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Address on Estonia’s Foreign Policy to the Riigikogu on Behalf of the Government of Estonia

27. February 2014 - 15:07

Honourable head of session!

Dear members of parliament!

Honoured guests!

Firstly, I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the families and people close to those killed in recent weeks and days in Ukraine’s greatest tragedy in the last 20 years. Ukrainian society is broken and anxious. This is fuelled by people's disappointment and lack of trust in regards to political power, as well as corruption, the country's economic weakness and tensions in various parts of the country, especially in Crimea.

Ukrainian society can only heal with the gradual recovery of confidence in politics and politicians. The rapid formation of a new government and the clear goal of extraordinary free elections in Ukraine is elementary, but this alone is not enough to reduce tensions. There is a need for rapid and bona fide reforms that will truly strengthen the rule of law, reduce corruption, ensure the functioning of a market economy, strengthen civil society and all of this together should increase confidence in the overall functioning of the state and society.

The European Union and its members, in other words us; we need to express clear support for Ukraine so it can reach all of these goals, obviously based on the principle of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Support can be practical – both in the form of experts and reform experience, or political – being willing to step up EU-Ukraine relations, keeping an eye out for a clear European perspective, and also economic – by being prepared to provide Ukraine with financial support along with clear reform programs, in order to prevent the country's economic collapse.

I sincerely hope that the majority of Ukrainian society and its leaders clearly understand that a free, democratic and corruption-free state based on the rule of law should be the goal and that achieving this is a prerequisite for Ukraine’s security and well-being. I also consider it to be important that all good partners in the European Union are able to understand the importance of a European perspective, as well as this being stated by the EU to all the Eastern European transition societies. Just as it was, and is, for example, for Western Balkan countries.

Estonia has supported the democratic development of Ukraine for many years, and is willing to continue to do so. We want Ukraine to become a strong democratic state based on the rule of law. Ukrainian people deserve this. The day before yesterday in Kyiv Ukraine, I spoke to the doctor in charge of volunteer first aid providers Olga Bogomolets, who said that Ukraine's future normal development is only possible if the government does not simply bring the current opposition to power, but it is also accompanied by real changes toward freedoms, democracy and the rule of law. According to her, Ukraine praises Estonia's aid experience highly.

Ukraine has a lot at stake these days.  Many have sacrificed their lives in order for their country to be able to change. And we need to support these changes targeting freedom.

Other countries of the EU's Eastern Partnership are also awaiting concrete steps. The EU must conclude the association and free-trade agreements with Moldova and Georgia this year, and decide on the issue of visa-free travel for citizens of Moldova. We have recently decided to send a permanent Estonian diplomat to Moldova. Depending on the circumstances, specific cooperation opportunities must also be found for Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, ranging from visa facilitation to all other manner of practical cooperation.

Dear colleagues,

if you look at other parts of the world alongside Ukraine, then unfortunately there are only a few regions with long-term crises which have seen a clear turnaround. These can be seen for instance in the developments in Burma and in relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Decades of military dictatorship in Burma ended in 2011 and the human rights situation since then has slowly but steadily improved. Serbia and Kosovo have begun a dialogue, focusing on the future. Talks between Serbia and Kosovo are an example of how European Union membership perspective places parties together to find solutions. This kind of development will increase the security of all of Europe, including Estonia.

Serbia-Kosovo and Burma are unfortunately two bright exceptions. In other world conflict areas, the situation is unfortunately still either sleepy, frozen, anxious, or even in danger of exploding. Let us consider the war and its victims in Syria, North Korea 's nuclear program, which relies on prison camps, southern Sudan or the Central African Republic. For years, solutions have been unsuccessfully sought for the Middle East conflict, nations caught up in the Arab Spring have not been able to take up a steady path of development, in the Caucasus,  tense situations continue  in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Hopefully, the situation will take a turn for the better in Iran. Yet these, and several other areas of tension influence Estonia to a greater or lesser extent as well. The examples of Burma and Serbia-Kosovo however, instil confidence that movement toward a more secure world is still possible. International attention and support can bring relief to the impasse in the conflict. As a responsible member of the international community, Estonia must also act to resolve tensions in distant locations.

