Estonian commerce chamber struggles to find long-serving chief's successor

Toomas Luman
Toomas Luman Source: ERR

The long-running leader of Estonia's main business lobby group says he and the organization is finding it hard to find a replacement, after nearly 30 years in the role.

The Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eesti Kaubandus-Tööstuskoda) holds its board meeting next week, but only current incumbent for chair, Toomas Luman, is in the running. Luman has held the position since 1995.

Luman told ERR that: "The long-term plan was actually not to run again, but unfortunately we were unable to persuade anyone who could have been a successor from my own point of view, and that of the board, to run."

"In actual fact, my plan had been not to run this time, but the above exercise proved futile."

Luman, who is one of the owners of construction company Nordecon Contractors, said he will not be putting off searching for a successor next year.

"If you look at my birth date, the problem is that I will be 64 come the fall. After another four year term I would be 67, so it is all the more necessary to find a younger and more active person to take over the role," Luman went on.

Luman still had plenty to say about business and the situation in Estonia, particularly in the context of the current government and the Riigikogu composition.

"We have problems. I would hope that the Riigikogu will now start to work sensibly and be able to open a discussion about what is being done there in terms of law-making, and why," he said, referring to the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition's attempts to hike taxes, and the ensuing filibustering tactics employed by the EKRE-Center-Isamaa opposition.

As for the tax hikes themselves, Luman said while noone is particularly fond of tax hikes, the state budget deficit cannot continue to propagate.

"The second question is: Should everything be done right now, when there is little money? I think that the fulfillment of some political promises could be postponed. This is one point for consideration," he said.

Announcing VAT rates and then examining what the effect might be, might not be the way to go, he added.

This has already been seen in the announced hike on VAT on hotels and other accommodation businesses, which has already damaged the sector and Estonia's reputation as a tourist destination, Luman said.

Back to his own post, Luman said one issue might be that it is neither a paid position nor one that even sees expenses reimbursed, and this, in addition to sometimes being the target of criticism or attack, meant that it would not appeal to many people.

Despite disagreements with politicians, Estonia has actually done well in the 28 years he has headed the chamber. "It must be admitted that despite all the troubles and internal disagreements with politicians, in fact, the Estonian people, and the Estonian state as a whole, have still fared very well after the collapse of the Soviet Union, compared to many of our peers," he added.

With regard to the current situation, Luman saw that "things are never so bad that they cannot get even worse," with reference to the Ukraine war, the aftermath of Covid and soaring inflation.

The unfavorable exchange rate of the currencies of the Nordic countries is one of the other problems of the Estonian economy, he added.

"Our very important export markets are the Scandinavian countries, but three of them - Sweden, Norway and Denmark - use their national currencies, and not the euro. Movements in their exchange rate against the euro has been extremely unfavorable for our exporters, and this is also one of the very big reasons why our wooden house manufacturers, for instance, are struggling with exporting to Scandinavia," he added.

It has been reported that it is currently cheaper to import sawn timber from Norway instead of buying domestically, largely due to the exchange rate of the Norwegian krone to the euro at present, Luman added.

The Estonian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is to be held on June 15. While the only candidate for the four-year chairmanship is Luman, there are 16 candidates running for the board.

The chamber has over 3,500 members, most of whom are small and medium-sized companies. Members contribute more than 40 percent of the total net turnover of Estonian companies, nearly 40 percent of the net profit and pay more than 40 percent of the state taxes, the organization claims.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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