Regulating technologies for the future

Posted: June 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: education, governance, human rights, politics, privacy, technology, thoughts | No Comments »
There is going to be some sort of regulation of the new technologies, sooner or later. Governments are getting involved and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Libertarian-minded people might not agree with this, but in the deployment phase of any techno-economic paradigm (as illustrated by Carlota Perez) governments are going to have to step in to guarantee the success of the deployment for all.
In the previous TEP, this was “The New Deal”, Marshall Plan and the development of global institutions. This resulted in the post-War Golden Age in the US and Western Europe, with the social safety net and a strong middle class. The one before (The Belle Epoque) was more of a Gilded Age, which benefited only a few.
The ICT TEP, which we are in the middle of, is going to be the greatest of those so far, because for the first time to paradigm shift is more or less global, impacting billions of people at once.
  • We need regulation to ensure that new technologies reach all people of the world and not benefit just the few (enacting strong net neutrality rules for example).
  • We need smart regulation to prevent tech monopolies from abusing their position.
  • We need rules that provide public oversight and participation.
  • We need to make sure that new technologies are not going to be used for unethical and immoral ends.
  • We need to make sure that there are strong privacy rules protect the individual, their freedom and autonomy.
  • We need to make sure that technology does not allow totalitarian and extremist propaganda to isolate individuals and destroy solidarity, trust and social cohesion that is more necessary that ever in an interconnected and interdependent world.
  • We also need to change our existing regulations to fit with the new world, in all levels of governance. Otherwise we are sailing the oceans with outdated maps (as Seyla Benhabib so well compared the lack of guidance that international law gives us in a new era of cosmopolitanism). This requires creativity and imagination, an open mind.
However, there are also those that want to step in and regulate in ways that work against those goals. There are those who want regulation to go the other way: expanding and legalising mass-surveillance, ban strong encryption, protect monopolistic technologies, prevent or limit access to technologies by poorer countries or help to deny the voice and participation for minorities and women.
The fight is not for or against regulation: not having rules is not a sustainable option. The fight is about what kind of rules we will have; whether there will be those that protect human dignity, freedom and rights, advance solidarity and mutual respect and understanding; or those that divide and threaten, limit freedoms and rights.

The EU Funds What Member States Are Unwilling To: The Erasmus Master’s Degree Student Loan Guarantee Scheme

Posted: November 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: education, european union | No Comments »

The following is an abbreviated and edited excerpt of my Master Thesis, defended last year, on the topic of free movement of studens within the EU. The excerpt is on the EU-level Erasmus+ Student Loan Scheme, which was approved by the European Parliament today. The issue relates in the grander scheme of things to the balancing of MS solidarity in the area of education and possibilities for a transfer union in the EU.

The Erasmus programme has been a success. Between 1998/1999 and 2008/2009 the number of students who participated in the Erasmus scheme of studying at least one semester of their studies abroad rose 104% (Wächter 2012). However, the impact of the Erasmus mobility programme is only limited, because students study abroad as a part of their studies in their home country, meaning that they will receive the diploma from their home university as well as majority of tuition there. This has prompted the Commission to propose to extend mobility advantages to also people who go to study a full course in another Member State.

As part of its proposal for the Erasmus for all programme, now renamed Erasmus+, which replaces the existing EU education mobility programmes, the Commission proposes to offer an EU-level loan guarantee facility for Master students who go to study in another European country. According to the Commission, the facility is needed because national loans are not portable across boundaries or are not available for Master level and private banks offer too expensive loans. The scheme works as guarantee offered by the European Union to the banks. In the proposal, the Commission estimates that nearly 12 000 Master students will make use of the possibility in 2014 when it will be established, reaching to over 67 000 in 2020, making it a total of 330 000 students. 25% of the overall budget of €19 billion will be used in the higher education sector.

The Commission’s proposal is a welcome one. If accepted by the European Parliament and the Council, it paves the way for a pan-European solution that is not too costly, because it is a loan guarantee scheme. Experience with a similar scheme operating in Estonia has provided modestly successful results, although a lot depends on the specific terms of the loans, maximum amount and repayment terms. In Estonia, there have been issues regarding repayments of the loans, forcing the guarantees to be realised by the banks and the government turning to courts to sue the mobile students. However, the benefits of the scheme seem to far outweigh the potential risks.

