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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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Update No: 316 - (26/04/07)

The fractured polity
Those who keep informed about Estonian affairs are aware that its political scene is fractured into many small parties. This entails coalition government. There have been almost as many governments as there have been years of independence.

They have all had much the same reformist policies, albeit former premier Mart Laar had the distinction of introducing the flat tax that has taken on elsewhere.

Laissez-faire and free markets are the guide-lines in an open commercial context, although one trammelled now by EU restrictions. The decision to enter the EU was largely a political one, to make independence from Russia utterly irrevocable.

New coalition government forms
Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip made history, however, on April 4 when he became the first leader to survive an election as Parliament officially voted him back into office. A coalition agreement saw Ansip's Reform Party join with IRL and the Social Democrats, forming an economically-liberal, politically-conservative government balanced by a soft left minority.

The Estonian Greens, who fell out of coalition talks, predicted an early end for the government because of Reform's dominating style.

Reform managed to bag most of the key cabinet positions, including the foreign minister's post, which had been contested by IRL leader Mart Laar. Instead Laar has decided to lead his party from outside the cabinet, opting for no ministerial position rather than a lowly one.

Another former prime minister, IRL's Juhan Parts, will return to a senior position, taking the post of minister of economic affairs and communications, which was vacated by Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar.

Former Tartu University rector Jaak Aaviksoo will become the new minister of defence, while former Tartu mayor and choir leader Laine Janes will be the new culture minister.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Justice Minister Rein Lang retained their positions, while former deputy parliamentary speaker Ene Ergma shifted up to become speaker of the house.

In the opposition camp, the Centre Party nominated Juri Ratas to become deputy speaker, a cushy role to compensate for being bumped from the post of mayor of Tallinn to make way for Savisaar.

Ansip said he hoped the new coalition would survive its full four-year term, a feat not yet accomplished by any Estonian government.
"We know, for example, that it took 70 years in Finland for a government to last through the electoral period. I hope it won't take that much time in Estonia," Ansip said. He said the parties would hold together if they made decisions by consensus.

Greens leader Marek Strandberg, however, said Reform's lack of desire to cede positions during negotiations made it unlikely the government would survive. "If this coalition is to work with the same mindset, then the lifespan will be very short," Strandberg told The Baltic Times. "If simple decisions about matters such as Cabinet positions cannot be made with choice, then there is no future for this coalition. The road to a non-working coalition is to neglect free will within," he said.

The coalition agreement contains some interesting goals, including reducing the HIV infection rate to European norms, substantially boosting parent payments and birth schemes, and renaming the Tallinn Airport after former president Lennart Meri, the great man of Estonian politics, who died recently.

In economic matters, the government has pledged to make the transition to a euro economy a "priority," but gave no indication of how it would achieve the necessary inflationary slow-down.

In answer to international business concerns, the government said it would "speed up" the application process for work permits.

It pledged to push ahead with its flat tax drop to 18 percent by 2011, as well as to increase the tax-free threshold to 3,000 kroons.

Despite dropping out of coalition talks, the Greens managed to push several key suggestions into the resulting coalition agreement.

Among them was the establishment of an alternative stock exchange for entrepreneurs that allows a company to float itself with 1 million kroons in assets, rather than the 1 million euro level required by the current Tallinn Stock Exchange.

The Greens also scored an agreement to make hospital fees cost-based and a push to introduce "health contracts" that promise individuals benefits in exchange for exercise.
In addition, 400 million kroons will be allocated to providing kindergarten places for every child, while parent payments will be increased to encourage families to expand. 

