President’s Independence Day Speech Focuses on Unemployment and Steps for the Future
24 February - In his formal speech on the occasion of the 92nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves singled out unemployment as the most troubling problem currently waiting for a solution from Estonia. "In the good years of economic growth, we came to the understanding that the unemployed themselves were to blame for their predicament. But that is no longer the case. Companies laid off people not because of poor performance but due to economic problems," the president said in his speech at the Vanemuine Theatre in the southern city of Tartu on Wednesday evening.
"We all must seek to curtail and ease the hardship faced by people and their loved ones," he said. The president warned against deceiving ourselves with the hope that the unemployment rate will start falling quickly. One lesson that can be drawn from the crisis is that unemployment is not evenly distributed. IT company executives are complaining that they lack people. There is a shortage of people in science and engineering. "This is a clear signal for students, parents and Estonia's education leaders: do not avoid subjects that might currently seem harder and more demanding," he said.
Estonia also needs to think seriously about how it will act when things start getting better again. Estonia will be led forward by enterprising and educated citizens who create new values. This requires a more serious approach to education and its financing. It means focusing on public health, people's lifespan, and our pension system.
In his speech, the president also made the point that after the switch to the euro currency Estonia will be the most integrated state of northern Europe. "Ten months and a week from now, when Estonia becomes a member of the European monetary union, we will be the most integrated state in northern Europe. I repeat: the most integrated," the president said. Of the countries in northern Europe, only Estonia participates in all four integration programmes involving Western democracies: the euro zone, the Schengen acquis, the European Union and NATO.
That means Estonia is at the centre of Europe to an unprecedented degree. "It gives us an immense sense of assurance. It also gives us the responsibility of knowing what is going on in our four common spaces. It imposes on us the obligation to participate in the dialogue, if we want to be a functioning part of the centre of Europe," Ilves said. Estonia's credibility and trustworthiness are the most priceless foreign exchange asset we have, said the head of state.
(The full text of the president’s speech can be found at http://www.president.ee/en/.)
Estonia Will Join OECD During Next Few Months
18 February - Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Angel Gurría confirmed in his meeting with Foreign Minister Urmas Paet in Paris that the decision to accept Estonia as a member of the OECD would be made this spring. Paet and Gurría signed the agreement of privileges and immunities between Estonia and the OECD.
Foreign Minister Paet said that the invitation to join the OECD is high recognition of Estonia’s development thus far. “The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is an expert centre that analyses the economy and the development of society. For Estonia, joining the OECD is a chance to share world-class expert information and contribute to this information with our own experiences,” he said.
The agreement of privileges and immunities signed in Paris today is based on OECD standards and guarantees the autonomy of OECD analyses. “Estonia and the other OECD nations confirm that they will ensure the independent work of the organisation’s experts, free of interference,” Paet said, explaining the content of the agreement that is a requirement for joining the organisation.
Paet noted that the OECD has already compiled many high-level analyses about Estonia that have been very useful. “For example, the first economic review of Estonia published in 2009 attracted a lot of attention and inspired discussions on Estonia’s economic policy,” said Paet. “Estonia is a like-minded state to the other OECD members, and the organisation’s goals are also important to us: economic growth, raising the standard of living, and helping the development of global trade,” stressed the Estonian foreign minister.
The OECD is a forum for industrially developed democratic nations which is based in Paris. It was established by nineteen nations on 30 September 1961, and its predecessor was the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which was created after World War II to administer American and Canadian aid for rebuilding Europe (the Marshall Plan). In January of 2010 Chile also signed an accession agreement with the OECD and will become a full member like Estonia once the domestic proceedings end.
Estonia was invited to begin accession negotiations with the OECD in 2007. After its signing, the agreement of privileges and immunities must be ratified by the Riigikogu.
Smooth Accession Negotiations Between EU and Turkey in Estonia’s Interests
25 February - During his meeting in Tallinn with Turkish European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet confirmed Estonia’s support for Turkey continuing accession negotiations with the European Union. “Turkey has made progress in implementing reforms. They must continue to fulfil the responsibilities accepted in the course of accession negotiations, and it is important that negotiations do not cease,” stated the Estonian foreign minister.
