Toomas Hendrik Ilves: Events in 2017 will influence world for years to come ({{commentsTotal}})

In an interview with daily Eesti Päevaleht published on Tuesday, former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves pointed to the upcoming elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands, saying that undemocratic regimes might try to influence them. Ilves also commented on the events surrounding his company, OÜ Ermamaa.

Events in 2017 will shape the world for years to come

Asked about the United States’ next president and the worries that Estonia might not have as great a friend in the White House anymore, Ilves said that the next administration’s foreign policy would become clear once it took over, and that he would wait until that happened.

Estonia would have to go on investing at least 2% of its gross domestic product in national defense, Ilves said, pointing out that Trump’s attitude in the matter was nothing new. Already in 2011 after the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it had been clear that any country who didn’t meet this goal would find it difficult to deal with the U.S. Congress, he added.

The new year would be very important and influence the world for a long time to come, with elections in Germany, France, the Netherlands, all places where extremist parties were reaching for power. Undemocratic regimes could be working in their favor, using cyber attacks as well as disinformation, Ilves said. The situation in East Ukraine, and Russia’s continuing refusal to follow the Minsk accords would remain hot topics as well.

A simple matter blown out of proportion

Ilves was also asked about his company, OÜ Ermamaa. The company planned to add a tourism farm to Ilves’ family home in the Estonian countryside, but after Ilves was elected president in 2006, those plans became unrealistic, as the necessary security measures made it impossible to run an accommodation establishment there.

In his interview with Päevaleht, Ilves said that Ermamaa had been his ex-wife’s project. He had restored his family home with his own money, then at the time his wife wanted to add a tourism farm to it. He was elected president, the project didn’t materialize, and then they had divorced, and he chose not to go ahead with his ex-wife’s business plan, Ilves said.

Criticism of Ermamaa was mainly connected with the fact that a grant the company had received when it belonged to Ilves’ then-wife, Evelin Ilves, was never put to its intended purpose, as there had never been a tourism farm in actual operation. A decision made in 2012 and upheld in 2016 by Enterprise Estonia required the company, now owned by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, to pay back just 10% of the original €190,392 grant.

The matter led to investigations by the Ministry of Finance as well as the Riigikogu’s Anti-Corruption Select Committee. An audit by the ministry as well as an independent private audit commissioned by Enterprise Estonia followed. The ministry found Ermamaa needed to pay back more money than initially agreed, as they might have to pay the whole sum of the grant back to the European Commission, seeing as it had in fact been misappropriated.

Ilves said that he was sorry that the people involved in the matter had had such bad press. The matter had in fact been very simple, but blown out of proportion, and the accusations towards people like then-CEO Maria Alajõe of Enterprise Estonia, Siim Raie, who headed the Office of the President at the time, and Hanno Tomberg, Enterprise Estonia’s CEO who was forced to step down last year, were unfair and had been freely invented.

Next: Stanford and the Munich Security Conference

Ilves will soon take up work as a guest lecturer at Stanford University’s Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies. In between he would be busy with his position on the advisory board of the Munich Security Conference, to which he was appointed last year. Beginning July he would then be working at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, where he would write, and give lectures and seminars, Ilves said.

His subjects of choice would be information technology as well as security and foreign policy, Ilves said, which he had always been interested in, and which he considered to be important in the 21st century. German worries that the same kind of fake news and misinformation that had influenced the U.S. presidential election might also affect their own upcoming elections were an example.

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn