Books on Estonia
Update No: 305 - (30/05/06)
Estonia Votes to Ratify Stalled Draft Constitution
Estonia has once again shown its impeccable European credentials. Its lawmakers
on May 10th ratified the European Union's draft constitution, a document whose
approval has largely stalled elsewhere after French and Dutch voters rejected
The charter, which aims to strengthen Europe's influence on the world stage by
creating the post of an EU foreign minister, easily won approval from lawmakers
in Estonia, one of the 10 countries that joined the bloc in 2004. There 73 votes
in favour in the 101-seat parliament.
Estonia is the 15th of the 25 EU members to approve the document, which is
unlikely to come into force anytime soon. Many members put ratification plans on
hold after French and Dutch voters rejected the draft last year amid unease over
the bloc's course.
Finland is also expected to ratify the text, designed to streamline EU
institutions and improve decision-making in the enlarged 25-member bloc, in the
next few weeks.
The EU constitutional treaty has to be endorsed by all 25 members of the
enlarged bloc before it comes into force. Of the 14 states that have finished
the parliamentary stage of ratification, 12 have also gone the last step by
signing the instruments of ratification.
Two countries, Spain and Luxembourg, have held successful referendums. Other
countries that have promised voters a chance to have their say on the
constitution as part of the ratification procedure include two of the most
Eurosceptic member states, Denmark and the UK.
Ending the impasse
The European Commission is to adopt a paper containing its own suggestions for
ending the impasse. Among other things, it will suggest boosting EU-wide
co-operation in the fight against terrorism, in order to show citizens that
Europe can help solve problems central to citizens' lives.
The EU is divided between countries that think the constitution can be revived
in something like its original form, and those that think it is dead. Leaders
agreed in June last year on a "period of reflection" to help soothe
The debate due at a summit in Brussels this June will be the first serious
attempt to discuss possible next steps. Most observers expect little progress to
be made resolving these differences until Germany takes over the rotating
presidency of the EU, in the first half of 2007.
Angela Merkel will be the key figure here. She has so far been an outstanding
success in her new job. To rescue the EU constitution would be the greatest
achievement possible for a German chancellor. It would probably need a new
French president, better at galvanizing the people than Chirac.
President met with Presidents of Ukraine and Georgia
The summit in Lithuania in early May was a decisive event for all concerned. It
was made memorable by the presence of Dick Cheney who used the occasion to blast
Moscow and Minsk for their retrograde governments. A new mini-Cold War is
perhaps in the offing.
In Vilnius, Estonian President Arnold Ruutel met with President Victor
Yushchenko of Ukraine and President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia. They
discussed cooperation between their countries. The leaders spoke about Estonia's
support of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic ambitions, Ukrainian-Georgian relations,
energy and economic policies and regional security issues. Yushchenko said
"we are interested to use Estonia's experience to join European
Yushchenko and Ruutel agreed to re-establish an interstate commission in order
to activate a bilateral dialogue and particularly improve economic relations.
Yushchenko thanked his counterpart for supporting the Ukrainian diaspora in
Estonia and helping Ukraine to join the European Union.
Ansip says it's time for Ruutel to go
Ruutel's tenure of his job, however, is under question; and this is so from an
august source. There is a presidential election later in the year. Ruutel, an
outsider who won in 2001, 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.
The following is a local analysis of the coming race:-
Ilves versus Savisaar in presidential poll?
Apr 19, 2006
By Kairi Kurm
The presidential jockeying is reaching full stride in Estonia. According to
polls, most residents would like to see Social Democrat and European Parliament
member Toomas Hendrik Ilves as the next head of state. At the same time, the
third most favoured choice is a person whose name isn't even on any party list -
the ubiquitous leader of the Centre Party, Edgar Savisaar.
Meanwhile the incumbent, Arnold Ruutel, the second most popular choice, has yet
to announce whether he will run for a second term. His candidacy has only been
put forward by the People's Union, while right-wing parties and the Social
Democrats are desperate to grant Estonia a new president.
The People's Union believes Ruutel still has until the end of summer to
decide. Lea Kiivit, secretary general of the People's Union, told Eesti
Paevaleht that it was unfathomable why Ruutel, who turns 78 next month, should
be under pressure to make up his mind.
"People with better political memory know that Lennart Meri informed the
public in 1996 about his decision to run for the second term only in
mid-August," she said.
Ruutel did, however, provide some clarity when he hinted that he had no
intention of running in the parliamentary round. And if lawmakers prove unable
to elect a president, there will be another round via an electoral college.
