the conflict in Moldova, and also its participation in the geopolitical initiative of creating a bloc between three Baltic states and the countries of Caucasus - Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Until recently the position of Estonia and the other Baltic states concerning Russia always found understanding in the European Union's leadership and they enjoyed active support from the American administration. However, for the last half a year the geopolitical situation in the Baltic region changed drastically.
The results of the recent parliamentary elections in Germany, and also the assignment of Frank Walter Steinmeier to the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, evidently shows that Berlin will not change its course on "strategic partnership" with Moscow in the field of power politics. Moreover, Vladimir Putin's last visit to London shows that such countries as Britain, France and Belgium already stand in a queue to get connected to the future German-Russian gas pipeline. Simultaneously, the information on development of cooperation in the power sphere between Russia and the USA has appeared. In such a situation the active position of Estonia and its East European partners in the "anti-Putin" bloc started to irritate the European Community's leadership. 
Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, has recently said that his country does not wish to get any compensation from Russia for the period of occupation and called upon his compatriots "to stop living in the past." In the case of success of the strategic line of the European Community's leadership, Estonia will become the first "neutralized" link in the chain of the East European countries, which are inclined against Russia. It seems that nobody in Brussels now remembers that the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union in 1940 started from the refusal of Berlin to support Tallinn in its attempt to resist the imperial claims of Moscow.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Estonia, Russia must be good neighbours - Estonian ambassador

Estonia's new Ambassador to Russia, Marina Kaljurand, advocates broader good-neighbourly relations with Russia, Interfax News Agency reported. 
"Estonia has one policy regarding Russia and its quintessence is that it wants to maintain good-neighbourly relations with its eastern neighbour," Kaljurand told Interfax ahead of her arrival in Moscow on November 1. 
She described current Estonian-Russian relations as "patchy." 
"Problems persist and there has been very little bilateral political contact. If politicians meet, they do so mostly at multilateral events. Moreover, Estonia and Russia look at their past from different angles," the Estonia ambassador said. 
Kaljurand said, however, that there are positive examples in bilateral relations. "The two countries' interior ministries are cooperating effectively, and so are the border guards and the culture ministries," she said. 
The Estonian ambassador said that, "the two countries should intensify bilateral contacts and initiate a dialogue, if their relations are to be normalized," adding that she would lay a strong emphasis on this aspect. 
Kaljurand said joint projects should be implemented. "There's been an intensive discussion of a project to build a bridge across the border river Narva. The project would be of symbolic significance and help boost trade and contacts between people. Estonia has good summer children's camps and would be glad to receive Russian orphaned children," she said. 
"But most importantly, a dialogue should be initiated, a dialogue between ordinary people, politicians and statesmen. We must learn to understand each other," the Estonian ambassador said. 

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Tele2 puts brakes on Baltics 


Tele2 AB, (Tele2), (Stockholmsborsen:TEL2A) and (Stockholmsborsen:TEL2B), the leading alternative pan-European telecommunications company, announced that, based on the current regulatory environment in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, it has decided to stop any further investments in its fixed line operations in these countries. 
Tele2 intends to stop product development and marketing of fixed telephony in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Tele2 will continue servicing its existing customers, but will not take on new customers. Tele2 will continue to offer mobile telephony as one of the leading operators in these countries. 
Lars-Johan Jarnheimer, CEO and President of Tele2 commented, "We regret that, given the current regulatory environment in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we do not, at this point, see any alternative other than to stop further investments in our fixed line operations. The implementation of the new EU legal regulatory framework is very late and the necessary work required to be done by the local regulatory authorities to ensure an open and competitive market has barely started. We are not able, for example, to launch broadband in these markets. Instead, we will focus on continuing to offer our successful mobile products and services to our customers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania." 

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