University of Tartu economics professor Raul Eamets predicts that it will take 10-15 years for Estonian incomes to catch up with those of Nordic countries. Until then, he said, people will inevitably migrate to Finland, Sweden and elsewhere for higher-paying but often low-skilled jobs.
Eamets is one of the organizers of a conference in Tallinn on Thursday and Friday where Baltic and Nordic experts will discuss Estonia's economic and social development, reported ERR radio.
A dwindling working-age population resulting from aging and emigration will exacerbate social problems, squeezing financing for pensions, health care and government aid to those in need, he said.
"Our problem is that people are leaving the country. The problem is severe in Latvia and Lithuania, whereas Estonia has so far been saved by the proximity of Finland. In 10 years we may be in the same situation as Sweden and Finland, with people immigrating to Estonia. Incoming migration is surely not the only solution, but we cannot avoid it," Eamets said.
Triin Oppi, an adviser to the Estonian representation of the Nordic Council of Ministers, said the migration of job-seekers is usually seen in a negative light and that it should be recast as an opportunity.
"The Nordics' experience has shown that more cooperation, fewer restrictions, and a clearer understanding of how and why people move around will undoubtedly be an economic benefit for the region," Oppi said.
University of Tartu Professor Marju Lauristin said the most obvious solution to Estonia's dilemma would be an increased birth rate, but opportunities also need to be available to those children when they come of age.
"We should look at what can give our economy a new momentum. I fully agree with those who have recently written that we should focus on things that are affordable, but also exciting and innovative. There has been a lot of buzz about start-up companies, which are, especially for the youth, an opportunity to quickly get support for a new idea, to break through and find an international market," Lauristin said.