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Estonian PM: Country asks why we help 'rich Greece'

From Richard Quest, CNN
March 29, 2012 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
  • Estonia's PM says there are concerns at home about having to bail out out "rich Greece"
  • But he says the benefits of joining the Eurozone are obvious
  • Estonia adopted the Euro in 2010, becoming the first ex-Soviet state to do so
  • Last year it was the fastest growing economy in the Eurozone

London (CNN) -- The leader of the eurozone's fastest growing economy says he has faced broad public opposition at home to bailing out "rich Greece people who are always drinking the ouzo."

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told CNN that many in his country had questioned why they should bear the burden of bailing out Greece -- a larger, wealthier country.

"It is very difficult to explain to our poor Estonian people why we have to help rich Greece people who are always drinking the ouzo and dancing the syrtaki," he said. "This is public opinion," he hastened to add. "In fact, they are hard-working people in Greece."

It is very difficult to explain to our poor Estonian people why we have to help rich Greece people who are always drinking the ouzo
Andrus Ansip, Prime Minister of Estonia

In January 2011, Estonia became the first ex-Soviet state to start using the single European currency, joining the eurozone as Europe's debt crisis was deepening.

Shouldering the financial strain of the European Financial Stability Facility had been "very unpopular" among Estonians, said Ansip. "They would like to get higher salaries today, right now here in Estonia -- they cannot understand why we have to have all this."

Nevertheless, joining the eurozone had been the right decision, he said. "All people they can understand how beneficial euro was for Estonia," he said.

Although his country suffered from high unemployment and inflation, the euro made Estonia attractive for foreign direct investment, creating new jobs and export volumes. "Europe is definitely supporting trade," he said. "Seventy per cent of exports are going to other EU member states."

Stagnant rates of economic growth in Europe were a concern, he said. "But ... our main export partners are Sweden and Finland, and those economies are doing pretty well."

He added the Greek rescue package was a loan, "not a bail out." "They have to pay back those (loans)," he said. "And they also have to pay interest."

Estonia, a Baltic state of about 1.3 million people, joined the European Union in 2004. It is the fourth-smallest member of the eurozone.

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