Euro Nations: Benchmark Estonia
By Shlomo Maital
With all eyes focused on Greece, it is easy to forget about little Estonia. Bloomberg Business Week reports that this tiny nation, squeezed between Latvia and Russia, joined the Euro zone only four years ago. Many countries leaped at the Euro capital markets opportunity and their governments sold bonds like drunken sailors.
Not Estonia. Government debt is less than 10 per cent of GDP. That is one – tenth the average debt burden in Europe, and about 1/20th the debt burden of Greece (170 per cent of GDP).
Estonia has refrained from issuing government bonds, since 2002. Instead, the Estonian government took loans from the European Development Bank, which lends ONLY for infrastructure and investment, not to finance current government spending. Maris Lauri says, “we can’t afford to borrow to finance current spending; such borrowing becomes a habit and we saw where that landed Greece and Russia, in 1997/8”.
Some Estonian economists are opposed. They think Estonia should leap at the low interest rates and borrow. But it won’t happen.
“Estonia is a strange bird in the Euro zone,” says Frederick Erickson, who heads the European Institute for Political Economy in Brussels. “No other country has such a stronge instinct for understanding the way macroeconomic problems are rooted in the real economy.”
Estonia’s Prime Minister says Estonia has to save its borrowing and access to Euro capital markets, for the time when Estonia’s GDP reaches 75 % of the Euro average (it is now 73%), at which time European aid money dries up.
Strong wise leadership can keep a small country like Estonia out of hot water. Greece, in deep hot water, has to be rescued. Estonia will not. As the Hebrew saying goes, wise leaders avoid crises that smart leaders know how to escape from.