Nation interrupted: expectations for 2002

  • 2002-01-10
  • Kairi Kurm and Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - A recent poll carried out among Estonian decision-makers and business people revealed their expectations for the coming year. Emotional events like the Eurovision Song Contest and the winter Olympics came top of the list of things to look forward to in 2002.

But arguably the most important decision to be made this year will be whether Estonia is to be extended an invitation to join NATO at the Prague summit in November. A long-held dream of Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, many fear that with the government about to change it could stay unfulfilled.

Since Mart Laar announced his resignation, most Estonian residents are puzzled about who will replace him. Laar himself expects any new government to carry on with projects already launched, especially the path to the European Union and NATO, and the privatization of major national assets.

If the president fails to name a person to form the next government, elections are an option. Politicians and observers doubt, however, that this would make the picture clearer. Polls say there would be no clear winner.

Other political experts say that elections would hamper the work of the entire state administration machine for at least six months. All bills now under consideration will have to be terminated.

"I predict that a new government with a richer variety of parties will be created," said Evelyn Sepp, who has reason to be optimistic; she is spokesman for the Center Party. "Whether Estonia receives an invitation from NATO this year or gets good news from the EU depends on integration processes globally," she added.

Likely changes in managing the energy sector can, according to Sepp, be seen to after the current government crisis is solved. "Since we can't absolutely exclude extraordinary elections I can't give any preliminary prognoses," said Sepp.

Toomas Reisenbuk, chief analyst at the investment bank Trigon Capital, said that the forming of a new government is the only thing he expects something from, because it will determine the development of the economy and changes in taxation.

The Estonian Genome Project team hopes to finally get investor agreements signed in 2002. According to Krista Kruuv, head of the Estonian Genome Foundation that runs the project, investors have already been found and the contract drafts are ready.

She declined to reveal the investors' identities, apart from saying they come mostly from abroad.

After the investment channels start to work, a pilot project can be launched in three Estonian counties this year. Genetic data from 10,000 voluntary donors will be collected and analyzed. This will put the real project, its security and quality, to the test.

From Jan. 1, 2002, three Estonian financial supervision agencies - the banking supervision department at the Bank of Estonia, the Securities Inspectorate and the Insurance Inspectorate - formed a single watchdog called the Estonian Financial Supervision Authority.

The new body should help to enhance the stability, reliability, transparency and efficiency of the financial sector.

Daniel Vaarik, an adviser to the Ministry of Finance, said the formation of a new government, local elections in October, Estonia's integration to NATO and other international structures and Eurovision are the most important events.

"For the Ministry of Finance, the implementation of the second pillar of pension reforms and preparing a state budget for 2003 are the priorities," he added.

This next stage of pension reform, due to be put into place on March 1 and which will be mandatory for youngsters starting on the employment market, foresees funding pensions by paying monthly installments into a pension fund.

A new trading system that has allowed from Jan. 1, 2002, the trading of listed securities on the Tallinn Stock Exchange in the Helsinki Stock Exchange trading system, should liven up the Estonian stock market.

Juhani Seilenthal, manager at Nordea Bank Estonia, said the new trading system and the pension reform are the most important events for him.

"Where trading is concerned, on the one hand an era of 'independence' is coming to an end, but on the other there will be a brighter future for Estonian securities," he said. "It's hard not to see this as a positive development.

"And as the trading will start in euros, this is the start of a new era within the bigger euro framework."

The introduction of the euro as common currency by most of Western Europe should have positive implications for the Estonian economy. The growth predicted by many in the euro region will have a knock-on effect for Estonia's own economic outlook.