An eventful year 2010 has marked and shaped my first year in Estonia. Political, economic, environmental and other powerful influences have challenged U.S. and Estonian leaders. The final tally is very positive. America, with the help of friends like Estonia, dealt successfully with environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Our economy is recovering — too slowly in terms of our unemployment picture–but market trends are clearly up. On the diplomatic front we ratified a landmark new strategic arms treaty with Russia that will improve security and transparency not just for us and Russia, but for Estonia and NATO as well. In Tallinn and Lisbon we set the stage this year together for the Alliance in the 21st century. Estonia and the U.S. actively exercised our combined military capabilities together, both on NATO territory and further afield.
Estonia is completing its turbocharged 20-year journey from re-independence to full European, transatlantic, and global integration tomorrow at midnight when Prime Minister Ansip holds in his hands that first Estonian euro. Symbolic of so much more than just a new currency for the country, Estonia’s entry into the eurozone is even more significant because the euro has been through some difficult times this past year. Estonia’s cooly responsible economic and financial policies are exactly what the euro needs today and, as usual, its government is ready to step up and carry the burdens as well as the benefits of a common European currency. Estonia will begin 2011 on the best possible footing, economically, politically, militarily, and in every other way — to seize new opportunities and contribute to common efforts with its partners on both sides of the Atlantic.
For 2011, I am looking forward to building on the already excellent U.S.-Estonian with an eye not only to our strategic relationship, but also the people to people bonds. We will work on U.S. companies bringing jobs to Estonia and for Estonian investments enhancing U.S. business activities. We will keep pushing hard on U.S. digital content access for eager E-stonian consumers. And we Americans will be active participants in an exciting Tallinn Cultural Capital of Europe 2011.
Hallie and I and my entire team at U.S. Embassy Tallinn are most grateful for our friendships here in Estonia and wish us all a great 2011 together!
Today is the day of final decision for Estonia’s switch to the Euro on January 2011. Another clear signal for Estonia’s about to be completed journey into the full range of European and Transatlantic institutions. At the same time, I have read with interest about the recent meeting between the Estonian Confederation of Employers and the Russian Association of Entrepreneurs, and their expressions of mutual hope for improved economic ties between the two countries. Literally and figuratively, Estonian President Ilves’ call for a new bridge across the Narva river called for a bridging of the gap between the two countries. The Euro and Russia relations — a contraction for Estonia? I think not. An emminently rational and pragmatic progression of relationships for a European free market democracy that is interested in solid and profitable business relationships across the globe.
Modern American diplomats are generally allowed to be creative in the exercise of their duties. Unless an idea involves a significant amount of unallocated U.S. government resources, we are encouraged to think more like entrepreneurs and not like bureaucrats. I have long liked that aspect of my job, and it’s gotten to be even more fun as Ambassador. When I first stepped of the airplane at Lennart Meri Airport here in Tallinn, I told my staff and the assembled press “let’s get started!” This was as much a challenge to myself as it was to my Embassy and to the Estonian-American relationship.
So literally since last December, I have looked for opportunities in Estonia for the U.S. business, government, academic, NGO, science, technology, and service industry sectors. Some interesting possibilities have come to my attention via already existing Estonian – U.S. contacts: shale oil exploration, a tourism infrastructure project, infectious disease research and prevention, and IT infrastructure security, to name just a few. I have also started my own wholly unscientific and ad hoc list of interesting opportunities in various sectors looking around this country.
A fundamental question I have asked in conversations around the country and also hear asked of me in talking with other Americans is about Estonia’s entrepreneurial vision for the future. Where does Estonia want to be 5-10-20 years from now. What is next for the “Nordic Tiger,” especially after EURO accession next January? Given the amazing accomplishments of this country over the last 20 years, outsider expectations are high — justifyably so. Given the current state of the world economy, I have heard very cautious Estonian expressions of future plans and ambitions. Not surprising, since Estonian sobriety and responsibility have allowed the country to weather the past three years more successfully than virtually anyone else.
“Risk” may be a bit of a dirty word after recent business excesses around the globe, but entrepreneurial risk remains a basic tennent of our capitalist system. Therefore the question of “whither Estonia” in terms of its further development as a player on the global economic stage is a logical one. I throw it out there for comment/input/inspiration. Let me hear from you.
On June 24, Estonian EU Commissioner Kallas and U.S. Secretary of Transportation LaHood will sign the new U.S.-EU Civil Aviation Agreement. This accord extends indefinitely the terms of the U.S.-EU “Open Skies” agreement of 2007 and deepens our cooperation in aviation security, safety, competition, and ease of travel.
For American and EU travellers this will mean more, better, and less expensive means of crossing the Atlantic. It is impossible to overstate the importance of travel options, its safety, and its affordability in today’s fast moving and cost conscious world. As important as air travel is, however, the Icelandic ash cloud over large parts of Europe this spring was a stark reminder of the importance of a diversified regional and global transportation network.