Similar loan guarantee schemes operate for example for SMEs within the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007 to 2013) as well as for film producers using the MEDIA Production Guarantee Fund within the MEDIA 2007 programme. These schemes cannot be compared with the breadth and the impact of the proposed European Stability Mechanism or the temporary European Financial Stability Facility, which are financially much more demanding and operate under different rules, but still represent a shift of financing from Member State to EU level. This will also be the case of the Erasmus Master’s degree student loan guarantee scheme.

In case it will be a success, it will be possible that more similar cost-sharing programmes will be introduced and expanded also to Bachelor studies. However, it can be questioned how large such a loan guarantee programme could be without it becoming similar to big transfer schemes such as the ESM. If a lot of students decide to utilise the scheme and its successors, then it will need to be funded in a substantially higher amount.

If the scheme will be a successful one, it should also provide assurances for Member States that a common solution on higher education funding is possible and perhaps at some point other areas of social support or funding for education will find their way to the EU level.

Perhaps this is the first step towards an US-style student loan and grant system, which has been successful in fuelling the higher education market there. That will be a matter for a more distant future. However, looking back at the humble beginning of the Erasmus programme, when it was still uncertain whether national laws would make it possible for universities to conduct Erasmus agreements (Lenaerts 1989), such a possibility seems no longer such a great leap of faith.


  • Lenaerts, Koenraad, ERASMUS: Legal Basis and Implementation. European Community Law of Education, Bruno De Witte (ed), Nomos, Baden Baden, 1989, p. 123.
  • Wächter, Bernd and Irina Ferencz, Student Mobility in Europe: Recent Trends and Implications of Data Collection, in A Curaj et al (eds.), European Higher Education at the Crossroads: Between the Bologna Process and National Reforms, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht, 2012, p. 405.

Why it is not a good thing to have only one law school in Estonia

Posted: July 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, european union, human rights, law, thoughts, university | 1 Comment »

Disclaimer: I am currently employed by Tallinn Law School at Tallinn University of Technology.

Recently, a little fight broke up in the media between the Faculty of Law at University of Tartu (UT) and Tallinn University  (TLU) Law School, in which the Dean of the former claimed that TLU lacks resources and capacity to teach lawyers. The latter of course responded and others have chimed in, including Ministry of Education and my own boss from Tallinn Law School at Tallinn University of Technology (TUT).

The backstory is a bit long and complicated: The Faculty of Law of University of Tartu has enjoyed a dominant position among law schools in Estonia. It used to be the only law school in Estonia before Estonia re-gained its independence, and is still considered by many as the only ‘true’ law school in Estonia. In many ways it is, as although many private law schools were established in the 1990s, these have not survived various financial and administrative challenges (some of which were possibly orchestrated by University of Tartu and Ministry of Education and Research). However, two private ‘new’ law schools merged with the other bigger public universities and thus pose a greater potential challenge for UT. This is the way I ended up working at TUT (the law school was based on the law school at now defunct American-style, international-oriented Concordia International University Estonia). TLU ended up getting merged with Academy Nord, politically well connected more widely oriented law school.

The current higher education policy favors consolidation and avoidance of duplication. After the financing reform of higher education, ‘responsibility’ of teaching law was assigned to UT. TUT and TLU thus were not supposed to teach law in Estonian and tuition-free. Our law school sensibly chose to offer studies in English, with some Estonian law courses in Estonian (which has been the strength of our law school). TLU, however, is admitting 90 students this year to study law tuition-free, which has ticked off both UT and Ministry. Some of their concern regarding capacity and capability of TLU is legitimate, but mostly TLU goes against government policy.

But is it a good policy to have only one strong law school in Estonia? The obvious argument is that Estonia with 1.3 million inhabitants is unable to support more than one high quality law school. Arguments of efficiency and most rational use of public funds are used to argue that only UT should teach law. This is the way it has been previously (and in many fields is still today).