Dear Riigikogu,

The first foreign policy debate similar to today’s took place 20 years ago in the newly independent Estonia. On February 17, 1994, then foreign minister Jüri Luik spoke about the fact that constant thrashing and switching of viewpoints is not productive. Persistence is our strength. At a foreign policy discussion 20 years ago, the desire to join NATO as a national goal was expressed for the first time, since NATO was seen as the most important organization guaranteeing stability in Europe. 10 years later we joined the Alliance, and now we can still confirm that the collective defence of the North Atlantic is our first and most important security guarantee. Estonia will continue to act on behalf of the NATO defence shield remaining strong. Among allies, Estonia has been dependable and reliable in maintaining security. Our defence expenditures amount to 2 % of the GDP, which is currently relatively rare among the allies.

At the NATO summit in September, we would like confirmation that NATO has a clear path for the future. NATO must remain a credible collective defence organisation with obvious capabilities. NATO must be able to adapt to new challenges requiring the development of certain relevant skills, such as cyber defence.

NATO's strength and effectiveness depends largely on transatlantic ties. Europe and North America must work together and in a well-balanced manner. The level of defence spending and collective contribution to NATO should not excessively favour the United States. Despite the fact that 2 % of the GDP is unfortunately an exception in the alliance, we should not lower our ambitions from that level.

We must also continue with NATO’s open-door policy. Estonia supports a Membership Action Plan, or granting of MAP to Georgia and is also open to Montenegro's membership in the foreseeable future, given that the country is ready for it. It is also necessary to move ahead with NATO cooperation in Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is extremely important to commence closer cooperative work with non-NATO countries who share the same values, especially Finland, Sweden, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand.

Turning to the relationship between NATO and Russia, then this could be characterized by greater trust between parties in the future. There are areas in which this cooperation currently works well, such as Afghanistan transit and the fight against terrorism, drugs and piracy, and yet there is still a lack of trust in these relationships. Be it in arms control or in training.

The end of the mission in Afghanistan confronts us with many questions, of which one of the most important is finding the right balance between collective defence and crisis management. As a member of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, we have contributed to the stability of Afghanistan, as well as to that of the world as a whole and therefore very directly in our own security as well. Our contribution to Afghanistan has always been multifaceted. Our goal alongside maintaining security has been to help, given the opportunities, to prepare the local community for starting up a functioning state. Estonia's contribution has been forward-looking in nature – we have instructed future instructors.

As one young Pakistani girl named Malala, who is fighting for education and has suffered at the hands of the Taliban said: "One child, one teacher, one pencil and one book can change the world." Estonia has supported the training of fire fighters, diplomats, school teachers and future university professors in Afghanistan. If Afghanistan need it and is waiting, we are ready for continue our support – both in teaching the country’s own security forces, or directing resources to development cooperation. But it is clear that Afghanistan has its own agreed-upon roles and responsibilities and starting this summer, a decisive role in Afghanistan's national security as well as its entire future lies on its own shoulders.

Estonia will continue to contribute to international peacekeeping. A couple of weeks ago at the UN headquarters, a major topic of meetings was growing concern over the situation in the Central African Republic and international capability to contribute to alleviate the situation, as well as acknowledgment for Estonia’s quick reaction.

Estonian firmly condemns all forms of violence against civilians and violations of international human rights conventions. Unfortunately, we often hear of murdered and mutilated children in Syria and raped women in the Central African Republic. We must do everything possible to prevent the outbreak of new armed conflicts. The primary responsibility in crisis resolution always lies on the country’s own authorities, but when or if all the local crisis management measures have been exhausted, the international community must respond.

The world is increasingly full of situations, where many peoples’ lives are endangered due to natural disasters or armed conflicts. Our goal is to continually increase Estonia’s ability to respond to global humanitarian challenges. What matters is not so much the amount of aid allocated, but support of an already functioning system and following of humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law. Last year Estonia allocated 2,4 million euros to humanitarian organizations and for the alleviating of humanitarian crises. One-fifth of that amount was directed to alleviating the aftermath of the typhoon in the Philippines and a third to the victims of the Syrian crisis. We have also contributed to humanitarian aid in the Central African Republic. And most recently to support those injured in the Ukrainian protests.

