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ESTONIA


 



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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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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: 306 - (29/06/06)

Build-up to presidential election
Current president Arnold Ruutel's term is set to expire in October. He is standing for re-election, but is not the favourite to win, being in his seventies. 
The Estonian president is elected to a five-year term by the 101-member Parliament. If no contender receives two-thirds of the votes in the legislative branch after three rounds, an electoral body-which includes the Parliament and representatives from local government councils-has four weeks to choose a head of state.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves is the preferred contender for Estonia's highest office, according to a poll by Turu-uuringute published in Eesti Paevaleht. 36 per cent of respondents would like the Social Democratic Party (SDE) member to become president. Ilves currently serves as one of Estonia's representatives in the European Parliament
Ruutel of the Estonian People's Union (ERL) is second with 24 per cent, followed by Edgar Savisaar of the Estonian Centre Party (KESK) with 11 per cent. 
Since April 2005, Estonian Reform Party (ER) leader Andrus Ansip has served as prime minister. The governing coalition also includes the KESK and the ERL. Since 1991, only one of the Baltic nation's administrations has lasted more than two years. Estonia joined the European Union (EU) in May 2004. 
Last October, Saavisar, Estonia's economy and communications minister, threatened to sue three former prime ministers-Mart Laar, Juhan Parts and Andres Tarand-over allegations regarding the price of his summer home. Saavisar declared, "As I am right and they lie, there is no doubt what the court case will lead to in a couple of years."

Ansip says it's time for Ruutel to go
Ruutel, an outsider who won in 2001 as a compromise candidate, is certainly vulnerable and may not even stand.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip took a bold political step at the end of April when he said Estonia needed a change of president. Speaking at the Reform Party's general meeting on April 29, Ansip acknowledged the performance of incumbent President Ruutel but said that the country needed someone younger as head of state. He added that nobody could "diminish Ruutel's role as president insofar as Estonia is now a member of the European Union and NATO."
Estonia has a particular cult of youth. Its main leaders after independence were all in their twenties and thirties. This was a policy pursued vigorously by then president Lennart Meri, himself in his sixties. He wanted the new generation brought up under Gorbachev to take over, convinced that the older generations were too stuck in a Soviet mind-set.
There is something to be said for having a dignified older person in the presidency, as in Latvia and Lithuania, and many other countries. The concept of the Elder Statesman is not necessarily a bad one after all, particularly in an era of change. 

Cabinet approves four-year budget plan
Estonia has pursued a bold free-market policy, which has neen emulated elsewhere in the former communist world. It initiated the flat tax that has taken on in countries as diverse as Slovakia and Ireland. But there are always losers in such a harsh economic regime, whose lot needs to be alleviated.
The Estonian government has approved a budget strategy for the years 2007 - 2010 that calls for added expenditures for social needs and defence. The combined volume of the four-year budget plan amounts to 335 billion kroons (21.4 billion euros), which includes some 49 billion kroons in external funds. Spending for national defence will rise, so that by 2010 it comprises 2 percent of its gross domestic product - in line with NATO requirements. 
Speaking at a press conference on May 31, Prime Minister Ansip described the budget blueprint as a "good strategy." The prime minister also stressed an increase in the relative share of spending for internal security, culture and foreign representations. 
Finance Minister Aivar Soerd said the budget strategy for four years marked a big step forward in long-term planning of the state budget and cooperation between different institutions of the state. "Implementation will ensure the rapid socially and regionally balanced economic development of Estonia. It is the most important strategic document of the Estonian state, which must reflect the interests and expectations of the largest possible portion of society, survive changes in political trends and make a maximum contribution to Estonia's development," Soerd said.
"This year the strategy was for the first time drawn up on the basis of good practices and methods of strategic planning," the minister added. 
In accordance with the budget plan, the overall tax burden will fall 1.6 percentage points by 2010 and comprise 31.6 percent of GDP (versus 33.2 percent now). It also calls for the continuation of taxing the income of both individuals and legal persons with a proportional tax.

Estonia launches another attack against Soviet past
The Estonian authorities are preparing to launch another attack on the Baltic state's Soviet past. The monument to the Soviet Warrior-Liberator may be removed from the centre of Tallinn. In the eyes of the Estonian authorities and nationalists it is not a sign of respect to the people who gave up their lives to liberate their country from the Nazis, but a symbol of the "occupation." Soviets forcibly occupied the country in 1939 as a result of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop carve-up between Germany and the USSR. In 1941 the Soviets were replaced and driven out by the Germans. In turn the Soviets re-invaded in 1944 after a Nazi occupation of three years, and drove out the Germans. Then the Soviets tried to convince the Estonians that they were now one of fifteen all -union republics of the Soviet Union. During the long Soviet occupation, they murdered and deported to the gulags and elsewhere, most of the middle class citizens and transferred many people into the country, particularly Russians,from other parts of the Soviet Union. Many remained in Estonia after its final independence in 1991. As a result 30% of Estonians now are of Slav ethnicity, including more than half of the population of the capital Tallinn. 
Recently a small (although maybe 300 people is a lot for the Estonian capital), but extremely vociferous rally took place in the centre of Tallinn involving supporters of nationalist organizations. People both "for" and "against" took part in the rally. There were those "against" the presence of the monument in the centre of the city, and those "for" it to be placed somewhere a bit further out of sight. So that it does not remind everyone how the small Baltic nation suffered under the yoke of Moscow.
Furthermore, some of the more tempestuous Estonians suggested not simply removing the monument, but demonstratively blowing it up. Especially fervent people even started to wrap ropes around the statue in order to clearly demonstrate to those present how they should treat "these kinds of monuments." Several heavily drunk young people poured paint over the statue. The vandalism of the "freedom fighters" did not at all provoke the reaction which the nationalists had been hoping for - the next day some inhabitants of the Estonian capital brought flowers to the monument, many citizens, after all, are of Russian ethnicity and some would have lost men folk in the war. 
The Estonian Head of State, Andrus Ansip, also got involved, and it emerged that he too had long been disturbed by the presence of the statue. The monument to the Warrior-Liberator "is a symbol of the occupation and it should have been removed to another place a long time ago," just as was done 15-18 years ago with other Soviet monuments, Ansip said. According to him, the monument, which originally stood as an epitaph, "has become a symbol of the occupation which cannot be tolerated any longer." At the same time, the prime minister suggested that this problem should be solved correctly and within the law: "It can be transferred to Siselinn cemetery. If it emerges that soldiers were buried under the monument, then their remains will have to be reburied." Of course it would not make a good impression for the head of state to climb onto the monument with some rope or pour paint all over it… Although you get the impression that if he had wanted to, Mr Ansip would not have deprived himself of this "pleasure." 

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