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The President of the Republic participated in the Davos Forum

President Lennart Meri spoke on the Baltic Session of the World Economic Forum at Davos together with the Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and the Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, and answered the questions of the forum participants.

In his introduction, President Meri spoke of the historical, cultural, religious and linguistic differences between Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russians inhabiting the coasts of the Baltic Sea. ''Despite our differences, the Estonians are hand in hand with the Lithuanians, Latvians, Finns, Swedes and others around the Baltic Sea – I also hope the Russians – reconstructing the heritage of the past millennia when the Baltic Sea region formed one economic whole,'' President Meri said.

Estonia has always considered the Baltic Sea to be a Northern Mediterranean, where economic growth in one part stimulates growth in other parts. 45 years of dictatorial rule on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea have not erased the history of co-operation and mutual trade. Estonians have traded and are trading with our western and eastern, northern and southern neighbours, both before the advent of the Hanseatic League and after its demise, President Meri said and expressed his hope that new partners would accede to the co-operation.

As Meri said, Estonia's development proves the importance of regional co-operation. ''Tourism has started to come back to Estonia – last year we had 6 million tourists visiting Estonia, a country of 1,3 million. Most of them were from neighbouring countries. This is as if 480 million tourists visited Germany. Most of them came from our neighbouring countries. Considering the relation of tourists to population the number should have been 480 million tourists for Germany,'' Meri added. As the President said, the cargo processing in Estonian ports has increased 150% within last five years.

As the President said, Estonia is in a hurry. As he said, Estonia today, in 2001, can be compared with Germany in 1960: we had to start from point zero by building up a completely new foundation for our national economy. Today the entire country is covered with mobile telephone networks, and most of Estonian schools correspond via e-mail with a school in Switzerland or Indonesia, and in terms of Internet penetration Estonia has bypassed some of the EU countries. Estonia is developing fast not out of a sporting interest, but because we realise that we lost 45 years and that we have to hurry to jump over this divide that separated us from the development level of other countries, President Meri said.

''The Economist predicts economic growth for this year to be 6 percent. I am convinced that when we join the EU in the next coming years we will be able to inject some of this dynamism into the structures of the Union,'' Meri added. Besides trade, where the share of the EU amounts to 70%, also cultural and ethnic culture relations are important to Estonia – as well as relations between researchers, writers, artists, and choirs, relations that bring nations closer. Also the Finno-Ugric co-operation, where Estonia, Finland and Hungary have to support their distant relatives on the other side of the Urals, is important.

''Roots are important when we design our future, they help us to retain important ethnic diversity that is so necessary in today's globalising world,'' President Meri said.

As President Meri said, Estonia should besides economic success give more attention to the problems of social development, so that all the population could enjoy the success and efficiency.

The discussion where the Presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania participated, addressed also matters concerning the future of Russia, especially the development of different regions in Russia and direct relations with different regions in Russia. Estonia considers it important to co-operate with our closest neighbours in the area of St. Petersburg and Pskov; also Russia's transit through Estonian ports is important. The President also mentioned the shipping line between the Gulf of Finland, Lake Peipus and Tartu as one of the ideas for the future.

In Davos, President Meri also met the EU Enlargement Commissioner Günther Verheugen, the Swiss President Moritz Leuenberger and the philanthropist George Soros, to discuss matters of world economy and politics.

The President participated in a dinner hosted by the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, where also relations between Estonia and Japan were discussed.

On the meeting with Noboru Hatakeyama, Chairman of the Foreign Trade Organisation of Japan, the President approved of the idea to arrange an exhibition of the economy of the Baltic countries in Japan in September.

President Lennart Meri will be back in Tallinn on Sunday.

Press Service of the Office of the President
Kadriorg, January 27, 2001


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