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Estonian report Estonian report
by Euro Reporter
2011-03-07 09:17:23
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Estonia PM tipped to win re-election

Estonia’s Prime Minister, Andrus Ansip, is poised to win in a general election on Sunday, with voters likely to reward his coalition government for steering the Baltic country out of a deep recession. An opinion poll by TNS Emor tipped Mr Ansip’s centre-right Reform Party to win 29 per cent of the vote. With the conservative coalition partner, Pro Patria Res Publica Union, pegged at 25 per cent, the pair would have a comfortable majority over the leftist opposition. The Estonian economy has been on a dramatic roller-coaster ride in recent years. Its gross domestic product contracted by nearly 20 per cent over the course of the crisis, before recovering to become Europe’s second fastest-growing economy in the fourth quarter of 2010, when GDP rose 6.6 per cent on the same period of 2009.

This rebound followed a severe austerity package that Mr Ansip’s government pursued to reverse the fallout from the collapse of a credit-fuelled bubble that saw unemployment soar to a peak of 18.6 per cent in June last year.  Mr Ansip’s fiscal stringency during 2010 kept Estonia within the margins permitted by the Maastricht treaty and allowed the country become the first Baltic state to adopt the euro on January 1 this year.  “Outsiders might be puzzled that we’re not punishing the government for the austerity measures, but people here understand that we are a very small economy and this was necessary to keep us on track for joining the euro,” said Peter Priisalm, a partner at Avaron Asset Management in Tallinn.

He added that voters saw that the economic advances made by Estonia since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 were orchestrated by centre-right governments. “People understand that the populist approach of handing out bigger salaries and the like is not good,” he said.  Analysts at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development painted a rosy picture of Estonia’s situation: Booming exports will push GDP growth to 4 per cent this year and consumer confidence has been bolstered by Estonia’s entry into the eurozone, itself facilitated by the government’s “exemplary fiscal policies”.  Other observers in Tallinn noted that Mr Ansip’s government was the first Estonian government to see out its full term in office during the post-Soviet era. London-based IHS Global Insight said in a research note that this was “a testament to the growing stability of politics in the country, occurring as it did amid a major economic crisis.” Should the opinion polls hold true, Mr Ansip will be able to lay claim to another political record on Sunday – the first government to serve two consecutive terms.


In Estonia, Communism's collapse paved the way for Wi-Fi everywhere

There’s something you can get in Estonia, the post-Soviet Baltic country and one of Europe’s poorest, that you can’t get anywhere on the continent: free wireless Web access (Wi-Fi) everywhere – even in the depth of the country’s forest. This tiny northern outpost of 1.4 million people turned the tide of its 50-year Soviet occupation fast, thanks in part to its quick embrace of the Internet. Estonians file taxes and vote online, and their government officials meet online in videoconferences. And now, Europe’s most wired country also leads the way in offering free and public Wi-Fi access.

Orange and black “Area of Wireless Connection” signs have sprouted like mushrooms in recent years. There was only one in 2001, 280 three years later, and 1,600 today. They pop up in the most unexpected nooks – the depth of the forest, on the old market square, on restaurant windows, on bus schedules at the Tallinn Airport, and in police cars. The network is mostly the result of the drive of a former computer science student. In the early 2000s, Veljo Hammer toured the country, going to restaurants, gas stations, and shops to persuade owners to install free Wi-Fi.

Being quick to embrace high technology is one positive result of having had to rebuild Estonia after communism collapsed. “If you start a new country, you have the advantage of using the latest that’s out there,” says Jaan Tallinn, who was one of the software engineers behind Skype, the free phone Internet service that turned Estonia into a Silicon Valley of the Baltics. He and other energetic young pioneers have nurtured Estonia’s high-tech revolution.


Lavrov Criticizes Estonia at UN Meeting

Addressing the UN Human Rights Council last Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Estonia for the country’s “shameful” position on stateless persons. “The task of ensuring the human rights of national minorities demands greater attention, especially in the context of such shameful phenomenon as the chronic problem of statelessness in Latvia and Estonia,” Lavrov told the body, which consists of 47 countries, in Geneva. 15% of the Latvian population – approximately 350,000 people – is made up of stateless persons, while Estonia is home to roughly 100,000 stateless persons.

Lavrov continued on to say that, “It is necessary to achieve full implementation of the relevant recommendations of the Council of Europe, OSCE and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.” However, remains unclear as to which particular recommendations he was referring in his address. Urmas Paet, the Estonian Foreign Minister, responded to his Russian counterpart’s remarks later on Monday.

“Thanks to the successful work of the Estonian government, since 1991 the number of stateless individuals has decreased and is now a fifth of what it was,” Paet said. He further remarked that “Russia’s role in this has not been constructive.” This latest diplomatic dispute between Estonia and Russia comes just days before elections are held for the Riigikogu. It also comes as Estonia campaigns for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2012-2015 terms. Russia’s term on the Council will expire in 2012.

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