Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N
N E W S:
News Review for Estonia
All the important news from Estonia
since 25 March 2000
Politics and foreign affairs
The Estonian government celebrated its one-year anniversary in power. Prime Minister Mart Laar applauded the work of the government, but stressed that the coming year would prove to be a challenge. He stressed that the focus of the government would be on administrative reform, as well as EU and NATO integration. Finance Minister Siim Kallas also outlined several big projects, such as the construction of the National Art Museum, a large investment into research and development and doubling funding for regional programmes.
Latvian Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs hosted his counterparts, Valentinas Milaknis of Lithuania and Mihkel PÃ¤rnoja of Estonia, in discussions about regional co-operation, especially in the sphere of energy. Issues related to the planned united and open Baltic energy market featured prominently, as the market is due to open by 2002. This became more important as Estonia's regional grid Narva ElektrivÃµrk (Narva Power Grid) began buying part of its electricity from Lithuania.
Estonian leaders voiced either optimism or caution at the election of Vladimir Putin as Russia's president. President Lennart Meri himself congratulated Putin and suggested a meeting in the near future, adding that he hopes bilateral ties would improve soon. However, both Prime Minister Laar and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves believe that no changes are forthcoming.
About 31,000 of the 90,000 Russian citizens eligible to vote in the Russian election voted in Estonia. A large majority, 62.7 per cent of the electorate, voted for Putin, while only 28.9 per cent voted for his Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov.
The former ruling Coalition Party (Koonderakond) is in serious trouble, after a planned weekend congress was cancelled. The debate centred around the re-joining of former Riigikogu Speaker Ãœlo Nugis after being kicked out of the party last year. Now, an extraordinary congress will be held later this month to determine the fate of the former ruling party.
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and Latvian Prime Minister Andris Å Ä·Ä“le met over dinner in PÃ¤rnu during the week to discuss some ongoing cross-border issues. The meeting caught many off guard, though both sides said it was planned.
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hosted his counterparts, Vaira VÄ«Ä·e-Freiberga of Latvia and Lennart Meri of Estonia, to discuss Baltic co-operation. The talks focused on trilateral co-operation in various areas, including the energy sector and NATO integration. This one-day meeting was a normal get-together of the three presidents.
Riigikogu speaker Toomas Savi travelled to Finland to meet with officials to discuss the harmonisation of Estonian legislation with the EU's acquis communautaire. Savi held talks with new President Tarja Halonen, Eduskunta speaker Riitta Uosukainen and Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja.
Justice Minister MÃ¤rt Rask and Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus travelled to Sweden to meet Justice Minister Laila Freivalds, to discuss anti-crime issues.
The Estonia-EU inter-parliamentary committee met in Tallinn, to discuss the legal aspects of Estonia's EU integration. Co-chairmen of the committee Per Stenmarck of the EU and Tunne Kelam of Estonia warned that the pace of harmonising Estonian legislation with the EU's acquis communautaire is falling behind schedule. Stenmarck added that implementing the laws is more important than just passing them. Stenmarck also stressed that the EU understands Estonia's language law and recognises it as the sole official language, but he hinted that changes need to be made to accommodate EU competition laws, which would enable EU companies to properly compete in Estonia. Stenmarck also said that he is trying to convince the EU to stop subsidising agricultural products being exported to Estonia.
Finance Minister Kallas and European Commissioner for Economic and Finance Affairs Pedro Solbes signed a memorandum in Brussels on Estonia's economic development plan from 1999 to 2003. The document is a medium-term plan for Estonia's macroeconomic performance and strategy, which will be continuously updated.
Defence Minister JÃ¼ri Luik travelled to France to meet Defence Minister Alain Richard, to discuss Estonia's military reforms and NATO integration. Richard had earlier suggested that Estonia is among the frontrunners to join NATO in the next round, which earned some questioning remarks from Latvian officials.
Riigikogu Defence Committee chairman Tiit Tammsaar called President Meri "dictatorial," in a row over legislation on regulating military promotions. President Meri criticised Colonel Oskar Mark, the highest ranking military officer to comment publicly about the system, asking the military to reprimand him. However, Tammsaar fired back at the president, accusing him of running the military dictatorially and beyond the reach of his constitutional role, adding that it is not unusual for Lennart Meri to do as such. Throughout his two terms, the president has been under fire for surpassing his constitutional role, especially in foreign and defence policy.
The Polish Parliament gave President Aleksander KwaÅ›niewski authorisation to sign the international convention on the protection of the site of the ferry, Estonia. The convention, which prohibits the disturbance of the wreck site by declaring it a mass grave, has been signed by most countries in the Baltic Sea region.
Estonia and other EU aspirants began negotiations to join the European Environmental Agency (EEA). Officials from the European Commission suggested that new members could join the EEA as early as 2001, even before EU membership.