Ruutel said he had not yet decided whether he would enter the race at that
At the same time, the president, speaking to students at Tartu University's
Narva College, pointed to his age as one reservation. "I have lived quite a
few years. It is nice when representatives of the younger generation are
nominated and have the chance to be elected [in Parliament]," Ruutel said.
The favourite candidate, Ilves, argued that there was no sense in holding a
debate if a candidate's decision to participate was not clear. He said parties
should think about Estonia's image rather than try to outwit each other.
"Since, at the end of local government elections, the head of People's
Union Villu Reiljan said they had the necessary electoral votes, then their aim
is probably to torpedo the elections in Parliament," said Ilves.
In accordance with the Constitution, the president of the Republic shall be
elected by Parliament, but if the legislature fails to grant two-thirds of the
votes (i.e., 68 votes) for one candidate, the chairman of the Riigikogu
(Estonia's parliament) must convene an electoral body - comprised of members of
the Riigikogu and representatives of the local government councils - to elect
the president within one month. This is precisely how Ruutel, an outsider in
2001, came to power. And top Estonian politicians do not want history to repeat
Savisaar, who is minister of economy and communications, has so far not
announced whether he will run in the presidential elections. "When Lennart
Meri was asked whether he would run for a second term, he said he would reply to
the question 24 hours before the elections, and no sooner," Savisaar told
the daily Postimees.
Still, if Ruutel should decide not to put forth his candidacy, support for
Savisaar would likely rise. A poll carried out by the daily Eesti Paevaleht
shows that Savisaar would receive 14 per cent and Ilves 6 per cent of the pro-Ruutel
vote. According to the same poll, 35 per cent of respondents would back Ilves,
24 per cent Ruutel and 11 per cent Savisaar. "I don't know what happens if
Ruutel should decide to step down," Savisaar confessed to Eesti Paevaleht.
"But I know what happens if we both run at the same time. In this case, our
votes will disperse mutually, and a third candidate would cut through the two of
us nicely - just like a knife through butter. In this sense, running at the same
time is neither useful for me, nor him."
Estonians support Ilves for his language and communication skills, which would
enable him to better represent Estonia in the international spotlight. Savisaar,
however, believes these qualities are not important for a future president. In
his words, the main tasks of the president are "to maintain the nation's
confidence, state power and the president's institution. I have seen one
president whose support was very strong all over the world. It was Mikhail
Gorbachev, who was friends with Bush, Chirac and other heads of nations, but
who, at the same time, drop by drop, lost the credit of his country until he was
left without any faith."
"Then he became King Lear, who was walking on an empty beach with no one to
rely on. For this reason, I do not take the argument that we need a president
for the outside world seriously," Savisaar said.
The main difference between Ilves and Savisaar is their approach to Estonia's
relationship with Russia. Savisaar has been accused several times for working on
behalf of Russian interests, while Ilves has sometimes recklessly suggested
ignoring Russia's demands.
Bank of Estonia forecasts economic growth in 2007
The Bank of Estonia released a new batch of forecasts, predicting that this
year's economic growth rate would amount to 8.1 per cent and 7.6 per cent in
2007. 1.4 and 0.7 percentage points lowered the bank's previous forecasts,
respectively, New Europe reported.
In the bank's opinion, consumer prices will increase 3.6 per cent this year and
3.0 per cent in year 2007. These growth forecasts of the central bank are
slightly lower than those by the finance ministry.
Radisson SAS hotel makes up half of sales
In central Tallinn, the Radisson SAS hotel earned an operating profit of 98
million Estonian crowns (6.26m Euro) on sales of 170m crowns in 2005. The
average occupancy rate of the hotel's 280 rooms during the year was 74 per cent.
The number of visitors was 110,400, 3,000 more that in the preceding year, New
Sam Holmberg, the Director General said the result of 2005 was as expected. At
the same time, he forecast that significant changes would take place on the
hotel market of the Estonian capital in the coming couple of years. The number
of hotel rooms in Tallinn is about to grow by at least 30 per cent by the start
of 2008 from the roughly 5,300 hotel rooms now. "Two years from now there
will be over 7,000 hotel rooms in the Estonian capital and development will
continue after that, albeit at a little bit slower pace," Holmberg told
journalists. The extra capacities are estimated to bring the average occupancy
rate down to below 50 per cent from the present 60 per cent. In the near future
hotels on the market will be expected to make efforts to better position
themselves. Holdmberg further stated that "Everyone will be trying to find
his place, the standards and images of hotels will change. There will be a lot
of repositioning" Radisson SAS is part of the international Rezidor SAS
Hospitality chain that is active in 49 countries.