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Farewell to the kroon: European Commission endorses Estonia’s bid to adopt the euro

Estonia’s long and determined effort to join Europe’s monetary union was rewarded this morning when the European Commission endorsed Estonia’s application to adopt the single currency.

In its 2010 Convergence Report, the EC formally declared that Estonia has satisfied all 5 criteria for membership and recommended that Estonia become the 17th country to adopt the euro as its official currency. The final decision will be made by the finance ministers of the 16 countries already in the eurozone. If, as expected, they give the green light at their meeting in July, Estonia will make the switch from kroons to euros in January 2011.

The Convergence Report asserted that eight other euro candidates (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden) are not ready and must wait awhile longer. Analysts take this to imply a waiting period of at least four more years, so Estonia is likely to be the last country to join the eurozone until at least 2014.

This moment of triumph for Estonia also contains a hint of contention, because even as the EC has endorsed Estonia’s readiness to join the eurozone on the bases of all five required criteria (budget deficits, debt, long-term interest rates and currency stability, and inflation), a report released today by the European Central Bank calls into question Estonia’s readiness on the last factor. According to a Bloomberg report,

[t]aking direct issue with the commission’s ruling, [the ECB] voiced “concerns regarding the sustainability of inflation convergence in Estonia.” Prices in April, the month after the euro test, rose 2.9 percent from a year earlier, the fastest pace in 14 months. Asked in a telephone interview how Estonia will counter the criticisms, Finance Minister Jurgen Ligi said he will work with European governments “to explain our case so that no doubts remain about our eligibility.”

Estonia is probably not too worried. The ultimate decision-makers, the finance ministers of the 16 existing eurozone countries, have always followed the recommendation of the European Commission, and they are under no obligation to heed the European Central Bank’s suggestions.

You can read the New York Times’s report here. And here’s a nice backgrounder on the history of the euro with a list of the countries that currently use it and their dates of adoption.

Key milestone is approaching for Estonia’s 2011 euro bid

Estonia’s long and arduous endeavor to become the 17th country to adopt the euro as its official currency will reach a key milestone next week. The European Commission will issue its official report approving or rejecting Estonia’s application on 12 May.

So what will the report conclude? In spite of the financial market turbulence wrought by the unstable situation in Greece, most analysts expect the EC to give Estonia a thumbs-up. A Reuters backgrounder out today concludes that the EC is “expected to grudgingly let in Estonia”. And Estonia’s bid continues to be supported by its closest neighbors. In an interview published yesterday, Finnish finance minister Jyrki Katainen was upbeat:

“Estonia has coped with a decline in economic activity of 10% and obviously still fulfills the criteria” for adoption of the common currency, he said. “In my opinion, nothing argues against the planned acceptance into monetary union next year.”

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis was even more adamant, asserting in a speech last week in Munich: “We would like to highlight the importance of Estonia joining the euro zone at the earliest opportunity, for the economic recovery and stability of the whole Baltic region.”

Doubts have been raised, however, by an economic report released today which shows that Estonian consumer prices increased at an annual rate of 2.9% in April, the highest rate of inflation the country has seen since February 2009. And public comments issued by Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, have become less favorable than they were just a few months ago.

Assuming a favorable report by the EC, will euro adoption be a good thing or a bad thing for Estonia? I summarized the arguments for and against the adoption of the euro in this earlier post. The Estonian political leadership is still 100% in favor of monetary union, and Estonian popular opinion is still decidedly lukewarm.

This week: Seattle singers to perform in Tallinn, Tartu, and Riga

The University of Washington Chamber Singers and Chorale is currently en route to Tallinn from Seattle to present a series of choral concerts in Estonia and Latvia. The 75 singers, directed by UW music professors Giselle Wyers and Geoffrey Boers, will deliver five lively performances during their one-week Baltic tour.

The tour will begin this Saturday in Tallinn’s acoustically splendid Niguliste Museum (pictured), a rebuilt and converted Gothic church in the old town. It will include stops in Tartu and Riga before winding up next Wednesday in Tallinn’s 16th century House of the Brotherhood of Blackheads.

The complete schedule follows.

  • Saturday, March 20, 12:00 — Niguliste Museum, Tallinn (hosted by Vox Populi)
  • Sunday, March 21, 10:00 — Jaani Church, Tallinn
  • Sunday, March 21, 17:00 — University Aula, Tartu (hosted by HaleBopp Singers)
  • Monday, March 22, 19:00 — Riga (hosted by Riga Technical University Men’s Choir)
  • Wednesday, March 24, 19:00 — Mustpeade Maja (House of the Brotherhood of Blackheads), Tallinn (hosted by Revalia)

Listening to Estonia, 1992: the official soundtrack to Back on the Map

In the Bonus Features section of the website I’ve begun to post the long-promised supplements to Back on the Map.

First up: the soundtrack.

This is a subjective selection of a dozen songs that were hugely popular in Estonia in the fall of 1992, the period covered by the book. These songs were played on the radio, at parties, in bars and nightclubs, in shops and restaurants. Several of them are mentioned in the book and, for me at least, all of them evoke vivid memories of newly independent Estonia.

See the list here. By clicking on a song’s title, you’ll be able to listen to the song.

The photo album and the bonus chapter are still to come. Watch for details soon …

On this day in 1918: an independent Estonian nation was born

Estonia's national flower is the blue cornflower

“Esthonia” had for centuries existed only as a far-flung province in somebody else’s empire. The land that encompasses today’s Estonia has at various times been included on the official maps of Denmark, the Livonian Order, Sweden, and Russia. But never, from the early 13th century to the early 20th century, was Estonia its own nation.

On a cold winter’s day in 1918, however, Estonians declared that the time for independence had arrived.

The idea of nationhood had begun to gather steam in the late 19th century. And on 19 Feb 1918, amidst the turmoil of the First World War, a “manifesto” of independence was approved by Estonia’s Provisional National Council. Five days later, on Sunday, the 24th of February, 1918, it was proclaimed to the world.

The manifesto marked a bold first step, but actual nationhood would have to wait almost two more years, during which the fledgling sovereign state would endure nine months of German occupation followed by a brutal tw0-front War of Independence — fought against Bolshevik Russia to the east and Baltic German forces to the south. De facto independence was achieved with the signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty on 2 February 1920 (which you can read more about here).

24 February 1919: Estonia celebrates the first anniversary of its Declaration of Independence

Estonia’s independence lasted until World War II, at which point it was interrupted by nearly a half century of Soviet occupation. Independence was regained in August 1991, but the Republic of Estonia officially commemorates its independence on the date, 92 years ago, that the bold manifesto was issued in Reval (as the capital Tallinn was then known).

Click the link to read the 1918 New York Times article reporting the proclamation of Estonia’s independence manifesto: Reval would now be free

You can listen to the rousing cadences of Estonian national anthem here, and read more about Estonian Independence Day here.

Happy Birthday, Estonia!

Complete Winter Olympics results for Estonia (updated through today)

Here are the results of all of the Winter Olympics events in which Estonia has competed to date. For each event, we present the medalists and all Estonian finishers. Estonian competitors are shown in blue.

Estonian Olympic team results 2010

Estonia has so far captured one medal: the silver medal in the Ladies’ 10km Freestyle Cross-Country Skiing event, which was won by Kristina Šmigun-Vähi.