MP Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, criticized Estonia's decision not to participate in the World Expo in Dubai in 2020, calling the decision "ambitionless."
"This news is tantamount to announcing that since Estonia has no hope for a medal, we will not take part in the next Olympic games," Mihkelson said in his comments to BNS. "It will be a pity if the government's ambitionless decision really does take effect."
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications said earlier on Tuesday that Estonian businesses do not want to participate in the World Expo in Dubai in 2020 as they do not wish to invest in participating in the world fair and find that a one-time event is not enough for developing economic ties in the Gulf region.
The government in February decided to support the participation of Estonia in the Expo 2020 Dubai if the private sector were prepared to cover half of the costs related to the project.
In their feedback filed by the March 25 deadline, entrepreneurs said that they are not planning to invest in appearing at the Expo, and in lieu of participating there, the most benefit would be had by opening an Estonian mission in the United Arab Emirates, the ministry said.
"To place the entire responsibility on entrepreneurs is cynical and not consistent with the actual state of affairs," Mihkelson said. "How can we presume that Estonian entrepreneurs, who are only looking for opportunities to establish a presence in the Gulf region, will pay half the cost of this promotional event important for the whole country?"
He noted that regardless of its intentions, Estonia is not equal to Nodic countries, referring to the Nordic financing model for Expo participation that Estonia had attempted to adopt.
"Our southern neighbors announced last year already that Latvia will take part in the Dubai Expo — will Estonia really give up?" the committee chairman asked, adding that skipping the Expo in order to establish a representation of Enterprise Estonia and an Estonian embassy in Dubai instead will make Estonian diplomats' work quite difficult at the beginning at least.
While visiting the UAE earlier this month, Mihkelson noted that the UAE expects Estonia to take part in the Expo 2020 Dubai.
"Participation in the Dubai Expo would also give us valuable diplomatic experience and allow us to prepare ourselves to better protect the interests of Estonia in a region that is economically very innovative," he said. "Recognition of Estonia sould not end with the EU."
Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Urve Palo (SDE) said on Tuesday that the ministry has been negotiating with entrepreneurs since the beginning of 2016 on whether it would make more sense for Estonia to participate in the expo or first open an Estonian mission in the UAE. According to the minister, entrepreneurs told the ministry that they would like to participate in the expo, but that the establishment of a permanent representation is currently a priority.
Estonia wishes to open a mission of Enterprise Estonia in the UAE later this year, finding that a year-round local Enterprise Estonia presence would better serve Estonian businesses in establishing long-term business ties.
According to an initial estimate, Estonia's participation in Expo 2020 Dubai would cost approximately €4 million.
Most Nordic countries have decided to participate in the expo with the support of entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark have consented to cover half the expenses of their respective projects, which these countries have estimated will cost from €14-18 million.
Editor: Aili Vahtla