However, what is the impact of the dominance of one law school?

Everyone knows everyone. Estonian legal community is already incredibly small. In a situation where almost all of the practicing lawyers, judges, prosecutors, many politicians and policymakers, know each other from the university, it means that important legal decisions might not be made based on justice, but based on other things such as personal friendships or animosity. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Märt Rask has stated that there are serious issues regarding the Tartu Court House, into where both judges and prosecutors work. Mr Rask claimed that judges and prosecutors had become so familiarised working in the same building that judges no longer asked prosecutors any questions during trials. Indeed, when one new judge challenged this practice, prosecutors got angry at the judge. Having more than one law school would help to alleviate this problem somewhat (and not putting judges and prosecutors into the same building as well).

All students study under the same faculty members. If there is only one professor of criminal law, or labour law or European law, then this means that students are exposed to only one point of view. Professors and instructors are not machines, they are human beings with specific leanings and understandings. Some are good, some are bad, some emphasise certain things, some other things. Having only one person teaching all lawyers legal principles and approached in any field is a huge incentive for groupthink. This is compounded by the lack of problem-based learning and overreliance on lectures.

Lack of diversity in terms of schools of thought and development directions. There is a difference in what kind of values are instilled into students at law schools. There are law schools that value legal positivism, there are more liberal law schools. There is a difference in how law is taught at different universities as well as what is emphasised. The Estonian educational authorities seem to think that there is only one way and that this role can only be played by UT. This means that the institutional choices made by this one law school apply for all of Estonia. For example, the internationalisation efforts of UT are rather limited in the field of law. They teach exclusively in Estonian and Estonians, their faculty is Estonian (excluding a few visiting scholars). Thus, if they were the only law school in Estonia, Estonia would be rather blank in the international legal space.

Lack of diversity leads to stagnation and poor quality of teaching and learning. So having only one law school would lead to further diminishing of the status of legal education and law in general.

The remedy would be to be more lenient regarding diversity in the area of teaching and research in law in which international competition is limited (it is hardly likely that any other university outside Estonia gets involved with Estonian law), supporting more universities to offer studies in Estonian and about Estonian legal system. This means that state educational policy must change considerably, which is extremely unlikely at the moment. The only other solution is to study abroad and hope that students return to Estonia, but this takes much more resources from the society and skills and knowledge acquired from other jurisdictions can only be applied in Estonia to a limited degree.

It would be interesting to see a more detailed analysis on the impact that havinga domionant law school has for the society in terms of protection of human rights (especially procedural rights), the legal profession in the country and the quality of legal education. Sadly, no-one has looked into this, because there are very few countries in a similar situation.

Race and racism in Estonia

Posted: February 26th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, human rights, thoughts | 3 Comments »

Current scientific understanding based on modern genetics is that race is not a scientific category, but a completely inaccurate and useless way of distinguishing between groups of people. According to the Human Genome Project:

DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other. Indeed, it has been proven that there is more genetic variation within races than exists between them.

Therefore I might have more in common in my DNA with someone living somewhere in Africa than someone in Estonia. The European Union has already in 2000 clarified in recital 6 of the Racial Equality Directive (Directive 2000/43/EC), that “[t]he European Union rejects theories which attempt to determine the existence of separate human races.”

It seems, though, that very many people in Estonia have not yet got this message or refuse to believe it. If you read Estonian wikipedia, distinct races do exist (and are also mentioned and described in detail). The same information is still taught in schools, as I understand. In public discourse, races are usually referred to, probably due to the Soviet understanding of races and the widespread dissemination of that information.

Trying to categorise people based on their perceived race, has led to a lot of horrific events in the past, which is why using race even in sociological or self-identification way might not be the best idea. If you subscribe to the idea that distinct races exist, then it is not difficult to find people who argue that this or that race is inferior or superior. There already are a number of classifications based on which people irrationally discriminate or hate groups of people, like ethnic origin, skin colour, language, gender, sexual orientation and beliefs. Unfortunately there are people who not only believe that races exist, but also attribute specific characteristics to people belonging to these made-up races and considering them inferior, which is where racism comes from.

