Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 15
4 October 1999

C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Estonia
All the important news from Estonia since 25 September 1999

Mel Huang

Sad, but true. The Estonian government approved a set of import tariffs - the first since the restoration of independence. The set of tariffs, rising to 59 per cent, are being applied to countries with which Estonia does not have a free trade agreement, such as the United States and Russia. This is a sad day, since Mart Laar for years argued vehemently against customs tariffs, deeming them anathema to his ultra-liberal trade policy. Now in his post as prime minister, the tables have turned.

After a tough battle, the Riigikogu approved the accession protocol to the World Trade Organisation. The 48 to 7 vote did not reflect the negative attitude of the opposition, as most did not vote. Among them, 33 opposition MPs, who also signed a letter denouncing the passage, calling the conditions a "capitulation" of Estonian interests. Estonia still needs to pass several harmonising pieces of legislation before the 31 October deadline.

However, the Legal Chancellor, Eerik-Juhan Truuvali, rocked the boat when he said the ratification of the WTO protocol was invalid. Truuvali said that the ratification needed majority support among the membership of the 101-member Riigikogu; the measure only received 48 supporting votes. The Legal Chancellor recommends a re-vote, but with other legislation pending, the vote may not be able to make the 31 October deadline.

Prime Minister Mart Laar visited Poland to take part in a "ten years after" forum of centre-right politicians. During the visit, Laar also met with Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and discussed NATO and EU integration.

Estonia remembered the more than 850 people who perished on the ferry Estonia which sank in the Baltic Sea five years ago - on 28 September 1994. Rumours surrounding the cause of the sinking continue to grip the press and public, despite the official commission ruling citing a shipbuilding fault and subsequent decisions by all the involved governments in the three countries not to reopen the case.

The press attacked state officials for not publicly commemorating the tragic event. The press berated Prime Minister Laar, President Lennart Meri and members of the Riigikogu for doing nothing in commemoration of the tragedy that shook Estonian society.

The plan by Interior Minister Juri Mois to cut the number of police is drawing further criticism. The planned cutbacks in Tartu have been scaled back, much to the relief of protesting Tartu mayor Andrus Ansip. But, the other regions are up in arms about the cuts, which they claim punish the precincts with the best records of fighting crime.

The UN World Investment Report notes that Estonia received the highest per capita direct foreign investment in 1998 within all of Central and Eastern Europe. The report shows FDI per capita was USD 407.

Amazing: Parliamentarian Kalev Kallo, arrested in the summer for drink drive in a high-profile and embarrassing case, is appealing the court decision to fine him and ban him from driving for 14 months.

In a related story, now it has been rumoured that presidential hopeful, leader of the Moodukad party and chairman of the Riigikogu Foreign Relations Committee , Andres Tarand may have been drunk at a reception while in Reykjavik, Iceland. Tarant, who accompanied President Lennart Meri on the state visit to Iceland a few weeks ago, is accused of being inebriated at a public reception. This is not unfamiliar to Tarand, who has also been arrested for drink drive in the past. This could damage Moodukad's campaign in the upcoming local elections, in which their sole slogan is "Tarand Presidendiks - Vali Moodukad" (Tarand for President - Vote Moodukad).

Also somewhat related, the police revealed that there was no cocaine in the blood of Mait Metsamaa - former Tallinn deputy mayor who is accused of killing two while driving under the influence of alcohol. With this result, Metsamaa will be charged with the normal drink drive crimes and manslaughter charges.

The power company Eesti Energia warned that power could be disrupted for up to half an hour at the millennium - due to disruption in Russia. As Estonia's power grid remains connected to the Russian grid, disruptions due to Y2K in Russia could affect the power supply in Estonia. As the grid spans several time zones into the Urals, the power company told people to be ready for a blackout after 18:00 on New Year's Eve, but then reassured all that it will be able to get things back on-line in less than 30 minutes.

Tallinn opened its representation office in Brussels - but with funding for a part-time representative only.

Prime Minister Laar presented the draft 2000 budget to the Riigikogu. The new budget will total EEK (Estonian kroons) 28.25 billion - inclusive of the social budget. Otherwise, the normal state budget is EEK 17.1 billion, a bit smaller than the 1999 budget.

Exchange Rates
As of 30 September 1999

currency Estonian
1 US dollar 14.65
1 British pound 24.16
1 German mark 8.00
1 euro 15.65

Prepared by Mel Huang, 1 October 1999

News Sources

Baltic News Service (BNS)

The Baltic Times

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Reuters news on Yahoo


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