President Ilves attentive in Austria.
TALLINN - President Toomas Hendrik Ilves participated in an Estonian-Austrian economic forum at the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, where he delivered a speech that introduced the current situation in the Estonian economy. “Estonia and Austria are determined partners in the European Union, and we observe the same principles. Both of us follow the same directions when pursuing matters related to the Eastern Partnership initiative, West Balkan integration with the European Union, and solving energy security issues,” said President Ilves. “From January 1, we can also extend our co-operation to the euro zone.”
President Ilves stated that Estonian business culture is based on clear regulation and a simple taxation system; the public administrative burden is small, the banking system is essentially electronic, and public services, including the declaration of taxes, are available online. “Therefore, it’s not surprising that a trading company only takes fifteen minutes to establish. This makes Estonia a good place for starting a business for anyone who is really interested in pursuing business in Estonia,” said the Estonian head of state.
Ilves expressed his hope of strengthening economic relations between Estonia and Austria as a result of Estonia’s accession to the eurozone on Jan. 1, when Estonia becomes the 17th euro zone country.
Speaking of Estonia’s strong financial performance, Ilves said that “In regard to public finances, balancing expenditures and revenues and meeting the Maastricht criterion became possible, despite the credit crunch, mostly thanks to our long-established tradition of conservative budget policies. However, this still meant large cuts on expenditure, but I’d like to emphasize here that we started making cuts at least one year before any other European Union country identified the need to reduce their expenditure.”
When speaking of the future, President Ilves said that at present Estonia needs to consider its next steps and will have to begin establishing requirements and objectives for itself. “We have met all the criteria to join NATO and the European Union and there are no more influential international organizations left to aim for. Therefore, we need to answer the following question: what do we do and how do we proceed, if there are no criteria to be met,” said Ilves.
During their official visit to Austria, from Nov. 23-24, President Ilves and Evelin Ilves also met with Hans Penz, the president of the parliament of the State of Lower Austria, as well as Christoph Leitl, the president of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and Austrian businessmen.
“Compliance with the agreed rules within the EU is extremely important for small European Union countries, as this is the principle that makes us strong as a community,” said the Estonian leader at his meeting with Heinz Fischer, the president of Austria.
The Estonian and Austrian heads of state discussed European Union enlargement towards the West Balkans. “Vague status outside the European Union will only contribute to instability, not just in the south-eastern part of Europe but, as we’ve all seen, in Europe as a whole,” President Ilves said. “I’m worried that enlargement fatigue is descending on the European Union. This is wrong. The open door policies of the European Union will extend the belt of reform-orientated countries in Europe, while making us all stronger, more successful, and influential.”
According to Ilves, the enlargement policy must be pursued further on the current grounds, as the European Commission recommended in its recently published enlargement strategy and progress reports, but an uncompromised principle should be applicable to both the candidate countries and the EU itself.
Presidents Ilves and Fischer confirmed their support for the European Neighborhood Policy and for strengthening of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. “We must take the road of free trade, simplified visa procedure, and visa freedom to give substance to the Eastern Partnership. This does not only require steps to be taken by the European Union, but it also assumes preparedness from the Eastern Partnership countries to take the negotiations more seriously. Free trade agreements are not just political declarations,” President Ilves confirmed, as he invited Austria to participate in the work of the EU Eastern Partnership Training Center in Tallinn.
When discussing the Baltic Sea Strategy, which was initiated by Estonia, and the Danube Strategy, completed under the leadership of Austria, both President Ilves and Fischer confirmed that both contribute to promoting cooperation within the European Union and the competitiveness of the EU.
In discussing European energy security, the Estonian head of state highlighted the diversification of suppliers and sources, the establishment of additional energy links between the European Union member states, common energy policies towards third countries, and the creation of a working energy market within the European Union as the most important issues.
“But we also need to agree upon some common rules that are applicable to importing electricity from third countries, as this must contribute to enhancing competitiveness in the market while not putting investments, made between member states to ensure energy security, at risk,” said Ilves. According to the president, the success of the South Corridor projects – whether it be Nabucco, Turkey-Greece-Italy and Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania, or the White Stream gas pipeline – is of key importance for the European Union energy security.
Economic relations between Estonia and Austria are making progress, despite these difficult times, admitted Ilves: “We encourage Austrian businessmen to come to Estonia. The adoption of the euro serves as a sign of our stable economic environment.”
President Ilves invited Austria to participate in the NATO Center of Excellence for Cooperative Cyber Defense in Tallinn. “I’m sure that Austria could participate in projects of interest. Threats in cyber space, both those of a criminal and military nature, represent a common concern, problem, and challenge to all of us – both for NATO member states and any democratic countries that do not belong to the alliance,” he said.
President Ilves also met with Michael Haupl, the mayor of Vienna, and Barbara Prammer, the president of the Austrian National Council.