Officials, businesses and NGOs gathered for the Estonian president's annual discussion forum at Tallinn's Song Festival Grounds on Thursday. They discussed possibilities for a sustainable Estonia, in the context of gloom from some commentators and a National Audit Office report that predicts the nation's workforce will decrease by 100,000 by 2030.
Keynote speakers included Finance Minister Jürgen Ligi, former justice minister Kaido Kama, lawyer Jüri Raidla, businessman Viljar Arakas, artist Kaido Ole and philosopher Guido Viik. Topics included democracy, national and local government, demographic and regional issues, and human capital.
In his opening speech, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: "In spite of our self-pity, there are some things we do especially well. I would never have guessed or dreamed that, for instance, the European Union and the US would take our IT initiatives and e-government so seriously.“ "Out of wisdom, or more likely austerity, we have built up some big systems so that, compared with many other developed countries, we spend and often fortunately waste significantly less money and time,“ Ilves said.
He noted that countries have very different models based on tradition and geopolitics. If Estonia were in Greece's shoes, based on population, Estonia would have an air force with 50 fighter jets. By contrast, he said, Estonia is half the size of the capital of Denmark, but Copenhagen does not have a military or border patrol at all.
"Is our habit of adopting models for ordering the affairs of life from other countries and those much larger than us a smart and sustainable decision?“ Ilves asked, pointing to the less-than-optimal health care system and structure of municipal government. In 2013, the president said, there would be one young, old or sick person for every working taxpayer.
"It is of course possible to raise the retirement age and to that way keep a stable workforce, but that only has substance if the elderly stay healthy and active, and if we have work to offer the elderly that suits there skills and abilities. We can dream of Estonia's own space shuttle, nuclear submarine or organizing an Olympic Games, but we realize this is impossible,“ Ilves said.
The overarching theme of the president's speech was that people have lost sight of ideals and have veered away from nation-building. He said the status quo could not be accepted as unchangeable, touching on the recent political turmoil. "It seems certain that a thorough revision would not do any harm to our electoral system and party operational mechanism,“ Ilves said