Together we have made Estonia bigger!
The positive impact of the European Union on Estonia
Joining the European Union has made Estonia far bigger than it has ever been before, without increasing our territory. The four freedoms in the EU – free movement of persons, goods, services and capital – have given us excellent opportunities and expanded our horizons considerably. There is more stability and the economy has grown substantially. Estonia’s influence in European and world affairs has considerably increased. The increase in mutual trust among European countries has much of importance – through working together in the European Union, the EU Institutions and member states have learned to trust each other more, leading to work efficiency and development.
The great wish and goal of Estonia to become a member of the European Union realised on 1 May 2004, ten years ago. Significant progress had been made by that time, but a lot more was waiting to be accomplished because the EU membership status requires active participation and responsibility. Estonia has identified its interests and priorities in the EU, and worked for them in Estonia, Brussels and all other member states. The spectrum of Estonia’s interests in the European Union is very wide – from electronic identity to enlargement of the EU, from strong monetary union to effective foreign policy. In ten years, we have built up a system that enables us to have a say in all topics important to us.
In 2011, Estonia was the 17th member state to join the eurozone. While accession to the EU gave a strong push to the Estonian economy, joining the euro helped the economy out of the crisis. Adopting the euro increased trust in Estonian economy, helping to attract new investments to Estonia and create new jobs. Moreover, the euro made travelling easier and decreased currency exchange costs, and it also brought lower loan interest rates.
What joining the European Union has given to Estonia?
According to the results of last year’s Eurobarometer survey, the residents of Estonia consider the most positive result of the European Union the free movement of persons, goods and services. Accession to the EU has given Estonia freedom, wellbeing and sense of security. Thanks to the EU, people take many things for granted today that did not even exist ten years ago. Joining the EU gave people more freedom of action. As our exports to the EU member states account for 70–80% of the total volume of Estonia’s export, the common market is extremely important to us. The benefits of the free movement of goods include limitless access to the large EU market, better options for consumers and an improved level of consumer protection.
The free movement of persons gives our people the right to move freely within the EU and to live and work in any member state without restrictions. The right to travel without a visa to a number of non-EU countries has also been extended to the citizens of Estonia.
At the end of 2007, Estonia joined the Schengen area, freeing Estonian citizens from border checks within the EU. Estonia’s contribution to the Schengen information system has a physical presence in Tallinn with the headquarters of the EU IT Agency, the Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice, which began operating here in December 2012. A common Schengen area has made travelling to the EU easier also for people living outside of the European Union and enhanced closer business and economic relations with Europe. For example, compared to ten years ago when obtaining a visa to visit Estonia was extremely difficult for people of some countries, people can now apply for a visa to visit Estonia in 92 different places all over the world because of visa representation agreements within the Schengen system.
With the help of the European Union, we work for connecting our infrastructures with the Europe. The EU has supported the development of road connection between the Baltic States, known as the Via Baltica from Warsaw to Tallinn, and the energy connections including EstLink, interconnection between the Baltic and Nordic electricity markets. The Rail Baltic shall connect Baltic states to the Europe also by rail. Besides to the symbolic and economic value, this transport connection has the security dimension as well.
The mere fact of joining the European Union gave our economy an overnight boost. We suddenly had more growth than we had ever expected. Estonia’s prosperity has grown during the time of membership of the EU. In 2004, our GDP per person based on purchasing power standard (PPS) was 58% of the EU average; in 2012, the indicator was 71% of the EU average. The prerequisites for the economic growth have been the creation of a beneficial economic environment and the growth of competitiveness. Estonia has received additional funds to support growth from the EU Structural Funds.
In 2007–2013, Estonia was allocated 3.4 billion euro in structural aid. In addition to structural aid, we were granted other supports and funds (cohesion policy, agricultural and fishery subsidies, rural development fund). In seven years (2007–2013), Estonia received a total of 4.764 billion euro or a little more than 500 euro per person per year in EU support.
These funds were used to combat unemployment (in 2007–2011 active labour market measures were financed 80% with European money); significant investments (635 mln) were made into transport infrastructure: a large number of highways and crossings were renovated, ports were reconstructed; Tallinn Seaplane Harbour, a unique seaplane hangar, was revived and turned into an impressive tourist attraction (which won the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra 2013); 2,000 km of Internet broadband connections were built, enabling 60,000 households (almost 135,000 people), 14,000 companies and 500 public sector agencies to use the service; the EU structural funds (464 mln) have helped ensure the provision of quality drinking water in almost all larger urban communities; the educational infrastructure in vocational schools has been improved (investments were made in 91% of schools); hospitals and the development of the infrastructure of the healthcare system has been supported largely;
Estonia was successful in the budget negotiations for the following seven years (2014–2020), where the allocations to Estonia increased compared to the previous budget, i.e. Estonia can receive 5.86 billion euro from structural funds and agricultural aid, which is 907 million euro more than in the previous budget period. While to date European money has helped improve a large part of the basic infrastructure in our country, i.e. highways, buildings and pipes, the focus now will be on smart economic growth, the well-being of people and improvement of the standard of working and living. Estonia directs European funds into the development of education, employment, environment, economy, energy, transports and information technology.
