President Ilves: We Will Succeed If We Act Together
9 April - “European security used to be a problem until the end of the Cold War; now that the problem has been solved through NATO and European Union enlargement, we all need to think innovatively. Therefore, the future of trans-Atlantic relations lies in resolving new problems together,” said President Toomas Hendrik Ilves last night in Prague at the meeting of the President of the United States Barack Obama with the presidents or heads of state of 11 European countries. According to the Estonian head of state, the United States, NATO, and the European Union will succeed if they act together and rely on each member’s strengths and capabilities. President Obama agreed, saying that NATO does not have new or old members, only members who have equal responsibilities and will be ensured equal security.
The Estonian head of state mentioned achieving success in the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan as one of the most important issues that requires the combined efforts of all stakeholders. “This is the symbol of the reliability and credibility of the alliance,” President Ilves said.
The Estonian head of state acknowledged the administration of the United States, which was capable of bringing Russia back to dialogue with western countries after opposition from Russia and especially following the Georgian war in 2008. This has led to a new milestone—the signing of a new agreement on restricting the numbers of nuclear weapons each country holds, which was signed yesterday in Prague. President Obama assured that such an agreement will not serve to diminish the ability of the United States and NATO to deter threats and has not lost its meaning for the security of the member of the alliance. At the meeting, which lasted for two hours, the issues of fighting international terrorism, enhancing energy security, restraining the nuclear ambitions of Iran, and the stability problems of the Western Balkan were discussed.
Baltic Foreign Ministers Agree on Audit of Nordic-Baltic Co-operation
9 April - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstiņs and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Ažubalis agreed to compile an audit regarding co-operation in the Nordic-Baltic region (NB8 –Nordic-Baltic 8), its current situation and opportunities for improving it. “We would like to make co-operation among the Nordic and Baltic nations even more successful and productive,” stated Paet.
Nordic-Baltic co-operation, or NB8, is a regional format that promotes both political dialogue and practical co-operation and includes Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The chairman of NB8 co-operation in 2010 in Latvia.
The Baltic foreign ministers exchanged views on the topics to be discussed at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting. “The NATO foreign ministers’ meeting is the biggest international event ever to take place in Estonia. For a few days, Estonia will become an arena for formulating transatlantic foreign and security policy,” stated Paet. “Tallinn will also be the first place where the foreign ministers of NATO can discuss the renewing of the Strategic Concept,” he added.
The foreign ministers also discussed matters related to the European Union’s External Action Service. Foreign Minister Paet mentioned the importance of the foreign service in planning financial resources for development co-operation in order to create a basis for a more coherent European Union development and foreign policy.
Ansip Affirmed to Finnish Colleague That Estonia Sustainably Fulfils Maastricht Criteria
9 April - At his meetings today with the Finnish prime minister, minister of finance and Central Bank managers, Prime Minister Andrus Ansip affirmed that Estonia has continued to satisfy in a sustainable manner all of the criteria for joining the euro zone and is ready to join the euro zone at the beginning of next year. The prime minister also affirmed that Estonia was planning to continue a conservative budget policy in the future. Estonia already met the inflation criteria in November of last year.
Estonia’s government sector debt is the lowest in the European Union - 7.2% of our gross domestic product. Last year, thanks to the structural reforms and a reduction in the public sector expenditure, Estonia’s government sector deficit was only 1.7% of GDP, which is also one of the lowest in the European Union. “To date, we have government sector reserves worth approximately EEK 25 billion, which is 11.7% of our gross domestic product," Ansip said.
In the estimation of Prime Minister of Finland Matti Vanhanen, Estonia is likely the only country in the European Union to meet all of the Maastricht criteria. “The euro requires a positive signal, which Estonia's accession to the euro zone will certainly provide,” Vanhanen said. “I hope that Estonia is able to join the euro zone as soon as possible, as this is very important also to Finland,” the Finnish head of government added.
