Taavi Roivas designated Estonia PM, EU's youngest

Estonia's president on Friday designated 34-year-old Taavi Roivas as the eurozone member's prime minister, paving the way for him to become the youngest head of government in the European Union.

"I expect the new government to show a stronger interest in social issues and a willingness to listen to all sides," President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told reporters.

Roivas now has two weeks to form a new government and submit it to parliament for a vote. Lawmakers must also approve Roivas as prime minister of the ex-Soviet Baltic state, population 1.3 million.

The chubby-cheeked Reform Party member replaces Andrus Ansip, who stepped down as premier this month after a record nine years in office.

Ansip's popularity had flagged of late, and his resignation was designed to bring in fresh blood ahead of the centre-right party's run for re-election in 2015.

With a glamourous pop star partner, the dynamic Roivas appears to fit the bill.

Social affairs minister since 2012, he landed his first job in politics as an advisor to the justice minister while still a student at the tender age of 20.

Roivas is filling big shoes meant to have been worn by Reform Party founder and European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas -- who has previously served as premier.

Kallas unexpectedly withdrew from the running this week amid media speculation over a host of alleged shady deals involving the Estonian central bank while he was its governor in 1991-95.

Like his predecessor, Roivas is seen as a confident man of action with a penchant for making bold decisions.

The party is the largest in Estonia's parliament, holding 33 of the 101 seats. It governs in coalition with the Pro Patria and Res Publica union, which gives it a majority of 55 seats.

But its support has dropped recently, with an Emor poll in February showing it had the backing of 21 percent of voters, down from a peak of 45 percent in May 2007.

The party "needs to increase its popularity to expect success at the next elections in spring 2015," sociologist Juhan Kivirahk told AFP.

Roivas, who is married to Estonian pop singer Luisa Vark and has a six-year-old daughter, studied business administration and marketing at the University of Tartu.

He worked at the population ministry in 2003, became mayor of Tallinn's Haabersti district in 2004 and then from 2005 to 2007 served as an advisor to Ansip during his first term.

He then spent five years in parliament, serving as chairman of the finance and European affairs committees, before becoming social affairs minister in 2012.

Estonia's economy shrank by a jaw-dropping 14.3 percent in 2009 amid the global financial crisis. Following harsh austerity cuts, it soared by 9.6 percent in 2011 as Estonia joined the eurozone.

The EU Commission forecasts a 2.3 percent expansion this year.