Prime Minister doesn't rule out changes
Prime Minister Mart Laar has not ruled out the possibility that some members of his cabinet might be replaced. However, he has assured people that this not will happen in the next few weeks.
Laar said coalition council head Andres Tarand is expected to submit government repairs regulations for council approval in the next few weeks. "So far there has been a tacit agreement that ministers are replaced only by their own parties. How the mechanism for the replacement of ministers will work in the future depends on the coalition council's decision," said Laar. "If the coalition finds it expedient to replace someone, that's what the government will do," he added.
The Reform Party and Moderates, two other coalition parties in addition to Pro Patria Union, also agree that a restructuring of the government is really needed, because there aren't many options left.
Estonian President Lennart Meri has also said that cabinet members who have made mistakes must quickly give up their seats to more competent persons so that Estonia will not collapse on the doorstep of the European Union and NATO. In his interview with daily Eesti Päevaleht, Meri said that he wants Estonia to lead a stable political life. "If only Estonia, who has for ten years been seeking membership in the EU and NATO, should not collapse from fatigue two decimeters before the finish," said the President. "We have strength, we even have gaiety and high spirits, but high spirits can always turn sour if high spirits are not followed by good deeds," Meri added.
Speaking of government improvements, neither Meri nor Laar named any names. The local media currently consider Economics Minister Mihkel Pärnoja and Transportation and Communications Minister Toivo Jürgenson to be the most unpopular members of the cabinet. Neither Jürgenson nor Pärnoja plan to step down of their own accord. Instead, they will await their parties' position.
More than half of Estonia's citizens are opposed to the country's entry into the European Union, according to a recent study. This is the first time that a public opinion poll has shown such strong opposition to membership.
According to the poll taken this month by the Emor pollsters, 51 percent of Estonian citizens do not support the country's accession to the EU. The number of opponents has grown by as much as five percent in one month—a similar poll in February put opposition at 46 percent. The number of people who back Estonia's joining the European club has decreased drastically—from 45 percent in February to 37 percent currently. The portion of citizens unable to define their attitude toward accession to the EU remains stable at nine to eleven percent.
A comparison of Euro-optimists' support percentages and popular support for the government and Prime Minister in the last nine months shows a clear connection. When the government's rating goes up, the number of EU supporters likewise rises, and vice versa.
Emor analysts observe that the Estonian public's understanding of what is involved in EU membership is still rather vague.
President Lennart Meri ascribes the strong opposition to Estonian accession to the fact that the positive impact of the Union is not widely understood. He says this is because it has been poorly explained to Estonian citizens. In his interview with daily Postimees on 28 March, Meri recalled that in several of his speeches, most recently on the occasion of Independence Day on 24 February, he has called for the better informing of Estonian citizens.
Why did Russia ban Estonian fish?
The Estonian Foreign Ministry will soon deliver a note to the Russian Embassy in order to find out more about the reasons for a ban imposed by Russia on the import of Estonian fish and fish products.
On 26 March, Russia banned the import of fish and fish products from the European Union, Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, referring to the danger of foot-and-mouth disease. This is in addition to the ban already imposed on the import of meat and dairy products.
"There is no foot-and-mouth disease in Estonia, and we have banned the import of livestock and animal products from countries where it has been registered, therefore our inclusion in the list is not justified," a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told BNS on Tuesday. "What's more, Russia has also banned the import of fish and fish products, which should not be in any way connected with the disease."
Court again suspends privatization
The Tallinn Administrative Court suspended the finalization of the contract for the privatization of Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway) with Baltic Rail Service (BRS) until a decision is made concerning a complaint filed by Rail Estonia, scheduled for discussion on 2 May.
Rail Estonia was initially declared the winner of the Eesti Raudtee privatization tender, but it failed to bring in a strategic investor by the deadline. Rail Estonia filed a complaint on 26 March, asking for the repeal of the 2 March order of Jaak Liivik, general director of the Estonian Privatization Agency (EEA). Liivik's order refused to extend the term of the signing of the deal, interrupted talks with Rail Estonia and invited Baltic Rail Service (BRS) to privatization talks.
According to second round bidding documents, the privatization agency is entitled to end the talks and declare the privatization tender ended if the privatization of Eesti Raudtee drags out longer than 30 April.
And in other news...
- A seriously damaged Russian TU-154 aircraft made an emergency landing in Tallinn on the evening of 23 March. The plane, owned by the Russian carrier Vladivostok Air, was on a charter flight from the Siberian city of Kogalym to Tallinn. Four tires of the plane's right landing gear had burst during takeoff. The damaged aircraft landed safely and none of the 53 passengers and crew were injured.
- Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts made an official visit to Germany and had meetings with German military officials, including General Harald Kujat, chief inspector of the German army. Under discussion were matters relating to NATO enlargement, reform of the German defense forces and European rapid reaction forces and joint defense projects. Rear Admiral Kõuts said he felt the Germans total support of Estonia's entry into both the European Union and NATO.
Kristin Marmei, 29 March 2001
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