Jyrki Katainen, Finnish Minister of Finance, acknowledged the work done by the Estonian government. “Your activities have been absolutely right for the country, and I set great store by it,” the minister of finance affirmed. “The euro objective is important in the creation of stability,” Katainen said.
Currently, Finland is the most important export market for Estonia. Finland is the second biggest foreign investor in Estonia. Estonia’s exports are closely tied to the euro zone, with no less than 70% of Estonia’s exports headed to countries in the euro zone.
At his meeting with Prime Minister Vanhanen, Prime Minister Ansip also provided information on Estonia's bid for its candidacy as the IT agency’s host country and thanked the neighboring country for supporting Estonia. Namely, the Finnish prime minister has affirmed in an official letter Finland’s support for Estonia's candidacy for the host country of the IT agency.
Estonia Supports Quick Conclusion of EU-Georgia Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement
11 April - Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that Estonia supports the quick concluding of a visa facilitation and readmission agreement between the European Union and Georgia.
Paet stated that the goal of concluding a readmission agreement is to develop co-operation between the countries in order to organise as effectively as possible the departure of individuals that have unlawfully entered the country or are unlawfully residing in the country. “The readiness to implement a readmission procedure is one of the most important topics for Georgia in the framework of European Union immigration policy,” he added.
The Estonian Public Service Academy in co-operation with the Police and Border Guard Board will help to organise a readmission procedure training for up to ten officials from the Interior Ministry, Justice Ministry and Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation that deal with readmission issues. During the course of the training, the Georgian officials would gain experiences and information about the readmission procedure in Estonia as a European Union member state.
The project is being funded by 325 000 kroons allocated from the Foreign Ministry’s budget for development co-operation and humanitarian aid. Georgia is one of Estonia’s priority partner countries for foreign policy and development co-operation.
Paet, Cypriot Colleague Discuss Unification of Cyprus
15 April - At their meeting in Nicosia, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou discussed the status of negotiations to restore the unity of Cyprus. Foreign Minister Paet stated that the Cyprus negotiations must consistently progress in order for a solution to be reached as soon as possible. “Unfortunately, Cyprus remains a divided land, and this is why it is essential for Cyprus to successfully conclude negotiations under the auspices of the UN,” said Paet. “It is essential for the residents of Cyprus and also for the whole European Union and Turkey,” he added.
Paet said that unresolved issues hinder NATO and European Union co-operation as well as EU energy co-operation with Turkey, although Europe needs new energy supply routes through Turkey in order to increase energy security.
While talking about European Neighbourhood Policy, Foreign Minister Paet said that the EU must take an increasingly active position in relation to its partners and support the reform process more purposefully in the framework of both the Mediterranean Union and Eastern Partnership. “Reforms in Eastern Partner countries need to be consistently supported. Focus should be placed on programmes that have visible results, including for the citizens of Eastern Partnership states,” he asserted. Paet added that Estonia plans to establish an Eastern Partnership training centre in Tallinn similar to the Mediterranean Union centre in Malta. While discussing developments in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Paet said that Estonia feels the EU’s contributions to the Middle East’s peaceful attempts to restart negotiations are very important. “In order to move forward with the Middle East peace process, it is necessary to include other Arab nations as well. Equally important to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is regulating the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieving peace in the entire region,” he stated.
Estonian Candidacy to Become Location for EU IT Agency Introduced in Cyprus
15 April - At his meeting with Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Chairman of the Cypriot Parliament Marios Garoyian, Foreign Minister Urmas Paet introduced to them Estonia’s desire to become the location for the EU IT agency for justice and home affairs. “We just submitted our detailed bid to establish the IT agency in Estonia,” said Paet. “In addition to our reputation as a good IT nation and our capability to do work in this sector, we are also focusing on the 2003 decision of the European Council, according to which new agencies should be located in member states that joined the European Union after 2004,” explained the foreign minister.
