For 13,000 soldiers, reservists and conscripts, Monday pronounced the beginning of a two-week military exercise Siil, involving largest military maneuvers the nation has seen since regaining independence over two decades ago.
The exercise has been in the making for three years and aims to test the mobilization and operational capability of reserve units and permanent troops. The exercise also involves 600 Allied troops from Belgium, Germany, Latvia, Poland, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. OSCE observers visited several training locations over the weekend, lauding the transparent organization of the exercise and the successful staging of the troops. Siil will end on May 15. You can watch photos of it here.
On Wednesday, the Estonia Parliament approved an amendment of constitution that allows 16 and 17-year-old to voting booths in local elections. The electorate is expected to increase by approximately 14,000-15,000 active voters, but this is not believed to dip the scales in favor or any major party. The initiators cited the need to increase the percentage of young voters among the ageing electorate as the main reason behind the bill.
Another controversial bill - the so-called work ability reform - rose into focus once again. It was passed by the previous Parliament in November, despite meeting heavy criticism from the opposition, and organizations representing people with disabilities, who claimed that Estonia is not yet ready for the changes, and the Parliament should postpone it. Now it has. The new coalition government decided to delay its implementation for half a year, to July 2016, to allow for time to develop necessary services that would help people with disabilities enter the labor market.
The fuel excise duty and accommodation sector's VAT rise saga too reached an intermediate finish last week, as the Cabinet finally agreed on a state budget strategy for the next four years. At a late night meeting on Thursday, it was decided that hotels will be subjected to a 14 percent value added tax rate, instead of the initially proposed 20 percent (currently 9), and fuel excise duty will rise for three, instead of four consecutive years. Alcohol and tobacco excise and higher base rate of fines for misdemeanor offenses will cover the resulting deficit. At a previous meeting, the Cabinet agreed to reduce general government expenditure. The Government is now debating whether and to what extent it should cut funding for private schools.
On Friday, Estonia commemorated the end of World War II with flower ceremonies on several cemeteries. Estonian top politicians declined Russian President Vladimir Putin's invite to take part in large-scale celebration in Moscow. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves opted to attend a commemoration event at Westerplatte, Poland, instead.
In a more positive note, the results of the Estonian annual nature photo competition were announced on Tuesday. Renown Estonian photographer Remo Savisaar bagged a win with his shot of a kingfisher. All the awarded pictures can be viewed here.
Editor: M. Oll