Turkish European Union Affairs Minister and Chief Negotiator Bagis gave an overview of the most recent developments in implementing reforms for Turkey’s European integration.“The environment chapter that was most recently opened in Turkey-EU accession negotiations is a positive step towards membership,” stated Paet. He added that the normalisation of Turkey-Cyprus relations is also of key importance.
In talking about energy issues, Foreign Minister Paet noted Turkey’s importance to the European Union as an energy transit country and source of alternatives for increasing the EU’s energy security. “However, the energy chapter in accession negotiations is currently frozen. Intensifying energy-related co-operation is in the interests of the European Union as well as Turkey,” said Foreign Minister Paet.
Paet noted that Estonia and Turkey’s political, economic and cultural relations are developing successfully. “Hopefully the Istanbul-Tallinn flight route to be opened in the near future and the joint cultural projects taking place within the framework of Istanbul 2010 and Tallinn 2011 as European Capitals of Culture will establish Estonia-Turkey relations even further. Tourism relations were influenced positively by Turkey’s decision in the summer of 2008 to drop the visa requirement for Estonian citizens,” said Paet.
Paet and Bagis also discussed Estonia’s co-operation with Turkey within the framework of NATO. Turkey was the first NATO member from the Mediterranean region who guarded the airspace of Estonia and the other Baltic nations and did so for a longer period of time than most. “Estonia and Turkey also share the same views in terms of the formation of NATO’s new Strategic Concept,” said Foreign Minister Paet.
European Union Foreign Policy Leaders Discuss Ukraine
22 February - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet attended a meeting of the European Union external relations council in Brussels, where topics of discussion were the situation in Ukraine, building up Haiti, and Iran.
In talking about the situation in Ukraine after the presidential elections, the European Union foreign policy leaders expressed hope that after the democratically executed elections Ukraine’s domestic political situation would stabilise and Ukraine would be able to carry out necessary reforms more rapidly than before. “Ukraine must continue implementing constitutional reforms and co-operating with the International Monetary Fund and other international organisations to stay on the course for European Union integration,” said Foreign Minister Paet. “Ukraine must develop stricter financial discipline,” Paet added.
The European Union foreign ministers feel that faster progress should be made with the European Union-Ukraine association agreement, as well as in free trade agreement negotiations between the EU and Ukraine. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that visa facilitation and moving towards visa freedom play an essential role in Ukrainian society becoming more integrated with the European Union.
While talking about the situation in Ukraine, the European Union foreign ministers also addressed energy security issues. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that the European Union and Ukraine must intensify energy-related co-operation. “In order to avoid gas crises, Ukraine must increase transparency in the supply and transit process for natural gas and intensify co-operation with the European Union for the creation of a more effective gas distribution system in Ukraine,” noted Foreign Minister Paet.
The European Union foreign ministers talked about the post-earthquake restoration work being done in Haiti and emphasised the importance of comprehensive co-ordination in planning long-term reconstruction work in Haiti. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that currently there are close to one hundred thousand people homeless in Haiti, and a shelter solution must be devised with the help of the European Union by the end of April.
The European Union external relations council also discussed the Iran nuclear issue and the steadily worsening human rights situation in Iran.
Baltic Sea Region Strategy Could Serve as Example for Danube Countries
23 February - At his meeting with new Swedish European Union Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson in Brussels today, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said that the success of the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region could serve as an example for the formulation of the Danube Strategy.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Swedish Minister for European Union Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson agreed that the European Union Baltic Sea Region Strategy is off to a good start, which shows that regional strategies will become more important in the future. “Within the Baltic Sea Region Strategy, Estonia is focused on three sectors: the sea environment and navigation, better communication in the Baltic Sea region, and a knowledge-based society,” said Foreign Minister Paet.
While talking about the European Union’s renewed competitiveness strategy “Europe 2020”, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Swedish Minister for European Union Affairs Birgitta Ohlsson both were of the opinion that the new economic growth and employment strategy should focus on a limited number of priority goals on the European Union level, which the member states will set their own national goals to help fulfil. “Through the formation of Europe 2020, the role of the European Council should become stronger and the European Commission should increase its contribution to implementing the strategy,” said Foreign Minister Paet. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet emphasised that within the context of Europe 2020, Estonia feels that further developing a functioning European Union internal market is of key importance in order to help increase the competitiveness of the European Union.
