Estonia joined the EU on May 1st. It hopes that membership will strengthen already close economic ties to Europe. One of the most important contacts for foreign businesses is Siim Raie, 26.
Siim Raie, 26, head of the Tallinn Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Siim Raie is young, but he is already at the top. At 26, he is the general director of the Estonian Chamber of Commerce in Tallinn. That he has managed to climb so high at such a tender age surprises him least of all. He is no rarity in Estonia. Wherever you look, young people occupy key positions.
Raie says, "This is the transition process that we are going through. It is just that in newly independent Estonia so many new positions were created, so many new organisations were created that new leaders were needed. So we didn’t have the whole big generation of leaders back then needed for the market economy – young people did have a real good chance to become executives."
Portraits of Raie’s predecessors look down from the walls of the gallery at the chamber of commerce. There are only two. One led the organisation from 1925 to 1940. The next came only in 1989, shortly before Estonia gained independence and began to develop a market economy. The chamber of commerce was re-established at that time.
The organisation is located right in the centre of Tallinn, close to the seat of government and the ministries. The site has made it easier to make many informal contacts, over lunch for example. After all, Siim Raie is also the most important lobbyist in the Estonian economy.
The country has developed rapidly in the past decade. Growth rates of between six and seven percent annually make it an interesting place for foreign investors to put their money. Delegations from industries and chamber of commerce representatives from other EU countries arrive regularly. Siim Raie is their first contact. He sends them on to possible partners in Estonia. Three-quarters of all of the goods produced in Estonia are already being exported to the EU. Raie believes membership will strengthen economic ties even further.
Part of the credit for the economic upswing can go to the young leadership elite that took part in the transition to democracy and a market economy. Raie describes his work, "Oh, it is exciting. It is not only me, but the whole generation of young executives in the country. We do have a unique experience, which people of our age in the other European countries probably don’t have. We have been in the process of changes, we are the ones making the changes and it is exciting. And it makes you feel like the sky is the limit. And I guess that is what we bring along to the European Union as well: a generation of young executives who know how to make changes, how to make things happen."
Siim Raie was thirteen when Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union. At the time, his country began to orient itself towards Europe, politically, economically and culturally. Today, Siim Raie has no questions about his identity as a European. He says, "When I was in the United States people asked me ‘Where are you from?’ I tried to explain to them ‘Estonia, close to Finland, next to the Baltic Sea...’ and nobody really understood. But when you said that you are from Europe, everybody knew it. And that’s the truth. I am a European, certainly."