Estonia is the only euro-zone country with a budget surplus. National debt is just 6 percent of GDP, compared to 81 percent in virtuous Germany, or 165 percent in Greece. (via Yes, they use the euro. And the economy is booming. | GlobalPost)
- Estonia’s achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that it was one of the countries hardest hit by the global financial crisis. In 2008-2009, its economy shrank by 18 percent. That’s a bigger contraction than Greece has suffered over the past five years.
- How did they bounce back? “I can answer in one word: austerity. Austerity, austerity, austerity,” says Peeter Koppel, investment strategist at the SEB Bank. After three years of painful government belt-tightening, that’s not exactly the message that Europeans further south want to hear.
- At a recent conference of European and North American lawmakers in Tallinn, Koppel was lambasted by French and Italian parliamentarians when he suggested Europeans had to prepare for an “inevitable” decline in living standards, wages and job security, in order for their countries to escape from the debt crisis. While spending cuts have triggered strikes, social unrest and the toppling of governments in countries from Ireland to Greece, Estonians have endured some of the harshest austerity measures with barely a murmur. They even re-elected the politicians that imposed them.
- “It was very difficult, but we managed it,” explains Economy Minister Juhan Parts. “Everybody had to give a little bit. Salaries paid out of the budget were all cut, but we cut ministers’ salaries by 20 percent and the average civil servants’ by 10 percent,” Parts told GlobalPost. “In normal times cutting the salaries of civil servants, of policemen etc. is extremely unpopular, but I think the people showed a good understanding that if you do not have revenues, you have to cut costs,” adds Parts, who served as prime minister from 2003-2004. As well as slashing public sector wages, the government responded to the 2008 crisis by raising the pension age, making it harder to claim health benefits and reducing job protection — all measures that have been met with anger when proposed in Western Europe.
- It still has its share of economic problems. The average monthly take-home pay of 697 euros ($870) is among the lowest in the euro zone and unemployment at 11.7 percent is still above the bloc’s average. The shockwaves of euro-zone collapse radiating from southern Europe could yet snuff out the recovery. The jobless rate is falling however, thanks in part to a thriving tech sector.
- Post-independence governments invested heavily in scientific education and information technologies, successfully attracting investment with the e-stonia label. Estonia has also paid close attention to the fundamentals of establishing a favorable business environment: reducing and simplifying taxes, and making it easy and cheap to build companies. Its location — with quick access to Nordic, German and Russian markets — has also helped, along with the very low debt level Estonia inherited when it broke from the Soviet Union. Joining the euro zone on Jan. 1, 2011, Estonia stable economy shone, despite the crisis in the currency bloc.