Peacetime defence bill rejected
The Riigikogu Defence Committee rejected a draft peacetime national defence bill from the Defence Ministry, calling it inadequate. The Committee suggested that the bill did nothing but concentrate too much power in the hands of the defence minister and did little to solve the real problems of organisation and conflict between the Defence Ministry and the General Staff of the Defence Forces.
Defence Minister Jüri Luik rejected accusations that the draft law relegates the commander of the Defence Forces into a plain old advisor to the defence minister, but said his Ministry will work on improving the draft. This continues the acrimonious relations between the Defence Ministry and the Defence Committee, with the latter saying earlier that defence spending should not increase since the Ministry does not know what to do with the extra funds and would squander it.
Meri visits Germany
Into the final year of his second term as president, Lennart Meri finally made a state visit to Germany at the invitation of his counterpart, Johannes Rau. The extensive trip was aimed at stirring German interest in Estonia and the Baltics, to which there has been little to speak of over the past few years.
The trip took President Meri through several German Länder, such as Baden-Würtenberg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, for meetings with local officials. Along with a high-level business delegation, Meri called on Germany to invest more in Estonia and play a larger role in Estonia's economy. During a speech at a dinner hosted by Rau, Meri said he regretted the low level of German investments in Estonia, totalling some three per cent of FDI.
However, in a strange twist, the German Industrial and Commercial Association asked Meri to lobby the German government for a tax system like Estonia's (likely emphasising the flat 26 per cent income tax and the lack of a corporate tax), though Meri rejected that as interference in German affairs.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder reaffirmed that bilateral relations are good with Estonia, something seen as a lacklustre stance during his notorious trip to the Baltics earlier this year. Schröder and Meri also discussed EU integration, with the chancellor confirming that the EU will be ready to take members in as soon as the end of 2002. Meri also addressed the European affairs ministers of all sixteen Länder.
Finally, Meri laid a wreath at a memorial in the town of Geislingen, where many Estonian refugees were hosted during the post-World War II period. And on a more personal note, Meri also visited the school he attended in 1934-38, when his father was a diplomat in Berlin.
And in other news...
- Police, in a joint operation with their British colleagues, arrested Scotsman William Hain at the port of Tallinn after uncovering some 20 kilograms of opiates hidden in his car. The street value of the haul in Estonia is estimated at EEK (Estonian kroons) 20 million, though the same amount would fetch several times more in other parts of Europe.
- Local responses to the EU progress report on Estonia were positive, and Prime Minister Mart Laar stressed it will be difficult work if the country wants to finish negotiations by mid 2002. Laar also attacked the report's criticism on Estonia's lack of harmonisation in fuel excise, saying, "In some things the interests of Estonia and the European Union are contradictory," adding that Estonia's national interests will always take precedence.
- Members of the trilateral council, representing unions, employers and the government, signed the agreement to raise the minimum monthly wage to EEK 1600.
- At the 50th anniversary of the signing of the European Human Rights Convention gathering in Rome hosted by the Council of Europe, Justice Minister Märt Rask joined 19 of his colleagues in signing the 12th protocol, which brings discrimination issues into the competence of the organisation and the European Court of Human Rights.
- The Tallinn City Council adopted its 2001 budget at nearly EEK three billion, a 15.7 per cent rise from this year's budget. Mayor Jüri Mőis said that the tax burden on Tallinners will not change, while tax revenues should grow by 5.9 per cent.
- A Tallinn Administrative Court ruled that the so-called Vare-Shironin agreement on KGB officials is not legally valid (see last week's Amber Coast for the story).
- The Finance Ministry is still undecided about a strange case of bond redemption that spans seven decades. Holders of bonds issued in 1927 by the Estonian government, with proceeds used in monetary reform and the launch of a new currency, are pushing for their redemption—plus interest. Estimated payout of all the redemptions could be as high as EEK 250 million. Finance Minister Siim Kallas said if the legal basis is there, the redemption of the bonds, which matured in 1967, will be honored.
- The debate on the 2001 budget remains acrimonious, even within the ruling coalition. MPs from the coalition have been asked to refrain from further amendments until the issue is sorted.
- Inflation in October was a sharp 0.9 per cent, compared to September. This is largely attributed to petrol price and telephone tariff hikes.
- Kristina Đmigun, one of the world's top cross-country skiers, and her sister, Katrin, voiced confusion and anger over a BNS report that suggested a feud with the Estonian Skiing Federation is pushing the family to emigrate to the United States.
- Dutch football coach Arno Pijpers signed a four-year deal to be the head coach of Estonia's national squad and its top league side, Flora FC.
- Vandals trashed a cemetery in Tartu, destroying at least 100 crosses and graves in a crime that has shocked the community. Two teenagers have been apprehended in the case.
As of 10 November 2000
|1 US dollar||18.09|
|1 British pound||26.23|
|1 German mark||8|
Mel Huang, 10 November 2000
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