Estonia pays around 1.4 billion euro into the EU budget. Hence, Estonia will receive 4.5 billion euros more from the EU than it pays in the following seven years.
Growth of influence
Joining the European Union has given Estonia more power of influence than ever before. The influence of Estonia in the foreign affairs has significantly increased compared to the time before accession. Estonia is also interested in expanding the area of wellbeing and security in the region of the EU.
Estonia has always supported the enlargement of the EU because we have first-hand experience of the positive impact of this integration process. Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia have also joined the EU since Estonia became a member state. Estonia has shared its reform experience with countries that are interested in enlargement.
As all Europeans, we wish for a more competitive Europe. Further development of the internal market will definitely contribute to achieving this goal. Estonia also continues to keep the topic of creating a digital single market on the agenda, which would allow for using services electronically in any EU member state. Currently, the most important issues in providing cross-border e-services are related to electronic identity (e-authorisation and digital signature).
In 10 years, we have reached a place where we feel that we are a part of a whole, we can collectively resolve problems with partners, and we can use the European Union to strengthen our security and improve the level of wellbeing.
In ten years, Estonia has become a confident member state. Moreover, we have learned how to manage significant processes and direct their course to suit our needs.
Estonia will take its next significant exam as a member state in the first half of 2018, when Estonia holds the presidency of the European Union. During this time of presidency, we have to ensure coordination and continuation of the decision process of the European Council, be impartial in disputes and take into account all presented views. At the beginning of this year, the government adopted a preparatory action plan for the presidency.
Estonia supports the goals and values on which the European Union is established. A strong European Union corresponds to our interests and to the interests of all of Europe. Estonians are EU-minded and for (more) European integration.
Some more specific examples of the positive effect of the European Union on Estonia:
- The opportunities for self-fulfilment of people have significantly expanded;
- The EU has helped bring the work performed by the Estonian internal security bodies to a new level of quality and contributed to the improved feeling of security among citizens;
- Joining the European Union gave our people the European Health Insurance Card, which certifies health insurance in another member state while travelling;
- Around 22.6 million euro was allocated from the regional competitiveness programme to aid museums in 2004–2013;
- Estonia has been one of the initiators for Baltic Sea Strategy which goal is to protect environment, increase the wellbeing in Baltic Sea region and unite this region;
- Tallinn was the European Capital of Culture in 2011;
- International cooperation has become more intense on all levels,
- E.g. the number of foreign researchers that have taken up employment in Estonian research institutions has been continuingly growing: by 2012, there were almost six
times more foreign researchers compared to 2004.
- Furthermore, Estonian researchers have been granted aid to the tune of more than 84.9 million euro from the 7th framework programme (2007–2013).
Estonians´ support to the EU
The EU experience only strengthens our belief that common rules, especially good rules, are worth having and worth following. However, once we joined almost 10 years ago, Estonians quickly became leading supporters of the European Union – recent polls show about 80% support, but it has been even higher at times. Support among Estonians for the EU proves that our people have understood and see the benefit of the common European rules and values.
Celebrating 10 years in the European Union
- 1 May – Europe Day on Freedom Square + activities in embassies
- 3 May – 10 years from planting a million trees for the EU – review of forest in Varbola
- Back to School initiative – ministers and public servants in the role of visiting speakers give talks about the European Union in schools
- European Parliament debates
- 25-27 April – Lennart Meri conference
- 15 May – Structural funds conference
- 26 Sept – “Estonian language – 10 years in the EU” conference
- Oct 2-3 – “10 years of legal integration” conference
- “In the pipeline: agriculture, environment” conference
- Collection of articles as a special edition of the Akadeemia cultural journal
- Special edition of the Eurokratt journal
- Macroeconomic analysis (Bank of Estonia)
- TV game in Estonian Public Broadcasting, ERR (March - May)
- Radioquizz (9 May)
The Estonian way into the European Union
The most important landmarks in gaining European Union membership were:
- 28 November 1995 – Estonia submitted an official application of accession to the European Union
- 30 March 1998 – 11 December 2002 – Accession negotiations were held between Estonia and the European Union
- 16 April 2003 – Estonia signed the Accession Treaty
- 14 September 2003 – the Estonian people voted to join the European Union. Estonia's accession to the EU was supported by 66.83% of voters; the share of votes against accession was 33.17%.
- 1 May 2004 – together with Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, Estonia became an EU member state.
- 21 December 2007 – Estonia joined the Schengen area without internal border controls.
The Estonian Republic was declared on 24 February 1918. During World War II, Estonia lost its independence and was occupied for several decades until Estonian independence was re-established on 20 August 1991. After Estonia's independence was restored, its foreign policy goal was to join the European Union and NATO.