At the end of last summer, there was a chemical weapons attack on Syria. It was one of the most brutal and tragic chemical attacks after World War II. Estonia quickly and unequivocally condemned the attack. We were also among the first, who financially supported the destruction of chemical weapons. According to UN refugee agency data, in the end of the last year, 10 million of Syria’s 22 million inhabitants needed humanitarian aid. 9 million people have been forced to leave their homes. 140 000 people have been killed. A whole generation of children is threatened by the loss of a normal education due to war, not to mention the trauma caused by years of living in refugee camps or in fear of bombs. The Syrian civil war is the greatest humanitarian disaster of the 21 century, which requires serious and urgent steps by the international community to pressure the parties involved to begin negotiations. Also in Europe, we see direct consequences of the civil war situation in Syria, such as growing immigration pressures and European citizens having certain links and experiences related to the fighting in Syria. 

Our common goal should be the prevention of conflicts and human rights violations. We need to move towards an approach centred on prevention, but since war crimes and violations of human rights have become a fact, we must respond to them immediately.

Honourable Ladies and Gentlemen,

Engagement in activities away from home does not mean that relations in the neighbourhood come to a standstill. Estonian-Russian relations are business-like, but there are areas where they could be significantly better. For example, trade restrictions are unfortunately a movement against other developments. All parties would benefit from the opposite behaviour.

We are hopefully finally able to consider a pending and unsettled topic closed with the February 18 signing of the border treaties.  A border is a specific and clear phenomenon – and it must also be legally defined. It is an issue directly relevant to security, and I am pleased that the Riigikogu showed consensus in the fall of 2012, when all political parties represented in the Riigikogu were in agreement with the proposal to find a solution that would allow the border treaties to come into force. The diplomatic real estate agreement between Estonia and Russia and the cooperative work agreement between foreign ministries have also just been concluded. Hopefully the double taxation avoidance agreement, economic cooperation agreement, and many other preparatory arrangements between Estonia and Russia will soon be concluded. And of course with respect to our neighbours to the East, we hope to see the development of a free civil society, as well as kind and open communication with their close neighbours.

Like the cooperation of NATO allies in Europe, the activities of the EU Neighbourhood Policy is for and not against anyone. The broadest objective of the Eastern Partnership is an increase in security, stability and prosperity. Guaranteeing democratic freedoms and the protection of human rights are the levers that strengthen each society from within, and also have a strong positive impact on the immediate surroundings. The stability, prosperity and security of the European Eastern partners affects the European Union. And Russia as well. Therefore pressure, causing an internal rift in the Eastern partners is not conducive to the European Union or Russia. What is saddest – the Eastern Partnership countries themselves will suffer the most due to the instability. Following the European Union summit in Vilnius, the European Union must thoroughly upgrade its policies – Eastern Partnership links did not progress as far as expected. But most certainly, however, Eastern Partnership did not end in Vilnius. The problems became clearer – now we must move forward in resolving them, using the more for more principle.

Honourable Riigikogu,

Today we can say with complete certainty, that the sense of crisis in Europe has decreased. The worst is behind us: confidence is returning and this year Eurostat is predicting growth in almost all member states. Difficult times in Europe have taught us to look for common solutions, not to turn our backs to problems without concentrating on them. For us, it is still important that while shaping the future of Europe, fundamental principles are not compromised, such as the four basic freedoms.

A strong and open EU is in the interests of Estonia. The European Parliament bears an increasing weight in the making of decisions, therefore the new face of parliament should be of interest to all citizens of Estonia and Europe. I hope that the majority supports a strong EU and developments in this direction.

There are a number of things in the European Union that can and should be done immediately, and do not require any significant changes in agreements. The free movement of services, a common digital market, and more coherent foreign, security and energy policies are a few examples of areas that have considerable room for improvement.