It seems to me that racism is alive and quite prevalent in Estonia. I do not have any substantial research on this (there is a lack of reliable research on this), but I will offer a number of anecdotal evidence, which has made me feel this way. I already mentioned that many people is Estonia react with extreme incredulity when I mention that races are not a scientific basis for categorisation of human beings.

First, there is the word ‘neeger‘ in Estonian language that many people still defend as a valid word to use for black people. It should not be used, but people still do. Second, there are the experiences of people with other skin colour. I recently read Abdul Turay’s fantastic book about Estonia, in which he describes his ordeals when crossing the Estonian border. Similar notions of racism among police and border guards seem to be quite common for asylum seekers also. At Human Rights Centre, where we work with asylum seekers, there are a number of stories of racist behaviour among officials. The final example relates to the media coverage related to the bunch Vietnamese people who were discovered illegally in Estonia, which was anything but fair.

I do not understand why pretend that there are no problems? There is racism in Estonia as well as racist hate crimes. As long as the problem is not faced, the victims of racism will remain marginalised and victimised not only due to the attacks, but also due to the attitudes of the society, which pretends that there is no problem.

On the importance of libraries

Posted: January 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, thoughts | No Comments »

The one institution that I have most respect towards is the library. It is a symbol for the progress we, humans, have made. Libraries have always played an important role in education, democracy and freedom. The libraries must be free and independent in order to fulfil best the needs of the society they serve. It scares me whenever their independence is threatened, either by way of censorship or cutting funding or by setting limits on which publications the library can buy with state funding.

In Estonia from this year, public libraries (people’s libraries) have to spend 50% of their state funding on specific Estonian publications, as directed by the state. This has been the result of a minor culture war in Estonia waged by our Minister of Culture Rein Lang against books written by Barbara Cartland and the like. These state mandated, so-called cultural publications, are prizewinners, somewhat elitist works who are rarely read otherwise. Although I can detect some sort of a good intention in this action, I cannot in any way support or agree with it. Even though it is not full-blown Orwellian censorship, it still stems from the notion that the people are dumb and the government is smart and people need to be told what to read. It also means that especially those people in rural areas who had grown accustomed to reading recent bestsellers are no longer able to do so, which is a shame.

It is early to tell what the impact of this decision is, but my guess is that people will use libraries less, because books that they want to read are not there. With dwindling numbers come more budget cuts and reduction of numbers of libraries and soon we might end up with a situation in which this important network of local libraries is no longer there, depriving people of an important service. This means also that fewer children go to the library and appreciate its value.

If the government really wanted to help libraries to perform better, then they should encourage the transfer to and accessibility of digital publications. They should provide better tools for digitizing existing content and create a legal framework where this can be accessible. This should not only be limited to books or periodicals, but also music, films and other important arts. The information society has provided us with incredible possibilities for enjoyment of culture, all kinds of culture, by everyone, but sadly much of the content is locked away due to draconian and outdated intellectual property laws (I know first hand what are the expenses involved in accessing academic journals). In order to make libraries more relevant they could be made into zones where all this culture and education is accessible by all for free.

Estonian Higher Education Reform and EU internal market free movement rules

Posted: November 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, european union, university | No Comments »

There has been a lot of debate in the Estonian society regarding the draft higher education reform proposal which is currently considered by the Parliament. It is based on free education for all competent students, a rather populist election promise of the conservative coalition party. There have been numerous concerns raised regarding the draft, ranging from it actually limiting access to education and hurting quality, but it seems that these arguments do not stand in the face of determination of the current Minister of Education and Research, Jaak Aaviksoo (the same guy who is responsible for the horrible Freedom Monument on Freedom Square).

The basic aspects of the reform are reform of funding of universities by making new result oriented agreements for receiving state funding (which is a good thing) and banning universities from taking any tuition fees from students who complete their studies in due course (which is a bad thing in my opinion unless the state is willing to provide the same amount of financing students paid before). Thus, funding of higher education is decreased.

