Although Estonia has been doing well, for our own sense of security, we actually need to save more, President Kersti Kaljulaid said in her speech on the occasion of the 102nd anniversary of the Republic of Estonia in Viljandi on Monday evening.
“We are accustomed to our world being diverse, beautiful, and rich in species. The technology that was available on Robber’s Rise — mainly the shovel in Sauna-Madis’ calloused hands and Kroot or Mari’s gentle touch of a feverish child’s forehead — was unable to transform nature, the surrounding environment, or, unfortunately, one’s own life,” the president said, referring to characters from the novel “Truth and Justice” by Estonian writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare.
“We have this capability today, of course. Yet now we want the impossible — to transform what we need according to our whims, and to do so in a way that nature is still preserved where we once enjoyed it in its original pristine condition. This cannot be done. It is impossible,” she said.
“Our generation must work like Andres so that the generations to come need not ask us: ‘How dared you?’ It is a grueling race against time that occasionally seems hopeless. The race is, of course, to save the world in the state that we know it and need it to be. But it is also a race to be among the brightest leading nations to adapt,” the president said.
“We have a significant advantage over Andres — our children are demanding that we work hard and clean up the living, beautiful land of the pollution left by the Industrial Age. The children of Robber’s Rise had a place to go if they wished to leave. Ours do not,” she said.
The president observed that our closest partners with whom we cooperate on the common energy market — the Nordic states — have decided to evolve into a region that produces, and even exports, sufficiently clean energy. Estonia has enough energy connections to the north and to the south for us to become passively climate neutral.
“But why should we refrain from taking advantage of the opportunities to be found in this transition?” she asked.
“If we are already restructuring our energy system, then we can certainly improve the dependability of our reserves. We were lucky — the storm that hit Estonia last autumn would have ended much worse for the town of Voru if it had been frigidly cold outside. Still, our crisis-readiness plan has basically been at the bottom of the to-do list for several years already,” Kaljulaid said.
“Thanks to our spending in relation to GDP and our defense forces’ development plan, Estonia is certainly capable of defending itself until allied forces arrive, as well as afterward with their support. I’m afraid the bottleneck lies elsewhere. How will we manage when the petrol station we need to supply fuel for a hospital generator is out of service because the electricity is out?” the president asked.
Kaljulaid said that as a state, we are treating our future challenges like a grasshopper that is chirping away, carefree, instead of stocking up for winter.
“Perhaps there will be a helpful ant nearby — who knows? But in the event of a widescale natural catastrophe, there is always the danger that the ants in our region will need the very same supplies at the very same time as we do,” she said. “If the attitude of the state is that crises might never come, that gales may always blow past Estonia, that extensive forest fires will rage elsewhere, and that everyone is free to rethink setting money aside for their pension, then it will affect the mindset of our citizens. You do not raise ants with the grasshoppers’ example.”
“For our own sense of security, we actually need to save more. Of course it is in our interests to have care insurance, which will guarantee the dignified welfare of not only the patient, but also those who help them. For although the assistance we provide to the elderly and disabled has been growing and advancing nicely, given our current resources, there is no way that one can claim caretakers receive a just salary when you account for their physically and emotionally taxing work. Yet, how on earth are we to plant new pillars of confidence in the hole left by the recently uprooted pension pillar? Who still believes the state’s long-term promise?” the president said.
“Sometimes, we may feel as if everything that has happened with Estonia over the last thirty years — especially the rapid economic development of the last decade — has come about of its own accord. That it would’ve happened anyway. In reality, Estonia is an economically successful and secure state because people have been able to come up with good ideas persistently and without wasting a single electoral cycle. Presently, it appears that our capable legislative mechanism has jammed, which may cost us dearly in 10-20 years’ time,” she said.
The president said Estonia needs permissive legislation in order to quickly adopt new technologies, allow artificial intelligence to learn from large troves of information, and mine data held by both the state and private companies in a way that is safe for everyone. Without this, we cannot develop an economy that adapts to the future, provides for high salaries, and does not pollute the environment.
“Over the last year, there has been very little discussion of how to substantially improve Estonia’s competitiveness, particularly in the technology sector. Competitiveness does not just happen — it is created. We are also justified in asking how the more traditional sectors of the economy are getting by, for they are equally important. Our companies are extremely flexible, high-tech, and innovative. According to the Bank of Estonia, 1/3 of Estonia’s economic growth in 2018 came from foreign labor, even though the opportunities to utilize it are limited. Last year, this figure was already half. Our companies are getting by just fine. Who are we kidding — not even Andres of Robber’s Rise dug the ditch by himself,” she said.
“Yet, there are areas of concern. For instance, the Estonian companies that use newer woodworking technologies are doing well on the global market, but the timber sector as a whole is gradually losing those who have been outpaced by constant technological progress. How can we help Estonian companies in the woodworking, textiles, and other production sectors to update their technology? Or to move their manufacturing experience to cheaper places of production around the world?” Kaljulaid asked.
In 1997, when Finland’s economy was the size of ours today, the country invested 2.7 percent of GDP into research. Sweden invested as much as 3.1 percent when it was at the same level in 1995. That is why today, Sweden and Finland are not simply average European economies, but two of the richest countries in the world, the president said.
She said that judging by the Estonian state’s contribution to research and development, we seem to be satisfied with what we have at the moment.
“What we have isn’t insignificant, and you could even say it’s a lot on a global scale. Still, we do want life to advance! We want it to advance with economic growth that is based on clean technologies!” the head of state said