Estonia's new government
Prime Minister - Andrus Ansip (Reform)
Foreign Minister - Urmas Paet (Reform)
Economic Affairs and Communications Minister - Juhan Parts (IRL)
Defence Minister - Jaak Aaviksoo (IRL)
Justice Minister - Rein Lang (Reform)
Social Affairs Minister - Maret Maripuu (Reform)
Finance Minister - Ivari Padar (SDE)
Interior Minister - Juri Pihl (SDE)
Agriculture Minister - Helir-Valdor Seeder (IRL)
Public Administration Minister - Vallo Reimaa (IRL)
Culture Minister - Laine Janes (Reform)
Environment Minister - Jaanus Tamkivi (Reform)
Speaker of Parliament - Ene Ergma (IRL)
Deputy Speaker of Parliament - Kristiina Ojuland (Reform)
2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament - Juri Ratas (Centre)

Estonia police bans rally in protection of Soldier monument
As sign of Estonia's robust independence, the Ansip government is to dismantle a Soviet-era war monument. 

The Estonian police banned the rally "For tolerance and dialogue" (set for April 22nd} in the protection of the Liberator Soldier monument. Members of the voluntary movement "Night Watch" suggested staging it near the Clock of Freedom opposite the Tallinn Townhall and called on all supporters for preserving the monument to lay flowers at its pedestal. 

"We want to persuade the authorities not to put up fencing around the monument on May 9 so that all who wish, could lay flowers at the monument on the V-Day," Night Watch activist Dmitry Klensky said in an interview with Itar-Tass. 

The police press service reported that the ban on a rally was imposed in connection with an idea that "such actions represent a threat to public law and order". Besides, organizers ostensibly violated deadlines of sending applications to the town hall on staging mass events. 

On April 25, the common grave of Soviet soldiers near the monument will be opened, since the authorities decided to shift their remains to a military cemetery. Then, it is planned to dismantle the monument to the Liberator Soldier, which Estonian premier Andrus Ansip called "a symbol of Soviet occupation". 

The essence of the problem is that the Russian army that 'liberated' Estonia in WWII only exchanged Nazi control from Berlin for Communist control from Moscow. There was no species of freedom, quite the contrary. Estonians both under the Nazis and the Communists, had helot status and unsurprisingly do not regard the Soviet occupation as anything other than what it was - a brutal foreign occupation. However during the communist years the Soviets drafted into the Estonian workforce large numbers of Russians and other slavs, who found themselves marooned there on the independence of Estonia - many of these are now Estonian citizens. Obviously they have a different feeling for the dead soldiers commemorated in the monuments and military graves at the centre of this "Liberator Soldier" dispute. 

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FOREIGN RELATIONS

President Ilves calls to boost ties with EU, NATO


Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, again voiced his will recently to cement ties with the 27 member EU bloc and NATO, HS reported. 
"A small country can seek to get closer into the core of the EU, and NATO as well," Ilves said in the Presidential Palace in Tallinn before his visit to Finland. Ilves' was calling for Estonia, a country of just 1.4 million inhabitants to have a say in international affairs, and also at times influence decisions connected with its larger neighbour Russia, it was reported. 
Before Estonia joined NATO, Russia made stronger threats of deteriorating relations than Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed to Finland over the same matter. Ilves and his wife Evelin Ilves were scheduled to arrive in Finland on March 21st for an official state visit. Joining them was a delegation of about 50 business representatives, journalists and Defence Forces Commander Ants Laaneots. The guests were to sail on the Pitka, a military vessel. 
Pitka is named after Johan Pitka, former commander of the Estonian Navy. He fled to Finland in 1940 and proposed to President Risto Ryti that the two countries form a federation, with a common head of state and a common defence forces commander. As members of the EU, Estonia and Finland are linked closer together than ever before. The traditional good relations between Estonia and Finland can also be seen in the personal life of Ilves. Ilves is a supporter of a broader, and a more closely-knit European Union, it was reported. Although the model of a large and strong EU does not seem very realistic, Ilves refuses to make any dividing lines within the EU. The Estonian president is worried at the prospect that the constitutional treaty for the EU might not be ratified, HS reported. 
A proposal for closer cooperation of the Eurozone countries was also attractive to Ilves, it was reported. If a common taxation and social policy were possible, the next step would be a common foreign policy. President Ilves wants the new government that is to be formed in Estonia to take measures to fight overheating of the economy. Inflation, spurred by rapid economic growth, has been Estonia's stumbling block in meeting the criteria of the Eurozone. 

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