For Estonia, the lack of a high speed road and rail network, and fewer than desired air links connecting it to the rest of the EU, are a challenge that will look for solutions as our economies increase their pace of recovery. Better transportation options will ease the path for new investments in Estonia and business opportunities for American entrepreneurs. Solutions will unfortunately be expensive, but “if you build them, they will come.”
Soap Box Derby Narva 2010
Despite my regret over Russian unwillingness to allow me to meet with their border officials and local political leaders across Estonia’s Narva border, we had a very successful trip to the northeast region last weekend. I learned about business plans by the U.S. company Eastman Chemicals after their recent purchase of Genovique Inc. in Kohtla-Jarve. The Port of Sillamae is a large, exceptionally modern port facility with expansion plans and an eagerness to welcome U.S. shippers. The Estonian Border Patrol in Narva could not have been more open and helpful in decribing their management of the Estonian/Russian border and their hopes for facilitating even smoother and more expeditious border traffic as soon as Russia is ready to agree. Narva city officials were positive about Narva’s political and economic future. The Narva College of Tartu University is completing construction of its new campus in downtown Narva and the College’s dynamic leadership has great plans for further programs as the top flight higher education institution in the northeast region. Dinner with professional leaders of Narva College at the beautiful Narva Joesuu coast had the double benefit of insightful conversation about education in Estonia and marvelling at the touristic treasure of Estonia’s as yet to be fully realized tourism potential.
Estonia’s Power Company Eesti Energia (EE) is an impressive outfit that makes Estonia self- sufficient in electricty generation by mining oil shale, firing large power plants, and producing petroleum products. New technologies pioneered by EE are greatly reducing polluting emissions. Aspiring U.S. shale oil producers are eagerly looking to EE for insights and collaboration in exploring vast U.S. oil shale reserves in the future.
Finally, my visit was capped by helping launch the fourth annual Narva Soap Box Derby, organized by most energetic young community leaders who have cast all negative thinking aside and drew some 30 entries and thousands of visitors to this zany contest of all kinds of rolling machines. The weather cooperated and Narva was alight with happy people, laughing children, and a cacophony of voices in Russian, Estonian, and English. Our Embassy entered two vehicles into the derby and good fun was had by all.
There are many challenges facing the Estonian economy, especially in the northeastern area I visited. Too many people are either unemployed or under-employed. But the sky is not falling and good will and a concerted effort by the Estonian government, civil sector, and private business has every chance of bringing prosperity to every last corner of this remarkable country. I continue to gather some ideas of our own of interest to American business and consumers to suggest to our Estonian friends and I will share them as appropriate with all the relevant players.
April 26 is World Intellectual Property Day. May 7 I pick up my new Apple IPad on a trip back to the U.S. Although I am technologically challenged when it comes to understanding computers, I depend on them and love to use them, both for business, information, and entertainment. I am excited about the IPad and its possibilities — fast and easy web access, e-book reading, movies and music on the go, even simple word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software! And the iPad is just such a cool bit of industrial design!
But it would be little more than a pile of aluminum, glass, and plastic without the intellectual property employed to design it, produce it, and give it the content that makes it come alive. If we want future iPads and other tablets, notebooks, netbooks, desktops, 3-D films and televisions and the “Avitar,” music files, mobile phone applications, and other software of all kinds to flourish and ease and enrich our lives, we MUST protect the rights and yes, income, of the creative minds from which these innovations stem. Downloading intellectual property from the net or buying illegal copies of DVDs or CDs is not different than stealing a car or shoplifting in a department store — and in the end even more damaging.
Good citizens respect their neighbor’s car, home, and a department store’s shelves. Good citizens respect what flashes on the screen of an iPad.
On April 22 -23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join her Estonian and other NATO colleagues for a meeting of Alliance Foreign Ministers in Tallinn. The location of this meeting is no doubt both a pleasure and a burden for our Estonian hosts. I particularly want to thank the people of Tallinn in advance for their patience with the inevitable disruption we will cause for a couple of days.
But Secretary Clinton is not only attending an important NATO event, she is coming back a third time to Estonia to visit with true friends. A lot has happened since her last visit in 2004. During that year, Estonia joined NATO and the EU. Estonia reassumed its rightful place in a free Europe it never left in its soul and became a fierce defender of freedom in the Transatlantic Alliance.
In 2007, Estonia not only overcame a cyberattack on its territory,but responded by establishing a NATO Cyberdefense Center. Estonian soldiers have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and kept the peace in the Balkans. During the past three years, Estonia weathered the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression and is emerging in such sound shape that you are on track to introduce the Euro as your currency in a little more than eight months from now.
Talk about success! In 2004, Senator Clinton visited a resolute and proud Estonia clearly on the move. Next week she will see the amazing results of Estonia’s journey to date. She will be immensely pleased, but somehow I suspect she will not be surprised. Estonians live up to their own high expectations of themselves. The rest of us know that you consistently punch above your weight.
Welcome back Madam Secretary!