Foreign Minister Paet also expressed hope that Estonia will join the euro zone on 1 January of next year. “Estonia joining the euro zone would be a positive sign of the zone’s vitality and sustainability. In addition, joining the euro zone upon fulfilling the criteria would provide inspiration for other EU nations to implement responsible and sustainable fiscal policies,” he said. Paet said that Estonia is also looking at Cyprus’s experiences in joining the euro zone in 2008. “The strength and unity of the euro zone are very important to Estonia. The criteria for joining the euro zone should not be made stricter in the light of the problems in Greece,” he added.
Paet also discussed immigration issues with the Cypriot state leaders. The foreign minister stated that illegal immigration from Northern Africa is a problem of concern for Cyprus and the Mediterranean region as well as the entire European Union. “Addressing immigration issues on the European Union level is essential,” said Paet.
Also discussed were bilateral relations between Estonia and Cyprus. “Currently an agreement for the avoidance of double taxation between Estonia and Cyprus is being prepared,” said Paet. The foreign minister added that we also consider co-operation with Cyprus in international organisations to be essential.
Estonian Ambassador to Romania Presents Credentials
12 April - Estonian Ambassador to Romania Taavi Toom presented his credentials to Romanian President Traian Băsescu. Ambassador Taavi Toom resides in Warsaw.
In the conversation following the credentials-presenting ceremony, Ambassador Taavi Toom and Romanian President Traian Băsescu primarily discussed bilateral relations. Ambassador Taavi Toom stated that relations between Estonia and Romania are good, but they could be more intensive in both the economic and political sectors.
Ambassador Toom passed along an invitation from President Toomas Hendrik Ilves for the Romanian president to visit Estonia in the spring of next year. The Romanian president confirmed during his meeting with the Estonian ambassador that a visit has been decided.
At the meeting, Ambassador Toom emphasised that Estonia and Romania have similar views on security policy and energy security policy. The ambassador also added that Estonia is interested in intensifying economic and trade as well as tourism-related contacts with Romania. Other topics addressed at the meeting included Estonia-Romania co-operation in the European Union and NATO. Ambassador Toom talked about Estonia’s candidacy to become the location for the EU IT agency.
Taavi Toom was born in 1970 in Tartu. In 1993 Toom graduated from the law department of Tartu University and has worked in Estonia’s foreign service since 1994, when he came to work at the Foreign Ministry as the director of the European Union division. From 1996-1999 Toom worked at Estonia’s permanent representation to the EU in Brussels. From 1999-2001 he was the Foreign Ministry’s press spokesperson. From 2001-2006, Taavi Toom was the ambassador to Denmark. Before assuming his current position, Toom was the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s European Union department. Taavi Toom has been the Estonian ambassador to Poland since August 2009 and resides in Warsaw. Toom speaks English, German, Russian, and French.
Foreign Minister to Participate in Memorial Ceremony for Victims of Katyn Massacre
13 April - This afternoon a memorial ceremony to commemorate the victims of the massacre at Katyn carried out by the Red Army in 1940 will take place in front of the Estonian Maritime Museum in Tallinn.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, who will be participating in the ceremony at the invitation of the Polish Embassy, stated that Katyn has become an unforgettable symbol of its era not just for the Polish people but for all people who suffered during World War II. “Saturday’s tragedy near the Smolensk airport is a devastating new loss for Poland and friends of Poland,” said Paet.
In 2007 the Polish Parliament announced 13 April as a day of remembrance for the victims of the massacre at Katyn.
Iceland-EU Accession Negotiations Have Estonia’s Strong Support
14 April - Foreign Ministry Secretary General Marten Kokk discussed the situation in the global economy and further European Union enlargement with his Icelandic colleague Einar Gunnarsson, Secretary General of the Icelandic Ministry of Finance Guðmundur Árnason, and members of the Icelandic Parliament’s foreign affairs commission.
