Estonia swears in biologist-turned-banker Kersti Kaljulaid as first female president

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 9:41pm

Estonia’s Kersti Kaljulaid, a non-aligned EU auditor and trained biologist, was on Monday sworn in as the first female president of the tech-savvy Baltic state.

The 46-year-old takes over the largely ceremonial role as the Nato and eurozone nation gears up to hold the EU’s rotating presidency next July.

“Our main concern will always be security,” she told parliament as regional concerns grow over a resurgent Russia.

“Many processes that cause us anxiety, to put it mildly, take place in our immediate neighbourhood.”

Moscow jangled nerves in this Baltic eurozone state at the weekend with its latest deployment of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its nearby Kaliningrad exclave.

Concerns about Russia have surged in Estonia and its Baltic neighbours Lithuania and Latvia - all members of Nato members since 2004 - following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Kaljulaid was elected by parliament last week as a dark horse candidate after a month-long political stalemate during which other contenders failed to garner enough support.

The head of state in the country of 1.3 million people is elected by parliament or electoral college rather than by direct public vote.

As Estonia’s fourth president since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kaljulaid succeeds Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was known for his sharp tongue and fondness for bow ties.

A rare head of state who could write computer code, Ilves drove an agenda of e-government and cyber defence, thus promoting Estonia as a frontrunner in technology.

Kaljulaid’s background as a former member of the European Court of Auditors - which is responsible for keeping watch over EU finances - is likely to go down well in the fiscally-conservative nation.

With its debt-to-GDP ratio hovering around 10 per cent, Tallinn has long insisted that other eurozone members ought to adopt its strict fiscal discipline.

A trained biologist specialising in genetics, Kaljulaid also holds an MBA and previously worked as an investment banker, a power plant manager and economic adviser to the prime minister.

Kaljulaid, who has four children and is also a grandmother, has described herself as economically conservative with a strong liberal streak on social issues.

Estonia’s head of state gives legislation its final seal of approval after checking its constitutionality.

Presidents can remain in office for up to two consecutive five-year terms at a time.