Estonia has systematically worked with development cooperation since 1998. Development cooperation as an inseparable part of Estonia's foreign policy comprises both development and humanitarian aid. It is directed towards securing peace, prosperity and economic and social stability, and it works towards decreasing world poverty in harmony with the internationally approved principles of sustainable development. Estonia’s development cooperation policy is outlined and regulated by the document "Principles of Estonian Development Cooperation" approved by the Riigikogu (Parliament) on 15.01.2003 as a successor of the previous policy document "Principles of Development Cooperation for the Years 1999-2000". It defines Estonia's development cooperation as a basic outlet for sharing its reform experiences with transition economy countries interested in this subject matter; it also defines the type of support and aid given to developing countries. According to this document, Estonia will observe the principles of humanitarian and development aid shaped by international organizations, primarily the UN, OECD and EU. Also, Estonia strongly believes that responsibility for their development lies primarily on the developing countries themselves.
Estonia spends annually about 0.15% (2014) of its Gross National Income (GNI) on development cooperation and intends to steadily increase its share as well as to advance its status and role among other international donors.
According to Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Strategy 2016-2020 (PDF) it's priority partner countries are: Afghanistan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus.
The strategic objectives of Estonian development cooperation are:
- to contribute to reducing global poverty and human development in developing countries,
- to support peace and stability, the granting of human rights, the development of democracy as well as the promoting of good governance practices in developing countries,
- to promote economic development, including support for economic reform, integration into the global trade network and agriculture; fostering environmentally friendly and sustainable development,
- to enhance development cooperation capacity of the Estonian public, private and third sectors and increasing the population’s awareness of development cooperation and introducing global education. Development of the ICT-sector and e-governance issues will be a horizontal field.
At the international level, Estonia was first mentioned as a donor country in the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) 1999 report. The report cited Estonia’s development cooperation efforts in 1998; since then, reporting to DAC has been an annual activity. Estonia has been an active participant in global development processes, including the Doha development agenda, the mobilizing of finances for development, and the promoting of sustainability in development. Estonia strongly supports a holistic approach to global development, i.e. all policies potentially influencing developing countries should be considered together to ensure the strongest developmental impact.
As stipulated by the Government of the Republic Act, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates Estonia’s development cooperation programmes. Other governmental agencies implement specific projects within the scope of their competence.
As Estonia has been successful in rebuilding a democratic state and society, it is able and willing to share its reform experiences and practical knowledge with its partner countries.
So far, Estonia has shared reform experiences with countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Albania, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Tunisia in fields ranging from WTO accession negotiations and reforming the national health care system to the implementation of information technology in state administration. The aim of Estonia's development cooperation is to ensure long-term stability and the continuous development of recipient countries.
Important partners in developing cooperation are non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who collaborate with the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs in setting policy strategies, raising society's awareness about the need for development aid and cooperation, and informing the society about global education. Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation (AKÜ) is the head organisation of many NGOs who work in this field.
Besides bilateral cooperation, Estonia has increasingly become interested in trilateral cooperation projects. Several projects supporting Molodva, Ukraine and Georgia have already taken place in cooperation with Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Through voluntary contributions, Estonia regularly supports the operations of several United Nations agencies, such as the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, and the UN Voluntary Fund for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. A number of specific projects, like protecting children’s rights in the North Caucasus through UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) or OSCE Voluntary Fund for Activities Related to the Removal and Destruction of Russian Military Equipment and Ammunition from Moldova have also been supported.
Estonia is a member of and a donor to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and several other internationally active organisations committed to promoting global peace and security.
The humanitarian aid that Estonia has provided in the past few years has focused on providing relief to war refugees and emergency assistance after natural disasters. Estonia has supported war refugees in Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Kosovo, Chechnya and Afghanistan in helping to meet basic needs. Estonia has given support to earthquake victims in Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan and has also helped to alleviate the consequences of the floods in Poland and Czech Republic, and famine in Georgia. When responding to such crises, the Estonian Government closely co-operates with international organisations and NGOs, which in several cases have been the leading agencies in delivering assistance.
In 2004, Estonia joined the global relief effort to assist Southeast Asian countries and their people to cope with the situation after a devastating tsunami and, for the first time, dispatched the Estonian Disaster Relief Team (EDRT) on a mission to Indonesia’s Banda Aceh region. EDRT also participated in 2005 in the relief efforts after the earthquake in Pakistan. In 2008, humanitarian assistance was delivered to Ukraine and Moldova to assist the victims of floods and to repair the damages of floods.