Foreign Ministry Secretary General Marten Kokk stated that Estonia completely supports starting accession negotiations with Iceland, followed by Iceland’s accession to the European Union. “For any sectors in which Iceland is interested, Estonian experts will gladly share their experiences in joining the European Union,” said Secretary General Kokk, who gave a lecture at the University of Iceland on Estonia’s experience joining the European Union.
Another topic addressed at the meeting was the incident with Icesave, the internet bank of Iceland’s Landsbank. Secretary General Kokk said that the most important thing is that a solution is found for the situation that would be satisfactory to all the countries involved. He also said that it is important that the banking problem does not hinder Iceland from stepping into the European Union.
From 12-13 April the Foreign Ministry held a seminar in Iceland during which representatives and experts from Estonian government institutions introduced Estonia’s experiences while joining the European Union.
Estonia Plans to Open Consulate in Shanghai
15 April - The Government of the Republic approved the opening of an Estonian consulate in Shanghai, China. The consulate will help to intensify economic co-operation with China and make consular services and aid more accessible to the people living in that area.
Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that opening a consular representation is important and necessary to better promote information exchange and co-operation with China. “Opening a consulate creates opportunities for us to increase contacts with China and contribute to developing bilateral economic relations both during the Shanghai EXPO and after. We wish to utilise to the fullest extent the opportunity to introduce Estonia and to intensify contacts with businesses in China,” said Foreign Minister Paet. “The opening of a consulate also makes consular services and aid more accessible to the people living in that region,” he added.
The expenses involved in opening and running the consular representation will be covered in co-operation with Enterprise Estonia. An Enterprise Estonia representative will work in the same space.
Estonian Medic in Haiti Replaced
9 April (BNS) - The medic of the Estonian rescue team was replaced this week and the mission of the new medic will last until the beginning of May. A spokesman for the Rescue Board told BNS that Lemmo Jonuks, the medic of the Estonian rescue team, began working on Haiti on 5 April, replacing the medic Andras Laugamets. Both the medics work in the Tartu emergency medical service in Estonia. Jonuks's mission on Haiti will last until 2 May.
The spokesman said that one more shift was planned to go to Haiti and it would then be decided whether the mission would continue.
In addition to medics, Estonia also sent logistics and an information technology expert to Haiti to help carry out relief work there. The Estonian rescue team operates in the disaster area in Haiti in the framework of the international humanitarian partnership (IHP).
Over 92 Percent of Tax Returns Filed Online
9 April (BNS) - According to preliminary figures, 556 234 physical persons filed tax returns with the Estonian Tax and Customs Board this year, of which 92.4% were sent online.
Deputy director Dmitri Jegorov said the tax authority was pleased to see that its new developments went down well with customers and that the share of electronic tax returns grew further, even though it was already very high at nearly 91% last year.
Preliminary data show that refunds by this year's tax returns amount to 1.7 billion kroons (EUR 108.63 mln) and additional tax payable is 0.23 billion kroons. By now the tax administrator has already refunded close to 1.5 billion kroons of overpaid tax.
Tax returns filed in 2009 numbered 577 639, refunds totalled 2.64 billion kroons and the sum claimed from taxpayers in additional tax was 0.55 billion kroons.
River Water Level in Tartu Reaches Highest Level of Last 50 Years
13 April (BNS) - Water level in Emajõgi River in Estonia's second largest city of Tartu rose by 2.5 more centimeters in the past 24 hours, reaching 3.26 meters above point zero, which is the highest level of the last half a century.
In some riverside streets pumps are constantly working to hold back the advancing water and several lower-lying streets have been closed to general traffic although local residents are still allowed to use them.
Traffic restrictions will be in effect till water levels in the Emajõgi River, which bisects the city, go down and road conditions improve. So as to avoid damage to shores caused by sharp waves created by motor boats and additional problems in riverside areas, the governor of the Tartu County on Monday banned, at the city government's proposal, motor boat traffic on the river.
