It’s like we don’t want to understand

Broadcast from Postimees. Raivo Vare, Interviewed by Ainar Ruussaar.

PHOTO: Erik Prozes

It is difficult to realize major business projects and lure investments to Estonia as common or political arguments of why not to go ahead with them can always be found and local governments are not interested in attracting investments, businessman and statesman Raivo Vare told “Postimees Live”.

On the backdrop of the pulp mill project ingloriously sinking into oblivion – is it still possible to do great things in Estonia without having the vocal minority thwart it?

Those seeking to construct the mill came face to face with three ghosts and several mishaps.

The first of those ghosts was the classic “not in my backyard” mentality. It is natural and understandable as I would also prefer to keep my backyard from becoming a construction site. However, there are ways to strike a balance here.

The second ghost is the green protest spirit rearing its head in Estonia which makes sense on the one hand but is starting to get out of hand on the other. We all know those white willow stories.

Thirdly, they met with the spirit of Tartu – protesting cast of mind.

They also had several accidents. The first was that they found themselves in the middle of what is a never-ending elections cycle in Estonia.

Then there was also competition which I do not want to linger on.

The ports that export timber were against it?

There was considerable group interest on the level of the entire sector and the international market against the pulp mill. If they can buy cheaper logs to take to Finland here, it is a situation they want to maintain. It all added up to the project failing.

What scares me is that those ghosts and accidents are by no means unique, they have always been there. They just appeared all together this time.

Then we’ll never be able to do great things in Estonia and will have to keep selling three-euro cups of coffee?

We do not want to understand things or study them in order to understand. We worship the Excel spreadsheet concerning some projects while we do not even want to see surveys when it comes to others as we already believe and know.

Who should order studies?

What do you mean order? The government introduced a state spatial plan for the pulp mill and then terminated it. A special plan is not something of the devil, it is a normal mechanism with which to better service major undertakings.

Major investments need to be serviced, they need to be attracted and pleased. We should let go of the long-standing mentality that we don’t need anything because everything is fine as it is. And that if anyone wants to come here, they’ll have to knock down the door themselves.

Everyone needs to attract investments. Local governments should, but they don’t care in the slightest. On the contrary, the mayor of Tartu turned the pulp mill saga into his elections campaign without a second thought or spending a time.

Local governments are not interested in developing industry because the system is built in such a way that it only causes them problems. A factory yields practically no benefits for the area it’s in. Especially if the people who work there commute from other local governments – the rural municipality does not receive a big enough share of income tax to make it worthwhile.

What are we going to do?

We won’t be able to do anything if this keeps up. This scenario can last for a while. We can do how the Greeks do and take loans. Borrow prosperity instead of creating it. All of the aforementioned spirits and, frankly, everyone else would like that.

We will never mine phosphate rock?

Phosphate rock buried in the ground in Estonia is considered to be among the best in the world and would be highly competitive on the global market, but mining it is out of the question because of a religious predisposition against it in Estonian society.

We had the chance to carry out surveys some years ago. The people’s reaction was a resounding “no”. We don’t want to know anything about it because we just don’t. Our doctrine is right because it’s right. We are on the right path because we believe.

A part of scientists think one thing while others disagree, but the first rule of science is that you keep looking if results are conflicting. But we don’t want to keep looking here because it might just prove possible. This predisposition is the same for phosphate mining, the pulp mill plan and all other major industrial projects.

Rail Baltic is one such project that will likely happen, but I cannot see ticket revenue paying for it.

We should not kid ourselves in that carriage of goods could somehow pay for passenger traffic. Rail Baltic is a passenger railroad that needs to be subsidized. The whole of Europe is subsidizing passenger trains. Sums that go into paying for the bullet trains between Lyon and Paris are colossal.

We have reached a point in Estonia where it seems our country is more or less ready, everything is fine, and while no one is completely satisfied, people have had enough of change.

Why do we need national airlines or railroads? What differences do the colors of service providers make?

It was decided back in the day that the railroad should be operated by the state. I do not agree.

The state should probably maintain a holding. Private operation would need to be based on clever mechanisms that would make sure it works in a crisis: a private operator cannot be allowed to pull the plug.