Estonia is nicknamed the “Baltic Tiger” because of its impressive economic growth rate. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip of the liberal Reform Party is a staunch advocate of the free market and hopes to make the economy even more dynamic by introducing the Euro. EuroNews caught up with him in the Estonian capital, Tallinn.
EuroNews: You want to be among the first new EU member states to introduce the European Single Currency. You are planning to introduce it next year. Why not wait a little longer, like Poland for example?Ansip: Things are going well here in Estonia. Our economy is growing rapidly, by ten percent per year, and our exports are growing by 27 percent per year. The number of tourists visiting Estonia is growing by more than 30 percent per year. Our unemployment rate was 14 percent just five years ago, now it is 7 percent. We are really happy with European Union membership. Estonia was quite attractive for Foreign Direct Investment and I am absolutely sure that, thanks to the Euro, Estonia will be even more attractive for Foreign Direct Investment. We would like to do our best to launch the Euro on January 1, 2007. We are fulfilling all the Maastricht criteria. But there is one exception – that is the inflation criteria. We have a balanced budget policy here in Estonia, we even have a surplus. But our problem is the inflation rate. The inflation rate is now four percent, but when the economy is growing at ten percent a year, you can not expect the inflation rate to be less than one percent. We will do our best to have the Euro next year, but I am not so sure that we will get the right inflation rate at the right time.
EuroNews: Regarding the fundamental freedoms of the European Union, Estonia has argued that some of those freedoms have not yet been implemented, for example the free movement of persons, or the free movement of services in Europe. Why this Estonian criticism?
Ansip: I know that in Great Britain or in Ireland, for example, they do not have any restrictions on the free movement of labour – and the unemployment rate in the UK is lower than in those countries where they have restrictions on the free movement of labour. Many years ago we were also afraid here in Estonia. We did not know how to face up to global competition. But we opened our market to the outside world and we were able to compete in the global marketplace. And I am absolutely sure that the EU will manage this too if it moves in the same direction as we did. EuroNews: Regarding your neighbour Russia and the development of the freedom of the press and the development of the NGO situation in Russia, what is your comment on the recent problematic developments in Russia?Ansip: They are not particularly positive developments. We know there are some problems with the freedom of the press. We are not happy with the situation of minorities in Russia, for example of the Finno-Ugric minority in Russia. EuroNews: Russia is saying that the Russian minority in Estonia is discriminated against. What is your response to that ? Ansip: In Estonia we apply international standards on the treatment of minorities. EuroNews: Quite recently, we saw the problem between Russia and Ukraine regarding the pricing of gas. What lesson should Europe learn from this ? Should the European Union develop a common energy policy ? Ansip: If one country negotiates with Russia or 25 small markets negotiate with Russia, there will be one winner and 25 losers. If 25 member states come together and negotiate with Russia on the basis of a common energy policy, the result will be a win-win situation, and all the parties will be happy.