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Debate on human development in the Riigikogu: Estonia’s position in the world ranking is conflicted

Today, the Riigikogu discussed the Estonian Human Development Report 2012–2013 as a matter of significant national importance, and many speakers remarked that Estonia’s position in the global context is better than the assessments of people given to their own wellbeing might suggest.

Mati Heidmets: The greater the distance of the observer, the better we look

The editor-in-chief of the Estonia’s Human Development Report Mati Heidmets said in his report that the UN Human Development Index has constantly ranked Estonia on around the 30th position among 185 countries over the past decade, which is definitely a good result in the global comparison.

“If we view Estonia very generally on the global scale, it really holds true that the further away the observer the better we look, and the closer we scrutinise, the more inevitably all the conflicts and challenges stand out,” Heidmets stated and remarked that the countries that we aspire to emulate and that sometimes attract young Estonian usually rank among the top 25 on the UN list.

Yet Heidmets draws attention to discordance in the position of Estonia as per different international criteria. “Indications of Estonia’s potential are often better than the actual results.”

“We could say that we have managed to build an environment that supports development, and yet this environment has not yet sufficiently been translated into personal wellbeing or into permanent engines that drive the wellbeing of the Estonian people,” Heidment said. “Our health, wallet and satisfaction with life remain among the lowest in Europe – the development environment is good but the development itself probably still does not live up to expectations.”

Heidments also referred to the conclusion drawn from the report that Estonia has been stuck in the first division, where we have remained for a long time.

“Estonia’s position in the international comparison of many important indicators has not changed significantly. We have remained on the same level – again compared to the other countries – where we were a dozen years ago, and one of the reasons for this must be that others make progress as well, not just us,” he said.

Jüri Sepp: It is a question of business capacity

The editor of the Estonian Human Development Report 2012–2013 Jüri Sepp commented the report by saying that all the countries mainly fall into one of two categories. “Some have more economic wealth than could be expected on the basis of their human resources alone, while others, on the contrary, have a poorer population than could be expected in light of the quality, health and education of their human resources,” he said and remarked that Estonia is still among the countries who are relatively poor from the standpoint of their human resources.

“We have not managed to transform the quality of our human resources into material wealth,” Jüri Sepp said in his report.

“Our problem is that we are poor, we have not been able to develop our economy,” he added. “In Estonia’s case it is clear that the issue lies in our business capacity, and that significant shifts in the economic development are probably not to be expected if the situation with the business complications does not improve.”

Herkel: Discontent should not be a Wailing Wall

The third speaker to take part in the debate was the Member of the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee Andres Herkel, who agreed in his speech that Estonia’s ranking according to various indicators of wellbeing and in numerous summaries that describe the developmental level of a society in comparison with other countries tends to be much better than our subjective experience of our own situation would suggest.

“But this should not be a Wailing Wall. I think that the discontent should rather be seen as a force that takes us forward,” Herkel said. “In any case the position is much better for us if we look at the representatives of the countries that we know to have great problems with the development of democracy and who still come to international forums to boast about not having any problems.”

Herkel also highlighted a contradiction in the report. “We are remarkably optimistic, maybe even to a fault when it comes to the future of the European Union. At the same time, if we look at the famous values map of the world, we place among the Eastern European countries and do not really share the values of the part of Europe that we are increasingly avid to join.”

Herkel emphasised the fact that the report does not show the Estonian people as ready for political action – over 50 % of the people state that they are not ready to join political petitions.

“On the one hand we seem to want to be very demanding of the state, we want to be very free, we want individual liberties. Yet, on the other hand, our people are not ready to assume responsibility in the political process,” he added.

Kadri Simson, Jaanus Tamkivi, Sven Mikser, Mart Nutt, Kaja Kallas and Tõnis Kõiv made speeches at the debate.

The verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

The Riigikogu Press Service