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Estonia’s Success Story: The Short Version
Words of wisdom from a few who helped make Estonia the high-tech and debt-free stronghold of Eastern Europe.
by Martin Ehl
29 June 2011
Colleagues and friends think I am a Polophile. But during my visit to Estonia last week I realized that, if anything, I am an Estonophile, even though I am able to say only “cheers” and “thank you” in Estonian.
Allow me to present for your consideration a few views of Estonians whom I have met. The following quotations should illustrate why this country has an efficient system of electronic public administration, should not be scared of rising interest rates for state bonds because it does not release any, and features a public debt of only 6.5 percent of gross domestic product.
“The public is against borrowing money against the future of our children. Voters understand that managing the state without debt is essential and they appreciate that” –
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, explaining the reason why he was re-elected in March. He thereby became the first Estonian prime minister to defend his seat since the country regained its independence in 1991.
“Ninety-four-and-a-half percent of people filed their tax returns electronically. The Estonian tax office is probably the only one in the world that does not collect money but pays it out” – Peeter Luikmel, an economist from the Estonian National Bank. He was explaining the law that obligates the state to pay within five working days any overpaid taxes owed to those who submit the form electronically.
“Estonians use their common sense when it comes to the economy, in contrast to some nations in Southern Europe” – Finance Minister Jurgen Ligi.
“I am evaluated according to whether I finish a task or not, not according to the hours that I am present in the office. Thanks to e-government I can work evenings” – Maria Varton, a project manager at the Economy Ministry and the mother of three small children.
“It takes 18 minutes to establish a new company with the help of the electronic system of public administration. There were competitions when somebody did it in 15” – Indrek Vimberg, head of ICT Demo Center, a showcase for Estonian high tech.
“We have splendid technicians and designers, but the problem is marketing and presentation. In addition, it’s still a handicap for a company to have its origin or base in a post-communist country. Sometimes I have the feeling that it’s enough to have an address in San Francisco and interest in your company rapidly increases” – Tonu Runnel, founder and head of the website-building company Edicy.
“We hope that Nokia will go bankrupt and more skilled IT people will come here from Finland” – the manager of an expanding Estonian IT company, complaining about the lack of qualified employees.
“Estonians hardly use credit cards” – Vimberg, explaining Estonians’ reluctance to go into debt.
“At the beginning we didn’t have time to ask the government for support – we preferred to just do business. It is better to focus on business and acquire a few customers and money from them, rather than rely on the government” – Martti Paju, sales manager at the software company Erply, speaking about the possibility of drawing government support for newly established small companies.
“This year 24 percent of voters used the electronic voting system” – Vimberg, of ICT Demo Center.
“Business relations with Russia are the best in the last 20 years. In political relations there is some space for improvement” – Prime Minister Ansip.
“After 1990 a young generation grew up without any knowledge of Russian. They are trying to catch up but it is a problem for them when they look for a job” – journalist Toomas Toomsalu on relations between Estonian-speakers and the native Russian-speakers who make up 20 percent of the population.
“It is difficult to say how we survived. But we are here and we are happy” – Ansip on how it was possible that the Estonians survived thousands of years of foreign supremacy and established their first national state only in 1918.