Happy with Estonia, unhappy with Brussels
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, while on a visit to Estonia, voiced disappointment over this year's progress reports for EU candidate countries issued earlier this month by the European Commission.
Lindh, in reaffirming her country's support for Estonia's EU integration, said that the progress in Estonia has been good and that the process should move faster than suggested by the Commission progress reports. Lindh confirmed that during the upcoming Swedish EU presidency the process with Estonia will indeed be accelerated and many more chapters of negotiations should be closed.
Estonia currently is in negotiations with the EU on the only 29 chapters up for talks of the 31 total (the other two are related to the ongoing IGC and reforms, and thus are not ready for discussion with candidates, and for miscellaneous issues, which are empty). Of the 29 that have been opened, 15 have been temporarily closed—the last one being Audio-Visual and Culture Policies, closed this past week.
Lindh, on a tour of candidate countries, did call on Estonia to pay special attention to environmental issues.
New Tallinn coalition forged
Last Friday, seven parties gathered to sign a new coalition agreement for the Tallinn city government. The three parties of the national ruling coalition—Pro Patria Union, Reform Party, and Mõõdukad—were joined by the Democratic Party and three parties representing Russian speakers—the United People's Party, the Russian Party in Estonia and the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia. The seven parties together hold a slim majority in the 64-member Tallinn City Council but were stable enough to deflect a no-confidence motion in the city administration that, ironically, some of them supported at first.
However, there is mounting criticism over the deal to keep mayor Jüri Mõis (Pro Patria) and City Council chairman Rein Voog (Reform) in power, especially concerning concessions made to the parties representing Russian speakers. Representatives of the latter have called on the pledges made to them, such as forcing municipal workers to work bilingually and to step into the row over property division between branches of the Orthodox Church, to be fulfilled quickly.
The fight over power in Tallinn was acrimonious and filled with accusations of corruption, collusion with foreign entities and links to underworld criminal groups (see The Politics of Intrigue in CER). However, the stability of the coalition remains fragile, with the Russian-speaking groups holding the balance of power in any possible majority coalition.
New set of road rules
The Riigikogu passed a set of new regulations for the country's motor vehicle operators. Firstly, due to problems with harmonisation with EU standards, Estonia was forced to implement a maximum blood alcohol level for drivers at 0.02 per cent, up from the original no tolerance. Some politicians argued for a 0.05 per cent limit, but that was struck down.
The amendments also allowed authorities to increase the speed limit on certain roads and highways to as much as 120 km/h in certain rural areas. Finally, following the lead of several European countries, it also banned the use of handheld mobile phones for drivers in urban areas; hand-free sets are now required.
Doctors value life, but do bureaucrats?
A study led by researchers at Spain's Miguel Hernandez University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests that Estonian doctors are both more sensitive to preserving life at all costs than some of their European counterparts. The survey of doctors in ten European countries (seven from the EU, alongside Estonia, Hungary and Lithuania) showed that doctors from Italy, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania value life most and would preserve life at any cost over their colleagues from other countries. However, about a third of Estonian respondents also said that they see little difference between withdrawing treatment from a terminal patient and euthanasia.
The zeal of doctors in preserving life at all costs sometimes goes against the bureaucratic grain, as seen in the case of baby Triinu-Liis. The child had a serious heart defect and needed an expensive and complicated operation to save her life. The Medical Fund refused to pay for the surgery in Finland, which earned public outcry. The Fund argued that it is already in dire enough straits to expend such a large amount on a risky surgery.
A separate report showed that the exhausted Fund has created a lengthy surgery waitlist (some hospitals have waits extending to next July), with over 2000 individuals waiting in Tallinn and Tartu. The projected deficit could be as high as EEK (Estonian kroons) 120 million by year's end.
The initial surgery, paid for by Finnish and Estonian donations, was a success, and the press outcry pressured the Medical Fund this past week to give in and pay for the surgery, allocating EEK 676,000. Triinu-Liis is still not out of danger, but now at least has the support of the Estonian state.
And in other news...
- The government is facing accusations of pushing political correctness in lieu of factual accounts over a documentary video dealing with matters of Estonian citizenship and recent history. Some footage in the video reportedly shows scenes of confrontation between independence activists and pro-Soviet "Interfront" activists before the restoration of independence. Populations Minister Katrin Saks is suggesting that such footage be removed.
- China protested a gathering of ethnic Uighurs, a persecuted minority in China's western periphery, held in Tallinn by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO). The Foreign Ministry confirmed that Beijing objected to the meeting, but had not filed a written protest. The spokesman added that there was little the government can do since this was a private initiative. The UNPO has been a thorn in China's side, as Tibet and Taiwan are also members.
- German Land Sachsen-Anhalt opened its representative office in Tallinn this past week, making it the third German federal state to do so.
- The cabinet this past week approved the foundation documents for the country's national security policy, which will now go to the Riigikogu for deliberations. Significantly, the document states that Estonia does not face a military danger presently or in the near future and that possible threats to national security will only during crises of a global scale and uncontrollable political developments internationally. The document also confirms the goals of integrating into the Euro-Atlantic space.
- The late Ambassador Ernst Jaakson, the "grand old man of Estonian diplomacy," left a EEK 8.6 million donation to Tartu University, the largest single donation to the university by an individual. Jaakson represented Estonia for most of his life, starting in 1919 as a teenage courier in Rīga to his final days in 1998 as consul general in New York with only a short military interruption in those 79 years.
- One of Estonia's best-known fugitives, Ülo Voitka, was convicted on all counts for his and his brother's 15-year run from justice. The two Voitka brothers, Ülo and Aivar, were convicted of robbery in the late 1980s but fled justice and hid in the woods. Attempts to catch the two failed for years, and, at times, officials were embarrassed by the antics of the fugitive brothers. Aivar was ruled psychologically incapable of standing trial and is detained in a psychiatric unit. Ülo was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
- The Tallinn Stock Exchange refused to approve an application by Optiva Pank to de-list. The bank was taken over by Finnish insurance conglomerate Sampo-Leonia and will be renamed Sampo Pank starting the next year. This problematic trend of de-listing requests has added pressure to the already illiquid stock market (see this week's Amber Coast for more). On the bright side, the buyout did give ratings agency Moody's the impetus to upgrade from Ba2 to Baa1.
As of 17 November 2000
|1 US dollar||18.09|
|1 British pound||26.23|
|1 German mark||8|
Mel Huang, 17 November 2000
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