The issue I wanted to point out regarding the reform relates to the fact that only studies that take place in Estonian are funded by the state. This language based restriction seems to me to be in contradiction to free movement rules of the EU (and I doubt that it could be objectively justified in this scale). The European Court of Justice, while agreeing that every Member State has the right to organise educational system in their countries, has stated that they must observe EU law when doing so:

The Member States are thus free to opt for an education system based on free access – without restriction on the number of students who may register – or for a system based on controlled access in which the students are selected. However, where they opt for one of those systems or for a combination of them, the rules of the chosen system must comply with European Union law and, in particular, the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality. (C-73/08 Bressol, p 29)

In the Bressol case Belgium limited access to medical or paramedical programmes to only residents of Belgium, because a lot of students from other EU countries wanted to study there. The ECJ found that this was indirect discrimination based on nationality and this contrary to the Directive 2004/38/EC guaranteeing free movement rights. The court was presented several justifications for this by Belgium, most notably a justification based on risk for public health, which was ultimately left for the national court to decide.

It is correct that the proposed Estonian system is pretty unique and comparable only to the Czech Republic where free higher education is available if it is in the Czech language (based on Although there currently are no further judgments on this from the ECJ, it is something that should be looked at. Language-based discrimination in tuition fees could be found not justified if the actual content of studies are essentially similar.

Truths and lies

Posted: April 8th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, politics, thoughts, university | No Comments »

Two different media stories have almost monopolised Estonian public discussion lately: the opinions of Jaak Aaviksoo regarding the need of the state to hide some truths or even lie for self-preservation purposes and the more recent brouhaha surronding possible doping use by Estonian cross country skiier and two-time olympic medalist Andrus Veerpalu. In addition to that I became aware of how easily malicious rumours can spread, when Tallinn Law School (where I work) became target of misinformation campaign this week. All those seemingly different things have one thing in common: they relate to truth, and acceptability of lying.

Speaking the truth is closely related to trust and transparency. Governance needs trust and transparency to be democratic and legitimate. Professional sports need the same values in order to preserve the notion of fair play and to attract interest of supporters. It would be difficult for me to place trust in an educational institution or people involved in higher education that resort to lies and dirty tricks to achieve their goals.

In the long run honesty is still the best policy, although in the short term some people might think that desperate or extraordinary circumstances merit spreading of lies. These people are wrong, because the short term lies create long term distrust and we need to have a society where there is less distrust and more trustworthiness.

Stable and prosperous democracy can in my opinion be built only based on mutual trust and trust of important state or private institutions. It is a shame that some people in our society still are willing to sacrifice these things for personal short term gains.

On funding of higher education in Estonia

Posted: June 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, university | No Comments »

One of the reasons for the structural weakness of the Estonian Higher Education system is the way it is financed. There are a number of state-funded places at universities, which are given according to a service contract to be agreed every year based on what the state determines is necessary. This is based purely on the lobby work universities are able to do at the Ministry of Education and Research and on how well they have implemented the directives coming from the Ministry. In that sense the system of higher education in Estonia is based on a model of state planning (just like it was in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic).

Recently the system was modified so that now the state “orders” for example an x number of social sciences (business, law, etc) students from one university and y number of social sciences students from another. Again, these numbers are based purely on favours, ministerial whims and how a given university stands in the eyes of the Ministry officials. Therefore, when before it was purely up to the state to decide how many lawyers it orders, then now it also depends on the position of the law department within the university (if it is powerful it gets more places, if not then not).

There is fierce competition to certain state-funded places (business, law, IT), whereas certain curricula remain unfulfilled (mostly “hard” sciences). All other students pay themselves fully for their studies and there is a lot of them.

Now, these are the consequences of this system:

  1. The students are completely left out of the decision-making on where state funding goes. The students vote with their feet and choose areas of study they think are more benefitial for them in the future. The state funding completely ignores this will of the students and keeps funding areas where no-one wants to study, forcing students to study things they do not want, provided that they cannot afford to pay for the studies themselves.
  2. The universities suffer as poor quality and unnecessary departments and faculties are kept afloat by state financing. There is no incentive for improvement, which results in poor quality graduates.
  3. In departments/faculties where there is interest by the students, but no or little state financing this means also loss of quality as the departments must relay to a large extent on self-financing students, who work at the same time or who have been unable to get to the few state-funded places.

