Moderates elect new chairman and confirm presidential candidate
A congress of Estonian Moderates elected Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves head of the party on 19 May with a vote of 299 to 14. Until now deputy head of the party, Ilves was the only candidate for the post. At the same meeting, the Moderates also confirmed the party's former chairman, Andres Tarand, as their official presidential candidate.
Commenting on his election, Ilves said he wants to raise the level of political discussion in Estonia. Estonia needs a social democratic policy, because the rigorous rightist policy pursued in Estonia until now has not reduced social injustice, Ilves said. He added that it is time to overcome the fear of using "social democracy" in Estonian politics, a notion often equated with communism.
Talking about growing unemployment in Estonia, Ilves suggested reconsidering the abolition of corporate income tax because dropping it has not helped to increase jobs, but acknowledged that such a tax reform could not happen immediately.
Tarand, following his nomination as a presidential candidate by 264 of the 319 present, said he had a good chance of being elected head of state. "I don't believe my chances are close to zero," Tarand said.
Tarand stressed that there are too many poor in Estonia, but that the situation is apparently improving. "The question we're facing is how to reduce poverty," Tarand said.
Government backs loan to public television
The Estonian government agreed on 22 May to issue a state guarantee for a loan to the Eesti Televisioon (Estonian Television, ETV) in the amount of EEK (Estonian kroons) 37 million (USD 2.05 million). ETV sought a guaranteed loan of EEK 77 million (USD 4.28).
Before the state guarantee can be issued, the Culture, Justice and Finance ministries must draft a bill by 5 June turning ETV and Eesti Raadio (Estonian Radio, ER) into a joint public broadcasting organization.
ETV's board chairman, Aare Urm, said EEK 37 million is clearly insufficient, as at least EEK 45 million (USD 2.5 million)is needed. If ETV cannot meet debts already due, it won't be able to continue its programming beyond mid-summer, Urm said.
ETV still wishes to arrange the Eurovision song contest in May 2002 despite the station's current financial trouble, as it is the only Estonian TV station that is a member of European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the song contest.
Private station TV 3 said on 23 May that is ready to join EBU and stage next year's Eurovision song contest if ETV is unable to do it.
Finance Minister Siim Kallas confirmed the government's support for Eurovision to take place in Estonia. "The government will make organizing costs a part of next year's state budget and may also adopt a political decision on this. I cannot see any problems here," Kallas told daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht.
Irish president visits Estonia
Irish President Mary McAleese arrived in Estonia on 24 May for a three-day visit, the first ever by a president of Ireland.
McAleese met with President Lennart Meri, Parliament Speaker Toomas Savi and MPs, as well as with Tallinn's city leaders. She also visited Tartu, where she met with city and regional leaders and Tartu University rector Jaak Aaviksoo. She gave a lecture at TU on Ireland's experiences with and outlook on the EU. On the third day, she toured Tallinn's medieval Old City with Meri.
In her meeting with Estonian MPs, McAleese states that Estonia and Ireland have much in common, making it easy for the two peoples to understand each other. To the question when will Ireland open an embassy in Tallinn, as Ireland's ambassador to Estonia resides in Helsinki, McAleese answered that the topic would soon come under discussion in the Irish government.
Meri decorated the Irish President with the Cross of the Terra Mariana and her husband, Martin McAleese, with the Order of the Cross of the Terra Mariana, First Class.
Mart Laar in Iceland
Prime Minister Mart Laar began a three-day official visit to Iceland on 23 May, where he held official talks with Iceland's Prime Minister David Oddsson and had lunch with President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. He also met with Iceland's Parliament speaker, chairman and members of the foreign affairs committee and the municipal leaders of Reykjavik.
The leaders discussed Estonian-Icelandic relations, issues of NATO and European security, economic cooperation and ties in culture and scientific research.
And in other news...
- The Estonian Defense Ministry signed up 779 young men as part of its spring conscription campaign, 25 more than planned. The ministry is planning to call up 3570 conscripts this year, 3000 of whom will be sent to serve in the defense forces, 320 in the border guard and 250 in rescue forces.
- The average gross monthly wage in Estonia in the first quarter was EEK 5098 (USD 283). Year-on-year, the average gross monthly wages grew by 13.3 percent.
- Unemployment in Estonia reached 14.2 percent in the first quarter, up by 0.6 percent year-on-year.
Kristin Marmei, 24 May 2001
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