According to Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, co-operation between Estonia and Sweden has always been good, and he stated that co-operation between the Nordic and Baltic countries is intensifying, both in the formation of common positions and in the implementation of practical co-operation programmes.
Secretary General Kokk Participated in Meeting of Nordic-Baltic Co-operation Ministers
18 February - Foreign Ministry Secretary General Marten Kokk participated in a meeting of the Nordic-Baltic co-operation ministers.
While talking about co-operation opportunities between the EU and Belarus, Foreign Minister Secretary General Marten Kokk noted that the European Union’s goal should be for Belarus to become a democratic neighbour that functions well economically. The secretary general stated that it is essential to begin negotiations with Belarus over a new partnership and co-operation agreement. “We must also find a way to include the Belarusian democratic opposition and civil society in the EU-Belarus dialogue,” emphasised Secretary General Kokk. “One opportunity to include the democratically-minded Belarusian powers in this dialogue is through carrying out projects for developing Belarusian civil society,” Kokk added. For example, supporting the European Humanities University in Lithuania is important. “Belarusian students who cannot study in Belarus because of their political views can study at the school in Lithuania,” said Kokk, adding that in 2008 the Foreign Ministry supported the school with 450 000 kroons and in 2009 with 200 000 kroons, and we plan to support the school this year as well.
Another topic discussed at the meeting was the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and matters related to its implementation. According to Foreign Ministry Secretary General Marten Kokk, the Strategy for the Baltic Sea region creates a good situation for transforming the Baltic Sea area into a forward-looking and competitive region.
Chile Chooses University of Tartu Rector as Honorary Consul in Estonia
25 February (BNS) - Rector of the University of Tartu Alar Karis, whom Chile has chosen as its honorary consul in Estonia, is scheduled to be handed the honorary consul certificate on Thursday.
"It is a great honour for our country that a person so respectable and renowned can advise and help us in our activities in the future," said Carlos Gajardo, consul at the Chilean Embassy in Helsinki. He said Karis was chosen with a view to intensifying relations between Estonia and Chile in education and innovation, spokespeople for the University of Tartu said.
Karis said he was pleased that the University of Tartu had received a new international partner in the state of Chile. He described his appointment as honorary consul as a remarkable recognition for him and the university.
The Chilean ambassador to Estonia, Carlos Parra, resides in Helsinki. In addition to Karis, Chile has one more honorary consul in Estonia -- Henton Figueroa. The Estonian honorary consul in Chile is Ella Maria Gleisner Vivanco.
More Than 1 200 Personnel Take Part in Independence Day Military Parade
22 February (BNS) - More than 1 200 members of the Estonian Defence Forces and other personnel will march in the Independence Day parade in the capital Tallinn on Wednesday, 24 February.
The Defence Forces parade that will start on Vabaduse (Freedom) Square at 11 a.m. will be received by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, with Commander of the Defence Forces Lt. Gen. Ants Laaneots in command of the parade and the troops lined up for the event by commander of the ground forces Col. Indrek Sirel, spokespeople for the General Staff said.
To take part are over 1 200 members of the military, of the Kaitseliit (Defence League) volunteer corps, police and border guard cadets. The number is bigger than in any of the previous parades conducted in the capital city since the restoration of Estonia's independence. There will also be a lot of military hardware on display at the parade.
An infantry company of the Scouts Battalion will appear on Pasi armoured personnel carriers, the Artillery Battalion will display a battery of 122 mm and 155 mm howitzers, the Air Defence Battalion a battery of 23 mm anti-aircraft guns and a battery of the Mistral anti-aircraft system, the Defence League a battery of 81 mm and the Kuperjanov Battalion 120 mm mortars. The Viru Battalion will show itself with Mapats and Milan anti-tank systems. The public can take a closer look at the military hardware after the parade.
If the weather is suitable, French Mirage 2000 fighter jets performing the NATO Baltic air policing mission will perform a flyover.
Because of reconstruction work carried out at Tallinn's Vabaduse Square, the Independence Day parade last year was held in the north-eastern border city Narva. In that parade 1 200 personnel and over 60 units of hardware took part.
The parade of 2008, scheduled to take place in Vabaduse Square, was cancelled because the weather was too cold. This was the first time after the restoration of Estonian independence for an Independence Day parade to be cancelled because of cold.