Searching for an effective EU will shape a strong organization. One that is also appealing to those countries, who are currently outside of the EU. The attractiveness of the EU can be seen by the many countries who are interested in joining. And we must be open to these countries. This year, with the passing of 100 years since the beginning of World War I, we are in a position where accession negotiations with Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey should evolve smoothly, I hope. I also hope that Iceland will return to accession negotiations and that Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina will also be ready to begin negotiations one fine day. And of course, I'm assuming that the Macedonian name issue will find a solution, and that this country can move forward in the direction of both the EU and NATO.

Dear members of parliament,

A closed and poor society has never been secure. Estonia's economic growth is supported by strong foreign economic relations. Business and economic diplomacy has become one of the cornerstones of Estonia's foreign relations. Increasingly, the work of Estonian diplomats is related to helping Estonian companies enter new markets and also to introduce the Estonian market's terms and individuality to foreign companies. Estonia is the perfect public image of an innovative country which supports business. This has prompted many companies to invest in Estonia, to bring its activities or its forerunners here or to learn from experiences gained here. The world's leading logistics company Kuehne + Nagel, who founded their ICT (information and communications technology) development centre in Estonia, is a good example.

We were looking for our own Nokia, but we found Skype, GrabCad, TransferWise, Erply, ZeroTurnaround and many other innovative ICT tigers. The Estonian ICT success story is perhaps our best known business card in recent years. However, in addition to the ICT industry, there are many companies from other areas increasing export more boldly as well. Last year's winner of the title of exporter of the year, the Baltic grain processor Tartu Mill is a perfect example. The diversity of Estonian exports is considered to be its strength – we export to more than ten major trade groups. And we want to more effectively support entrepreneurs in Estonia. The foreign ministry intends to increase its capabilities in the field of business diplomacy.

Estonia has been a country with a very liberal trade policy since re-independence. We already have gained a lot due to an open economy and trade relations and certainly the curtailing of restrictions will directly contribute to our prosperity in the future.

In the fall of 2013, the world's two major commercial forces - the EU and the U.S. - began to negotiate the reciprocal trade and investment partnership agreement. When the agreement comes into force, it will have extraordinary historical significance. Not only for trade and economy, and not only for the U.S. and the EU. The movement of goods will be facilitated by eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers, including the removal of barriers that inhibit the provision of services. In addition, both parties will seek to harmonize rules and regulations. Based on this, it is easy to imagine the impact such a historic agreement between the EU and the U.S. can possibly have. According to current calculations, the agreement could bring an extra 90 billion euros to the U.S. economy and 120 billion euros to the EU economy a year. The trade agreement between the U.S. and EU also has a clear transatlantic security and political dimension.

There are a number of other important world trade developments currently ongoing which affect us. The EU has completed negotiations on a trade agreement with Canada. Similar negotiations are currently ongoing with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. We hope to move forward in talks with India, as well as China.

The face of world trade has changed significantly in recent decades. If 20 years ago import and export together made up 20%, of everything consumed in the world, then today that percentage is 40 and is expected to continue to rise. A global trading system based on common rules is beneficial for everyone. It is definitely a good thing that Russia is a member of the World Trade Organization. The WTO framework can be used to its full potential only if the parties fulfil their promises. We assume that Russia may decline from rolling more and more new barriers onto the open road of free trade and will eliminate its additional barriers already in place. Estonia is in close contact with its Russian counterparts as well as with the European Commission in order to find a solution to the trade-related disputes.

In the area of development co-operation, we have adopted the goal of raising the volume of official development assistance (ODA) to 0.17 % of the GDP in the next few years. In this way we can also support the functioning of the economic and business environment in respective countries. The number of countries where we are ready to carry out development cooperation projects is also expanding. Successful projects are starting for example in Tunisia, Palestine and Burma and we are ready to expand the circle both in Africa and Asia. It is clear that cooperation in remote areas and places that are more volatile requires patience and a conscious approach.