The OECD has recommended already in 2007 in their review of the Tertiary Education in Estonia that student enrollment should be the basis of higher education strategy:

The Review Team is of the view that Estonia should ensure that any new financing arrangements continue to allow student demand to have a significant influence both on the overall size and shape of the higher education system in Estonia and provision at the institution level. This would entail the state financing institutions on the basis of actual enrolments or graduations rather than purchasing, in advance, places in particular fields and levels of study. Following this line of thinking, we believe that the Estonian government should reflect on extending public subsidies to all students in properly accredited courses at private institutions (once the quality assurance arrangements planned by the 2006-2015 Higher Education Strategy are fully operational) as well as allowing the total number of students receiving public support to be driven by demand rather than rationed.


Moving to a system in which student demand is the main driver behind the distribution of students between and within institutions would also necessitate the reconceptualisation of the contract between the government and institutions. In a sense the state would move from being a purchaser of a defined set of services to that of a funding partner with students. The Review Team believes that this role remains compatible with a broadly contractual relationship with institutions in which institutions are expected to meet certain requirements particularly regarding quality and orientation to the labour market. In this context, the focus of the contract should move from the specifics of the places purchased to the broad objectives which the government would like institutions to achieve. The negotiation of the contract could become a process whereby the government as a funding partner engages in a strategic discussion with institutions of higher education about directions and means.

The current system of financing simply reinforces the existing structural faults and keeps the higher education system severly handicapped. The universities remain state-oriented, not student-oriented.

Those students who can afford to do so do not go to study what the state wants them to study in order to sustain certain areas of teaching (certain professors), they will pay themselves or go abroad.

Without excellent and motivated students there is no room for competitive research either, and the more bright people move away and contribute to the research of some other country, the poorer Estonia will remain, both academically and economically.

Estonian Higher Education is systematically flawed

Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, things that suck | 3 Comments »

Estonian higher education is deeply, systematically flawed. The greatest flaw is not the lack of cooperation among Estonian universities, but rather forced cooperation where competition should be encouraged. Dreams of one and only “Estonian University” or the University of Tartu’s dream of them as the only university in Estonia will end up a nightmare where there are no substantial universities in Estonia at all.

The main problem of Estonian universities is the small pond effect. Universities, and Ministers of Education seem to see only Estonian higher education space, where they should see at least European or global higher education space. Today’s academic world is not constrained by boundaries and the more time we spend closing our higher education space off for foreigners the worse off we will be. If we want our universities to be European class or regional centres of academy we need to do the following things:

1. Forget about Estonian-language higher education: This single biggest thing holding back Estonian universities is the lack of teaching and studying in English. Using English as the only language for studies will be an enormous benefit. Today, Estonian institutions of higher education work against, not towards internationalisation, mostly due to the lack of English language skills of faculty and staff.

2. Stop discriminatory practices in admissions, forget about state exams: SAIS only for Estonians with Estonian ID cards has perhaps made it easier to administer the admissions process, but it has also separated Estonians from other students.

3. Admit the failure of state regulation, give universities their freedom. Forced migration to 3+2 is an ongoing disaster that has resulted in terrible loss of academic quality and competitiveness. The same applies to all state mandated reforms that no one really needs. At the moment Estonian universities are extensions of the Ministry of Education and Research, they are being pushed and pulled by different reforms and practices. Forget about state funded places, forget about state funded research libraries: just give the money to universities so that they can be responsible and choose their own means of providing access to universities for disadvantaged students or decide which books, databases etc to buy.

I think it is worth to try this radical new approach instead of driving off the cliff, but faster.