Estonian Chief of Defence Highlights Information Warfare in Speech
24 February (BNS) - In his speech at the military's Independence Day parade on Wednesday, commander of the Estonian Defence Forces Lt. Gen. Ants Laaneots highlighted the growing importance that information warfare has in the modern picture of war. He said that in this warfare, battles are held in the minds of the people and the growing importance of information operations may be compared to the evolvement of a new branch of arms, like of aviation in the early part of the last century.
"Such professional terms have appeared in the arsenal of politicians and military commanders as cyber war, influence operations, information war and strategic communication," the Estonian defence chief said.
Estonia has been targeted by cyber attacks and takes them very seriously, Lt. Gen. Laaneots said. More precisely, the whole of NATO now takes them very seriously and has opened its Centre of Excellence in Cyber Defence in Estonia.
"The goal of information war and influence operations more broadly is to crumble a nation's identity, to replace and destroy it. The goal of military psy-ops is to break lines of command and break the nation's will to resist," Lt. Gen. Laaneots said.
He said that first the nation's external image is attacked, trying to put on labels and create a picture of one that doesn't correspond to reality. Next come attacks on what we have inside, our attitudes, our system of values, our will to be ourselves and decide ourselves.
Finally there come attempts to threaten us, holding out as facts contrivances that have nothing to do with logic or reality. "Like the naive rumour persistently circulated by so-called 'military experts,' that a single enemy division can conquer Estonia in two hours," Lt. Gen. Laaneots said.
Unfortunately we cannot rely on peasant wisdom alone if we are to stand against hostile influence operations, as big countries are spending billions on this war without frontline, he said.
"Estonia needs an immune system," the defence chief said. "Our national psychological defence must be built on a broad and solid base. Then external influences and crises will not break our internal bond, our society and state as a whole during bad times," Lt. Gen. Laaneots said in his parade speech on the 92nd anniversary of the Estonian state.
Ambassador to Sweden Visits Headquarters of Nordic Battle Group
18 February - Estonian Ambassador to Sweden Alar Streimann visited the headquarters of the European Union Nordic Battle Group in Enköping and met with the leadership there. Estonia participates along with Sweden, Finland, Norway and Ireland in the Nordic Battle Group, which will be battle-ready in the first half of 2011.
Deputy Head of Operations Brigadier General Anders Brännström, Force Commander of the Battle Group Brigadier General Stefan Andersson, Deputy Commander of the Regiment Colonel Mikael Åkerström, Staff Commander of the Battle Group Colonel Mikael Frisell, and other leaders of the Nordic Battle Group gave an overview of the course of the group’s preparations.
The leader of the Battle Group is Sweden, who is responsible for the preparation of the group and co-ordinates co-operation between the participants in the Nordic Battle Group and the European Union or other member states. The headquarters of the Nordic Battle Group, which is located in Enköping, organises the preparations of the group and is responsible for the planning and leadership of the operation.
In the staff that began working in 2009, Estonia is represented by Major Andres Noole; in April of this year Estonia will send three more staff officers to Enköping. Altogether there are about 50 Estonian Defence Force members participating in the Nordic Battle Group.
Sweden is the leading nation of the Battle Group for the second time. The previous battle-ready period of the group was the first half of 2008; at that time Estonia’s contribution was also 50 soldiers as well as one civilian advisor.
A reception organised by the Estonian ambassador dedicated to the 92nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia also took place in Enköping. In his speech, the ambassador spoke about the history of Estonia’s independence.
Estonian Soldier Injured in Explosion in Afghanistan
19 February (BNS) - A member of the Estonian infantry company ESTCOY-9 was injured in an explosion in Afghanistan Friday morning.
The life of the member of the Estonian Defence Forces is not in danger, the military said.
The Estonian chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Neeme Väli, told BNS that the soldier was injured during a check in the company's area of responsibility not far from the Wahid patrol base.
The soldier stepped on an improvised explosive device. "Luckily the device did not explode in full force and his injuries are more minor than usual (with an IED)," the general said.
The wounded soldier is currently in hospital in Afghanistan but the Defence Forces will probably airlift him to Britain for treatment. Contrary to earlier reports, his injuries qualify as grave.
