Happy Birthday, Eesti Kroon!

Estonian kroon - 15
To celebrate, Bank of Estonia held a high-profile conference on Opportunities of Estonian Economy in Global Competition today where I had the pleasure to participate in a panel with a fancy long name: “Competitiveness of Europe and Nordic-Baltic region – private sector view”, alongside with esteemed gentlemen like Microsoft’s European Chairman Jan Muehlfeit, Nordic Investment Bank SVP Gunnar Okk and Stockmann CEO Hannu Penttilä.
I have to admit that for the most part I recycled what I said in Budapest half a year ago. The issues facing the long term competitiveness of European businesses have not really improved recently anyway, have they?
The best speech of the day definitely came from Siim Kallas, our VP of European Commission. He naturally has the colorful first-hand memories of introducing the Kroon, but also shed some light in the political processes behind Euro these days. And shared some criticism to those of Estonian entrepreneurs who have sold their shares off to the West too early, such as the blooming larger banks of late 90s. It was soothing to hear that he gave some relief to Skype, where the Estonian office is still booming along with our global growth and nobody has really retired on the money they made from eBay transaction.

  • Reading your older Budapest speech, I indeed notice that harmonization of legislation across EU, especially on areas of business, telecommunication and mobility of non-EU nationals is still an issue.
    I agree. Those issues have yet to be fixed, especially in the Baltic and in Scandinavia.
    I’m particularly wondering when countries like Estonia, where the local workforce simply isn’t sufficient to fulfill the needs of companies like Skype, are gonna adapt their legislation to eliminate the sort of red tape you described about that Indian worker from Skype’s London office.
    In Estonia’s case, legislations have indeed been relaxed a bit since joining EU, but barely enough to allow what international law calls “guest workers”: people who come and lend their skills to their employers, but who are expected to immediately go back home as soon as their employer decides that they are no longer needed.
    For EU nationals, that sort of guest worker policy is not a problem, anyhow, since home is only a short distance away and EU nationals have no obstacle whatsoever for relocating to another member state for work or study.
    However, for people coming from outside Europe, it becomes a real obstacle, because relocating to an entirely different continent factually does imply leaving everything behind, which means that there must be some guarantees towards being able to settle down for good in the country of employment and to fully integrate, which really implies becoming a citizen. Lacking such a possibility in the target country of employment, a potential candidate will most likely decide to accept an offer from a competitor located in an other EU country where skilled labor is factually welcome to apply for citizenship.
    Adding to this, EU member states like Finland, where people who have lived there forever wake up to the nasty surprise that living under a worker’s permit disqualifies one from ever applying for citizenship and you have a recipe for instant disaster.
    I wonder if Skype would have any economic leverage to convince the Estonian government to ease that silly regulation, perhaps? I would personally love to relocate to Estonia, especially now as I am once again working for an Estonian company, but not at the expanse of forever being an outsider.
    Anyhow, IMHO, if this EU thing is gonna work, 5 years of residence towards applying for citizenship is gonna have to mean 5 years anywhere within EU territory. Then, passing the national language test of the member state where one is applying for citizenship. That’s it. Any extra condition would amount to forced exclusion.
    What’s your take on the above?

  • Hey Martin-Éric,
    glad to hear from you!
    I’ve written a few things on these topics before, but now that I started looking discovered that it’s all in Estonian. Let me see if I find any translations somewhere.
    Very shortly – yes, I do think that being too closed with a tiny & aging population and an enormous economic growth at the same time is a serious threat to future success of Estonia. I’ve been publicly speaking up on this and there are some signs of the government listening, but no substantial developments yet.