Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonian pronunciation: [ˈtoːmɑs ˈhendrik ˈilves]; born 26 December 1953) is the fourth President of Estonia, in office since 2006. Ilves worked as a diplomat and journalist, and he was the leader of the Social Democratic Party in the 1990s. He served in the government as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to 1998 and again from 1999 to 2002. Later, he was a Member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2006. He was elected as President of Estonia by an electoral college on 23 September 2006 and his term as President began on 9 October 2006.

Early life and education

Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden; his parents Endel and Irene Ilves were Estonian refugees. His maternal grandmother was Russian from Saint Petersburg. He grew up in the United States in Leonia, New Jersey, and graduated from Leonia High School in 1972 as valedictorian. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Columbia University in 1976 and a master's degree in the same subject from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. He also received an honorary degree from St. Olaf College in 2014 in recognition of his relationship with the college. He speaks both Estonian and English as first languages, and he also is fluent in German and Spanish.


Ilves worked as a research assistant in Columbia University Department of Psychology from 1974 to 1979. From 1979 to 1981 he served as assistant director and English teacher at the Open Education Center in Englewood, New Jersey. Ilves then moved to Vancouver, Canada; from 1981 to 1983 he was director and administrator of arts in Vancouver Arts Centre and from 1983 to 1984 he taught Estonian literature and linguistics in Simon Fraser University.

From 1984 to 1993, Ilves worked in Munich, Germany as a journalist for Radio Free Europe, being the head of its Estonian desk since 1988. As Estonia had restored its independence in 1991, Ilves became Ambassador of Estonia to the United States in 1993, also serving as Ambassador to Canada and Mexico at the same time.

In December 1996, Ilves became Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, serving until he resigned in September 1998, when he became a member of a small opposition party (Peasants' Party, agrarian-conservative). Ilves was soon elected chairman of the People's Party (reformed Peasants' Party), which formed an electoral cartel with the Moderates, a centrist party. After the March 1999 parliamentary election he became foreign minister again, serving until 2002, when the so-called Triple Alliance collapsed. He supported Estonian membership in the European Union and succeeded in starting the negotiations which led to Estonia joining the European Union on 1 May 2004. From 2001 to 2002 he was the leader of the People's Party Moderates. He resigned from the position after the party's defeat in the October 2002 municipal elections, in which the party received only 4.4% of the total votes nationwide. In early 2004, the Moderates party renamed itself the Estonian Social Democratic Party.

In 2003, Ilves became an observer member of the European Parliament and, on 1 May 2004, a full member. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, Ilves was elected MEP in a landslide victory for the Estonian Social Democratic Party. He sat with the Party of European Socialists group in the Parliament. Katrin Saks took over his MEP seat when Ilves became President of Estonia in 2006. In 2011, he was re-elected for a second five-year term.

In 2013, it was announced that Ilves had accepted a position on the Council on CyberSecurity's Advisory Board. In 2015, it was announced that Ilves had agreed to join the group of advisers to the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.

Presidential elections

Ilves was nominated by the Reform Party, Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica and his own Social Democratic Party on 23 March 2006, as a candidate for the 2006 presidential election.

On 29 August, Ilves was the only candidate in the second and the third round of the presidential election in Riigikogu, the Parliament of Estonia (he was supported by an electoral coalition consisting of the governing Reform Party plus the Social Democrats and the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica which form the parliamentary opposition). Ilves gathered 64 votes out of 65 ballots. Therefore, one deputy of the three party alliance supporting Ilves did not vote in favour of his candidacy. A two-third majority in the 101-seat Riigikogu was required, so he was not elected in Riigikogu. His candidacy was automatically transferred to the next round in the Electors' Assembly on 23 September.

On 13 September 2006, a broad spectrum of 80 well-known intellectuals published a declaration in support of Ilves' candidacy. Among those who signed were Neeme Järvi, Jaan Kross, Arvo Pärt and Jaan Kaplinski.

On 23 September 2006 he received 174 ballots in the first round of the presidential election in the Electors' Assembly, thus having been elected the next president of Estonia. His five-year term started on 9 October 2006.

On 29 August 2011, he was reelected by the 101-seat legislature to a second five-year term. His opponent was Indrek Tarand. He received support from 73 members of the legislature, and is the first candidate to be elected in the first round since Estonia regained independence in 1991.

Personal life

Ilves has been married three times. With his first wife, American psychologist Merry Bullock, he has two children: son Luukas Kristjan (b. 1987) and daughter Juulia Kristiine (b. 1992). In 2004, Ilves married his longtime partner Evelin Int-Lambot with whom he has one daughter, Kadri Keiu (b. 2003). Ilves' representatives announced on 17 April that Ilves and Evelin Ilves have divorced as of 30 April 2015. Their marriage lasted for 10.5 years and broke up after being distant from each other for a while. In December 2015 it was announced that Ilves was engaged in mid-November to Ieva Kupče, the head of the Cybersecurity Division in the Defense Ministry of Latvia. They married on 2 January 2016.

Ilves has been noted for his enthusiasm for social media. He maintains a Twitter account, personally posting on a regular basis to comment on both current events and his own interests, usually in English.

In public, Ilves almost exclusively wears bow ties. He says that this is because his late father used to do so.

Ilves has a brother, Andres Ilves, formerly head of the Persian and Pashto World Service of the BBC. Until the early 2000s, Andres Ilves was head of the Afghanistan bureau of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague, Czech Republic.