Solutions for Estonia’s economic problems

Posted: August 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: education, Estonia, european union, thoughts | 4 Comments »

This post is partly inspired by Edward Hugh’s post on Latvia’s economic problems, where he offers three solutions (after devaluation happens, which he thinks is inevitable):

I think this deterioration needs to be addressed as soon as possible, and I see three large issue.

i) Productive capacity needs to be increased substantially. This means increasing the labour force, and this means (as outlined in the World Bank Report, From Red To Grey) facilitating large scale inward migration. Given the serious political implications of encouraging ethnic Russian migration into your country, I see only two viable source regions, the Central Asian Republics in the CIS, and Sub. Saharan Africa. Possibly this solution will not be widely popular with Latvian voters. Well, they do have the right to choose. Your country can take the measures needed to become sustainable, or you can watch it die, as the economy shrinks, and the young people leave. That, I think, is your choice.

The other two measures you need to take are contingent on the first being implemented, since without the first measure you will simply not dispose of the economic resources for the other two.

ii) A serious policy to support those Latvian women who do wish to have children. But with major financial advantages, not half measures, and propaganda stunts. You need policies that can work, and I know plenty of demographers with ideas.But this needs money. Important quantities of money. And gender empowerment, right across the economy, at every level. We have formal legal equality in the labour market, but evident biological and reproductive inequality, in that only one of the parties gets to bear the children. The institutional resources of the state need to redress this imbalance.

iii) Major reforms in the health system to address the underlying male life expectancy problem. You can only seriously hope to raise the labour force participation rates at 65 and over if people arrive at these ages in a fundamentally healthy condition. In economic terms, simple investment theory shows why this is the case. A given society spends a given quantity of resources on producing a given number of children, those who have citizens who live and work longer evidently get a better return on their investment. If you want to raise Latvian living standards, you have to raise the life expectancy. And this apart from the evident human issues.

I think all of this applies to Estonia as well. The last two are already somewhat handled in Estonia, there are programs which support young families and although male life expectancy is still rather low, more effort is being put in sport promotion programmes for general public, healthy lifestyles are promoted etc. The nordic nature of Estonians (and the Finnish role-model) might also contribute to helping Estonians live longer, although at the moment it looks rather bleak.

I tend to agree with Edward Hugh that many of the problems of Estonia’s economic crises have been caused by lack of people. This was true during the boom times (the labour force shortage helped to push the salaries up quickly) and is even worse now that many truly skilled people move abroad where they are offered better salaries and ways of self-improvement, leaving in Estonia a mass of former construction workers and factory workers who have been laid off and who are probably unable neither to leave Estonia nor re-qualify for another job. Meanwhile, it is still difficult to find well-educated people in many areas, regardless of the growing unemployment rate.

A part of the solution is to train those people at our universities. Fortunately, Estonian public policy of pushing people to go to professional education and not to universities has failed and people are still going to universities en-masse (this year’s admissions has been the highest in recent years). It seems, however, that the funds used for the ill-fated push for professional education could have been used better at supporting universities. It is questionable if the big public universities themselves, still bureaucratic behemots with Soviet-era legacies, can provide the skills, knowledge and values required to educate them. The universities could do more with continuing education as well, offering a range of specialised courses for those seeking to update or refresh their skills and knowledge, but not willing to spend time (and money) on full Master or Doctoral programs.

The second part of the solution is increased immigration of unskilled workers from other non-EU countries. This means a change of paradigm in mainstream politics and suppression of strong nationalistic moods prevalent in the society. None of the major political parties in Estonia recognises or debates is the need to increase immigration. Walking around even in Tallinn’s streets it would be very difficult to spot any people who are non-ethnic Estonians or Russians and are not tourists. This is probably due to the effecient work of the Citizenship and Migration Board, which seems to pride itself on keeping the foreigners (at least those not from EU or US) out. One only needs to look at the low numbers of accepted refugees and asylum seekers for this.

Where should the new immigrants come from? The most obvious (and easiest to stomach politically) might be immigrants from Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other countries which many Estonians have compassion to. I am not so sure that a large scale inward migration from Africa will be as welcomed, although sooner or later there will also be more ethnically diverse mix of people in Estonia as well.

In order to have a long-term and sustainable solution instead of the race to the Euro at all costs, immigration policies must be reviewed and inward immigration increased gradually.