Politics and foreign affairs
Prime Minister Mart Laar made a visit to France to discuss Estonia's integration into NATO and EU with his counterpart Lionel Jospin. Laar stressed that his government will ensure that Estonia is ready for membership by 2003. Laar, accompanied by a business delegation, also encouraged French businesses to invest in Estonia.
Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš made a quick visit to Estonia to meet with his counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Various bilateral and international issues were discussed, ranging from EU enlargement to Russian developments. The pair also decided to make joint arms acquisitions, citing cost and interoperability as reasons. The two also discussed the possibilities for Latvia to dump its controversial pork import tariffs.
President Lennart Meri made a trip to the US, where he stopped in Minnesota and Massachusetts. During the first leg of the trip to snowy Minnesota, Meri was granted an honorary doctorate by St Olaf's University in Northfield. The school also announced a special scholarship in the name of President Meri for Estonian scholars at St Olaf's. In Minneapolis, Meri also met with representatives of energy company NRG Energy, which is in talks to buy Estonia's main power plants. Meri also met with flamboyant governor Jesse Ventura. While in Cambridge, Meri gave a lecture at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University.
The opposition failed to oust Finance Minister Siim Kallas in a vote of no confidence, as the government defeated the motion by a 36 to 45 margin. The opposition has been very critical over Kallas, as the minister has a pending criminal charge against him over a falsification issue from his days as the governor of the central bank.
The Riigikogu officially passed legislation aimed at reuniting families affected by the immigration quota. For the most part, immediate family (spouses, minors and parents of) will be exempt from the annual immigration quota.
The Riigikogu also approved a EUR 13 million loan from the Nordic Investment Bank for the construction of the EU-standard 500-inmate prison in Tartu.
President Meri appointed Vello Vensel as the new governor of the central bank. Vensel, a statistics professor, won an upset victory against incumbent head Vahur Kraft.
The government created an "anti-riot" special force, to be used in cases of widespread disturances. This move was likely influenced by the unfortunate situation in Turkey during an international between Leeds United and Galatasaray. Finland has offered to help, and the model is likely to be from the Finnish example.
Prime Minister Mart Laar represented Estonia at the gathering of prime ministers of the 11-country Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in Kolding, Denmark. During the summit, European Commission President Romano Prodi confirmed that enlargement is a top priority, and that it will be done "as soon as we can." The group also discussed regional co-operation, as well as developments in Russia. Many bilateral meetings were also held within the context of the summit.
While that was happening, defence ministers from the so-called "3+3" group - Estonia, Latvia Lithuania, Denmark, Germany and Poland - met in Copenhagen, to discuss co-operation. The three NATO members in the group also reaffirmed their support for Baltic integration into NATO.
Newspapers scoffed at the "unrealistic" budget demands from the individual ministries, attacking especially the Economics Ministry's desire to double its budget. Other high demands came from the Agriculture Ministry (77 per cent), Interior Ministry (70 per cent) and the Environment Ministry (65 per cent). The total budget figure will only shift upwards by a few percentage points, probably under the Finance Ministry's own desire to expand their budget by five per cent - the lowest amongst ministries. With all this, Finance Minister Kallas wants to lower taxes all over the place, which may cut EEK 900 million from next year's revenues...
The ruling Pro Patria Union is also discussing the idea of making everyone's income and tax declarations public. They claim honest people have nothing to hide, but extortionists and burglars are waiting for this moment!
The government asked President Meri to appoint three new ambassadors: Riina Kionka to Germany, Toomas Tiivel to Sweden and Andres Tomasberg to Spain. Kionka is the former head of the Foreign Ministry's Political Department, Tiivel was ambassador to Latvia and Tomasberg was ambassador to France.
Economics and business
The shipping sector had an excellent 1999, with 34.4 million tons of cargo handled at Estonian ports. This is an increase of 26 per cent from 1998. Russian transit cargo accounted for 69 per cent of all cargo handled, which is a rise of 29 per cent.
Estonia in March saw a little inflation, with CPI going up by 0.7 per cent.
Social and local interest
Organised labour could regain some of its lost strength, as the white-collar breakaway TALO union discussed the idea of further co-operation with the Estonian Association of Trade Unions. Combined, the two would have over 100,000 members, giving the combination more clout in discussions with employers and the government.
The unemployment rate jumped to 5.7 per cent in March, with Ida-Virumaa still highest at 10.4 per cent.
And in other news...
Estonia's national ice hockey squad is in fourth place in Group B play in Katowice, Poland. Despite a spectacular 6-5 win against Britain, they were shut out against Denmark near the end of the week 4-0. Germany leads the table in Group B play. Estonia is seeking to be promoted to Group A to join Latvia - as well as other big boys in hockey, such as Canada, Sweden and Russia.
As of 14 April 2000
|1 US dollar||16.37|
|1 British pound||25.94|
|1 German mark||8.00|
[Up-to-date Estonian exchange rates can be found here]
Mel Huang, 14 April