It is difficult to predict whether the level of water will continue to rise but it is hoped that water levels were stabilising.
Rasmussen: Baltic Airspace Could be Guarded by NATO Allies
12 April (BNS) - The mission of guarding the Baltic airspace could in the long run be shouldered by NATO allies who have the necessary capabilities, and the Baltic states specialising in other capabilities would then not have to develop airspace-patrolling capability of their own, the chief of the alliance said.
As long as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are not themselves capable of policing their skies it is the duty of NATO allies to ensure the security of the Baltic airspace, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Baltic journalists in Brussels on Monday. In any case, this is a long-term arrangement, he added. Rasmussen at the same time rhetorically asked whether the Baltic states should develop their own airspace-guarding capability and answered that in his opinion this would not be the best way to use resources.
The secretary general acknowledged that developing airspace guarding capability – buying aircraft, building ground structures, etc. – is extremely expensive. He pointed at specialisation as a solution. "Each country does not need to have all the capabilities," he said, adding that ensuring the guarding of Baltic skies also would be more effective in co-operation with allies.
If the Baltic airspace is guarded by countries specialising in it, the Baltic states in turn will be able to participate in NATO missions with the capabilities in which they are specialising, Rasmussen said, mentioning by way of example the Baltic states' participation in the Kosovo and Afghanistan missions. "Such division of labour is much more effective," he said.
The leader of the alliance called the Baltic airspace patrolling mission a visible sign of NATO solidarity. As Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not have suitable aircraft to patrol their skies, their airspace is guarded by NATO allies since the three countries' accession to the alliance in 2004. NATO aircraft are based at the Lithuanian air base of Zokniai.
Trade Balance Positive For First Time Since February 1993
9 April (BNS) - According to preliminary figures, Estonian exports exceeded imports by 0.2 billion kroons in February, resulting in a positive trade balance for the first time since June 1993, the national statistics office said. In February the export of goods from Estonia in current prices totalled 9.7 billion kroons (EUR 0.62 b) and imports made up 9.5 billion kroons.
Compared to February 2009, exports increased by 1.9 billion kroons or 24% and imports by 0.8 billion kroons or 9%. Faster growth in exports compared to imports made the trade balance positive.
February exports to European Union countries made up 6.3 billion kroons, accounting for 65% of the total. Year on year, exports to the EU grew by 18%. Exports to other countries amounted to 3.5 billion kroons, up by 38% compared to February 2009.
Imports from the EU totalled 7.3 billion kroons, making up 77% of all imports into Estonia. Compared to February 2009, imports from the EU increased by 8%. Imports from other countries than the EU27 were worth 2.2 billion kroons, an increase of 11% from February 2009.
The trade deficit with EU countries amounted to 1.1 billion kroons compared with 1.5 billion kroons in the same month a year earlier. At the same time the trade balance with other countries was positive by 1.3 billion kroons.
Export of Estonian Dairy Products to Russia Growing Fast
14 April (BNS) - The Estonian Tere dairy company is taking a hundred tons of fresh products to stores in St. Petersburg and Moscow every month and the whole Estonian food industry export to Russia is increasing, the daily Postimees reported.
Tere board chairman Taavi Toots said that yoghurt, sour cream and curd cream had been marketed in St. Petersburg during the past half a year. Tere's sales have doubled every month and in March the amount of that type of products sold crossed the one hundred tons line. "Our sales in this century haven't been as good this millennium yet as they were in March," Toots said.
Due to customs duties and transport costs the price level of Tere's products is higher than in Estonia but the company's margin is better. Toots said that during the past year Tere had increased its export by two and a half times. Finland, Latvia and Lithuania are also important export countries.
Valdis Noppel, CEO of Tere's competitor, Maag, said that Russian officials had just finished certification of its output. The company is hoping to send its fresh dairy products to Russia in the fall.
