Laar: Estonia is lacking clear vision

28.01.2013, 11:24

In the opinion of Mart Laar, one problem facing Estonia today is lack of clear vision for the future. The ex-PM who is currently in wheel-chair because of a massive stroke that he suffered about a year ago said in an interview to Äripäev that the country seems to be moving without a clear purpose, policy-making is not systematic and this is a cause for crises. Below are abstracts from his interview to Äripäev.

Q: When will you publish your political memoirs?
I don’t know. I cannot rule out the possibility that I will never write them. It’s nice when people write books and memoirs of other people make me want to write mine. But at present they are not on the top of my agenda.

Q: Have you read Edgar Savisaar’s new book?
No, and I don’t plan to. The name is very promising and I understand that it talks about corruption. I though Savisaar was making a sincere confession, but it seems that he is writing about other people, not about himself. I must admit that this is not very interesting.

Q: How likely you think that Estonia will turn left?
Right-wing parties have been on power for so long and this is a risk because in politics it is clear that things change because people would like to see new faces. They would like to try something new, new concepts or trends. But this is a luxury that you can afford in a strong democracy. I don’t know if Estonia would survive such experimenting, life will tell. (…)
There is a possibility that when people come to power, they will also come to their senses. This is always a possibility and very welcome. But more often than not, it will not happen. Then it will be difficult, especially if you look at promises that have been made in public. When these promises get to be implemented, the consequences will be dire.

Q: What would you do if someone offered you a PM’s post?
I have been a PM twice and it’s enough. Yes, I have mainly been turning down offers and I plan to keep doing it, at least for very prominent places. (Laar did not respond to the speculation that IRL was attempting to make him chairman of the supervisory board of Bank of Estonia once the term of Jaan Männik expires this summer).

Q: What should be done in Estonia?
Things that are undone, such as the administrative reform. This would help to make our country stronger. It is said that an administrative reform would hit hardest local governments, but I claim that the thing that has hit us hardest is the fact that there has been no administrative reform. We must stop living in illusions. Tough decisions, and they will be tough for people who need to implement them, must be made. I understand that this is something that Helir-Valdor Seeder has been trying to do, moving government agencies away from Tallinn. As PM, I did it as well, including the move of the Supreme Court and Ministry of Education to Tartu, in spite of protests. And I was happy to see that the majority of specialists approved it.
Another major problem is our birthrate, but there are no simple solutions. Life will tell, and quite radically. It’s not easy to convince women to have more children. 

Q: If you look back to 2012, what events would you highlight?
Without doubt, 2012 was a year of confidence crisis, in more sense than one. This is how it will be remembered in the history of Estonia. (…)
All these things made me somewhat sad. All this is too much déjà vu, these are things that I have come across during my political career. There is nothing new under the sun. What makes me laugh is people who wave the ethics banner and preach everybody about morals, while themselves helping their friends secure building contracts without tenders. It should be stopped.

Q: Is this crisis the ethical crisis of the government?
We should not only talk about the government, but take a wider look. It’s about lack of certain goals. There has been not enough courage to set these goals, these targets.
Back then, it was much easier. We laid down a few crazy goals that seemed impossible at that time and built the rest of policy around them. One of such goals was NATO accession, this requested many decisions.
Once you set the target and make the first important decisions, other decisions will follow. They may be right or they may be wrong, but it’s important to make decisions and move forward, testing the water.
At present I see that Estonia is moving without a clear goal. We used to have one – in my opinion it was too material and financial, but at least there was one. But it seems to have been derailed now, at least it is not reminded and there is no policy around it. Lack of systematic policy is what causes most crises.

Q: What would you have recommended Kristen Michal to do if you had been Ansip?
I would have suggested from the start to do what he has down by now.

Q: What can the government do to restore its credibility?
You either have credibility or not. It’s very hard to build it. The only solution is communication, there is little else than can be done. My governments were also not highly popular, but I feel that also the decisions that we made were not too bad. I think that prime ministers must not be hugely popular since this could turn them into dictators. The nation must be proud of its country and feel that it is going in the right direction
Right now I don’t feel it very much. There are very many problems. It’s also the question of what is the priority. It’s simply ridiculous that Estonians want to be on top of all imaginable rankings.
Estonians have become a nation of rankings. It seems that we want to be on top of all rankings, but we are not and will never be. There are things that you can change and there are things that you take with you from the past.
People want to live like in Finland or even better. They don’t seem to understand why Estonia is where it is.
If you go back to 1939 and think whether we should have done something to resist, to preserve our independence or not. Finland managed to do it and in 1939 they were comparable to Estonia. So why are people now surprised that they get several times more money for the same work in Finland than in Estonia. This is the answer. It’s not that one of us is working poorly or is not so smart or that the government has done something wrong.
We don’t want to compare us with Latvia and Lithuania, or even Central and East European countries. We are comparing us with Finland and Sweden, the world’s richest countries. But we have done extremely well also in comparison with the Central and East European countries. Our geographical location has helped us greatly.
If you ask me philosophically, if this is the Estonia that we wanted, my answer is that definitely. For those who don’t agree, I suggest to visit Belarus and see what are the alternatives. This is a good basis for comparison.