ESTCOY-9 is participating in the big anti-Taliban operation Mushtarak in southern Afghanistan. The company has been reinforced with a company of the Afghan land forces and the units are operating in the Nad Ali region of the Helmand province.
In all 15 000 soldiers of the coalition forces are taking part in the offensive. The commander of the NATO forces stationed in southern Afghanistan, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, said on Thursday that NATO and Afghan forces were meeting fierce resistance in Marjah and it would take another 25 to 30 days to gain control of the whole area. The objective of the operation that began on Saturday is to drive the Taliban insurgents out of their last remaining stronghold in Helmand and expand the control of the government.
Ports Handle 21 Percent More Goods in January
18 February (BNS) - As many as 3.68 million tons of goods were loaded and unloaded at Estonian ports in January, 21% more than in the same month a year ago, Statistics Estonia said. The figure is 3% lower than in December.
The amount of goods loaded was 2.97 million tons and the amount of goods unloaded 708 200 tons in January, marking an increase of respectively 21% and 22% compared with January 2009.
In December, almost three million tons of goods were loaded and 807 000 tons unloaded at Estonian ports.
AirBaltic to Open Summer Routes from Tallinn to Oulu, Tampere
25 February (BNS) - The Latvian carrier airBaltic has announced it will launch for the summer season two new services from Tallinn to the Finnish cities of Oulu and Tampere, among other new routes.
The Tallinn-Tampere flights will start on 31 March and the Oulu route will be opened on 11 May, the airline said. AirBaltic will be performing three flights weekly on both routes.
President and CEO of airBaltic Bertolt Flick said that with Riga airport having exceeded its designed capacity limits, the company is expanding in its other key markets.
"We clearly see that Finland and Estonia are underserved. Offering more direct flights from Tallinn, Estonia is a strategic step for airBaltic," Flick said.
Besides two new services between Tallinn and Finnish cities, airBaltic will open five more new routes -- Rovaniemi-Riga, Rovaniemi-Tampere, Kuusamo-Riga, Kuusamo-Lappeenranta, and Kuopio-Lappeenranta.
Estonian Independence Day Celebrated in England with Veljo Tormis Concert
23 February - On the anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, 24 February, a concert of Veljo Tormis’s music will take place in the United Kingdom, during which the composer’s works will be performed by the chamber choir The 24, directed by John Potter. The composer himself has been invited to attend the Independence Day event taking place in York in Central England.
On the programme are the choir cycles “Ingrian Evenings” and “Karelian Destiny” plus a selection of Estonian lyric folk songs. The concert will begin will the composer Tormis giving an introduction to his works.
Veljo Tormis has long ties to the University of York. The composer has visited there before to unlock the secrets of folk songs, and at the initiative of John Potter a Tormis archive has been created at the university. This time the Estonian composer’s visit to Central England includes workshops for young composers, open rehearsals, and interviews. BBC Radio 3 is preparing an extensive programme on the composer’s works prior to his visit.
All of the events are made possible with the help of the Estonian Embassy in London.
Helsinki Embassy Celebrating Estonia’s Anniversary with Dance Performance in Savoy Theatre
23 February - On Thursday 25 February at 18.00 the music and dance performance “Opus Tempus” will be performed at the Savoy Theatre in Helsinki to celebrate Estonia’s independence day. The performance was organised by the Estonian Embassy in Finland and the STÜ (Sõltumatu Tantsu Ühendus). A formal reception dedicated to the 92nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia will take place the same day in the Estonian Embassy in Helsinki.
“Opus Tempus” is described by its creators as a surreal game of colour and form that links the dancers and musicians into a whole on the stage. It is a literally "upside down" performance inspired by the baroque paintings of the movie artist Mike Worrall. In addition to everything else that's in reverse, musicians will dance and dancers will create sounds in this piece, their talents and characters blending on stage to create a whole.
The choreographers of “Opus Tempus”, Mari Mägi and Kaja Lindal, are also dancers in the piece, and the music was written by Monika Mattiesen. The music is played by the quartet Una Corda, which consists of Liis Jürgens on harp, Ene Nael on harpsichord, Kristi Mühling on Estonian zither, and Monika Mattiesen on flute.
The premier of “Opus Tempus” took place in March 2009 in Tallinn, and the performance has earned considerable media attention.