Economics and business
Unexpectedly, Tallinn Technical University statistics professor Vello Vensel won the election to be the new governor of the Bank of Estonia, which is the central bank. Vensel replaces Vahur Kraft, who surprisingly lost the vote by a reported seven votes to two (the vote was by secret ballot), though he was one of the voters himself. Many politicians expressed surprise, especially those from the Reform Party, which supported Kraft. Kraft's opponents accused him of mismanaging the bank during several banking collapses, especially in the alleged preferential treatment of Forekspank (now Optiva Pank) when it faced collapse.
US company RUMA will finally begin construction of a metal-export terminal at the Port of Tallinn. The empty lot was eyed by many adjacent companies, which wanted to use the lot if it remained unused. The construction of the terminal could cost up to EEK (Estonian kroons) two billion.
As of 1 April, two more Estonian companies were added to the joint Baltic blue chip index: retail outlet Tallinna Kaubamaja (Tallinn Department Store) and real estate company Pro Kapital. Estonia now has seven of the 15 companies on the list - the limit under current rules. The remaining eight are equally divided among Latvian and Lithuanian companies.
Estonia's largest travel agency Estravel has been sold by Finnair to Suomen Matkatoimisto, the largest Finnish travel agency.
Estonian Air flights to Moscow have been suspended, due to an argument over the season's timetable (partly resulting from the lack of time change in Estonia; see below). Part of the reason apparently is that Estonian Air plans to use a smaller Fokker jet for the route instead of the larger Boeing, due to a lack of passengers. However, the Russian side claimed that it did not have certification for the Fokker jet...
Regionally, average monthly wages were highest in Tallinn at EEK 6054 in the fourth quarter of 1999. The lowest came from the southeastern rural VÃµru county, which had an average wage of EEK 3288.
The revised final GDP number for 1998 showed a growth of 4.7 per cent.
Estonia's top Internet auction site www.osta.ee has unveiled its counterparts in Latvia (www.perc.lv) and Lithuania (pirk.lt). Internet auctions are gaining popularity in the region. For example, Estonia's www.osta.ee has 10,000 registered users and had over EEK two million in transactions in Q4 1999.
For unknown reasons, the Park Hotell (and casino) was given a four-star rating, bringing it on par with other relatively nice hotels in Estonia. The Park Hotell, formerly the infamous Kungla, is a drab building, famous for its on-site casino. To this former travel writer, this is an abomination and discredits the entire star system of Estonian hotels.
Social and local interest
Though a poll shows some 82 per cent of Estonians favour the elimination of the summertime period, the ensuing non-change in time has caused chaos in travel timetables. The elimination of the summertime period was agreed to by the three Baltic prime ministers back in February, after Estonia suggested the idea. The Baltic countries are now in the same time zone as the rest of central Europe, but are now an hour behind Finland.
Estonia got more bad news from the World Health Organisation, as it reported that Estonia has one of the highest rates of drug-resistant TB in the world. Of the 52 cases per 100,000 residents, about 18 per cent are totally drug-resistant, while the figure for partially-resistant strains of TB is several times higher.
According to a pan-Baltic conference on mental health held in Riga, Estonia's suicide rate remains high, at 30 individuals for every 100,000 residents. Latvia also showed the same figure, but Lithuania has the highest suicide rate in the Baltics, at 44 individuals for every 100,000 residents.
Perhaps a sign of the coming spring and summer, Tallinn Criminal Police Commissioner Ãœllar Maasikas was nabbed for a drink-drive, registering an alcohol level of 0.19 (see Amber Coast, Hitting the Bottle, and the Road, 2 August 1999, for a recap of last summer's drunken spree among politicians).
Sadly, the oldest person in Estonia, Anne JÃ¼rnas, died at the age of 108. The oldest person in Estonia is now Alviine Rohtla, at 107 years of age.
And in other news...
Marko Mihkelson, Editor-in-Chief of the leading daily Postimees, left the paper to take over at the Baltic Russia Studies Centre, a think tank on Russian affairs. Replacing him is his assistant, the 29-year old Urmas Klaas.
Commuter helicopter service between Tallinn and Helsinki is set to begin in late April, after officials sign final approval papers in mid-month in Tallinn. Copter Action will be the first to use the chopper pads, bringing passengers over the Gulf of Finland in less than half an hour.
On that note, companies operating fast boats and hydrofoils announced their operating season will begin in April. The fast boats travel between the two capitals in 90 minutes, much faster than the slow, cruise-like ferries that take 4.5 hours. However, a large majority of tourists from the North demand the slow ride, as it allows for more time for duty-free shopping and more than a few rounds at the various karaoke-swamped bars onboard.
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Prepared by Mel Huang, 31 March 2000
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