Germany Thinks So, Too Estonia Looks Ready to Join the Euro Zone

The next member of the euro zone could be Estonia, the German foreign minister hinted Wednesday during a diplomatic trip to Tallinn. A final decision will be up to the European Commission in the spring, but indications from EU leaders are positive.

Estonia is on track to adopt the euro in 2011, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle suggested on Wednesday. He joined a small chorus of European voices indicating that the Baltic state will probably become the euro zone's next member.

A final decision lies with the EU Commission, but Germany is a key member of the euro zone, so a remark from Berlin is significant. A spokeswoman for Westerwelle said he met his Estonian counterpart, Andrus Ansip, in the capital Tallinn on Wednesday. His message to Ansip was that "Estonia is on a good way for euro introduction in 2011," the spokeswoman told Reuters.

Olli Rehn, the nominee to be the EU's next monetary chief, made similar noises on Monday. "The next likely candidate is Estonia," he said in a hearing at the European Parliament. "Public finances are in pretty good shape."

The financial crisis has been hard on all three Baltic states, and Estonia is still deep in recession. Its neighbors, Lithuania and Latvia, also hope to join the euro zone, even though lending from foreign banks dried up in 2009. But Estonia has worked hard to meet the main economic targets set by the EU as a hurdle for joining the euro -- controlling inflation, public debt and currency stability, among other factors.

"Estonia is rather close, but we will have to ensure that all the rules are respected, that the (EU) treaty is respected, and we will return to this matter in the coming spring," Rehn said Monday.

If approved, Estonia would become the euro zone's 17th member in 2011. It joined the EU in 2004.

msm -- with wire reports


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