Valio's Laeva dairy company sells yoghurt and curd cheese to Russia. The Finnish company has a Russian representation that mediates sales of producers made in Estonia. The main article is cheese made at the Võru facility.
According to Statistics Estonia, food industry export to Russia increased in nearly all areas. The export volume of dairy products was 330 million kroons (EUR 21 mln), more than one quarter higher than the year before last. Cheese made up two thirds of the Estonian dairy products' export and also fresh dairy products are once again sold to Russia.
Number of Tourists to Estonia Grew in February
9 April (BNS) - In February 124 000 foreign and domestic tourists stayed in Estonian accommodation establishments, 2% more than in the same month a year earlier, the national statistics office reports. Foreign tourists numbered 69 000, which marks a 9% increase from February 2009.
Compared with all months of February of the last decade, the number of foreign tourists was bigger only in 2008, when 72 000 foreign tourists used the services of Estonian accommodation establishments.
In annual comparison more tourists came from Russia, Finland, Germany and Sweden. Tallinn continued enjoying popularity with foreign tourists and 78% of foreign tourists used accommodation services in the capital city.
In February 746 accommodation establishments with 16 300 rooms and 35 500 beds were available to tourists. The room occupancy rate was 30%, one percentage point higher than in February 2009. The cost of a guest night is still on down trend. In February a guest night cost 399 kroons (EUR 25.5) on the average, down by 31 kroons from the same month last year.
Estonians Made 191 300 Trips Abroad in Q4 2009
9 April (BNS) - Data from Statistics Estonia show that Estonians made a total of 191 300 overnight trips abroad in the final quarter of 2009, which is nearly 10% more than in the fourth quarter of 2008. However, quarter on quarter the number of trips shrank by 13%.
Most trips were made by holiday-makers – such trips numbered 82 300 in all. Business trips numbered 58 300, and visits to friends or relatives in other countries numbered 50 100. In the fourth quarter of 2008 Estonians made 75 700 holiday and 55 400 business trips to other countries and went visiting on 50 100 occasions.
The most popular destinations were European Union countries, to which Estonians made 138 000 trips in the last quarter of 2009 compared with 109 500 in the final quarter of 2008. Trips to Finland numbered 35 500 and to Sweden 35 900.
Expenditure per person on overnight trips abroad averaged 7 731 kroons (EUR 494), amounting to 9 200 kroons on vacation trips, 8 792 kroons on business trips and 3 652 kroons on visits to friends or relatives. The corresponding figure in the fourth quarter of 2008 was 9 942 kroons.
Finnish Could Become a Second Foreign Language in Estonian Schools
9 April (BNS) - According to a syllabus now being worked out, Finnish could be taught at Estonian schools as a second foreign language starting from 2013. At present it is possible to learn Finnish as a third or fourth foreign language in high school, which means one weekly lesson for three years, a total of 210 lessons.
According to the Finnish Institute, a syllabus will enter into force from 2013 that will make it possible to teach Finnish starting from the sixth grade as the second foreign language in three weekly lessons.
The language policy principles of the European Union are that every citizen of Europe should be able to speak at least two foreign languages in addition to the mother tongue, and one of the languages could be that spoken by a small number of people. The Estonian foreign languages strategy also underlines the need to acquire the command of one's neighbour’s language.
In a poll carried out in 2007 it appeared that there were as many students wishing to study Finnish as, for example French, German, Russian and Spanish as the second foreign language.
At present the Finnish subject council is preparing the new subject syllabus.
According to the Finnish Institute there are currently about 1 021 students learning Finnish as an optional subject at Estonian general schools. At vocational schools courses of Finnish are mainly part of the syllabi of service trades, and this school year there are 1 552 students learning Finnish at vocational schools. In all, the number of people learning Finnish at Estonian general, vocational and language schools and higher educational institutions is assessed to be 6 000 to 7 000.