We must accept the fact that the Estonian network of representations will never be quite complete and the search for balance is never-ending. In my opinion, thanks to our diplomats, we are currently represented beyond Estonia quite optimally. Of the last five representations which we have opened, four are located in Asia and Australia. The last embassy we opened, in India, has started out well and is dealing with both business contacts and consular issues, (the detained Estonian national detained for example), as well as political cooperation.

We have significantly increased relations with Japan, who is also participating in our regional Nordic-Baltic cooperation.

The new Estonian embassy building in the Chinese capital Beijing will soon be completed and we will soon be opening an embassy in Brazil, where an ambassador will be arriving this summer. This will be the first permanent Estonian ambassador to reside in South America. The fact that all the recently opened foreign offices are located in Asia, Australia, and South America corresponds fairly well with the established expectation that Estonia should not stay away from countries with rising economies.

The reason for opening an embassy or consulate is a combination of the growing need for consular services to citizens and for businesses who need support in entering the market. After opening the embassy in Brazil this year, Estonia now has offices in all the countries where it is among the 20 most important trade partners. As of today, Estonia has embassies in countries with which trade accounts for 94.3% of the total foreign trade turnover.

The uniqueness of Estonia's foreign trade is that we trade more intensely with a small number of countries. This has been the case since the restoration of independence. Thus, it is crucial for us to continue close and multifaceted cooperation with our key markets, which are located predominantly in the Baltic Sea region.

Estonian companies do not compete in every area – Estonia’s size sets certain limits – but we have quality products and the ability to export them. Demonstrating e-governance is also of central importance when dealing with countries which are getting ready to start up their own e-governance. Ene Ergma surely remembers how she and an e-government delegation visited Kyrgyzstan and planted trees more than 10 years ago. Currently Kyrgyzstan is considering how to follow Estonia's example in building up e-Kyrgyzstan.

What Estonia is like and what our values are, is in my opinion, expressed in a very genuine way by the fact that we are one of the most active defenders of Internet freedom. For Estonia, Internet freedom is an integral part of human rights. Security and freedom are not mutually exclusive concepts in the case of the Internet. In addition to membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council, Estonia is currently the chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition. This results in having a great opportunity, but also being responsible for managing the work of an association made of up of 22 countries. The purpose of the Internet Freedom Coalition is the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in cyberspace. We are organizing a high level conference in Tallinn in late April, which we have named "Free and Secure Internet Access for All". As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, we have also continued to contribute to other areas of human rights. We have paid special attention to the situation of women's and children's rights in both areas of conflict and elsewhere.

An important development in cyber security was the signing last year of a joint statement on cyber protection by Estonia and the United States, providing a framework for both additional bilateral activity, as well as for cooperation with international organizations. Problems related to Internet governance and global cyber-architecture continue to be an important area of work for us in the near future.

Honoured ladies and gentlemen,

In wrapping up this overview, I turn to our home region – the Baltic Sea. Estonia will be able to do quite a bit this year to spark regional cooperation. This year we will be leading three elements of regional cooperation simultaneously – Nordic and Baltic cooperation, cooperation in the Baltic and as of July, the Council of Baltic Sea States. We will confirm our role in the development of the Baltic Sea region during this Baltic Sea Year. As early as next week, Estonia is hosting a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Nordic, Baltic and Visegrad nations in Narva.

I shall now mention what is most important. Firstly, energy projects. Our goal is to reach the point of losing the Baltic energy island. In order to achieve this, new connections must be built and joint efforts must be made to access new suppliers to the market. Most definitely, work will continue this year on a regional liquefied natural gas terminal in the Baltic, as well as on the Baltic Connector natural gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland. The Estonia-Finland electricity transmission connection Estlink 2 is in the hands of the electricity market as of February 7. This will triple the maximum energy transmission capacity between Estonia and Finland.

Secondly, the largest infrastructure project in the history of the Baltic countries – Rail Baltic. This is one of the most important transport corridors in the entire EU transportation network and the full cooperation of the Baltic countries is very important.

An extremely important development was Latvia's accession to the euro zone and hopefully Lithuania will soon follow.

And if we look north, even further than Finland, then a serious discussion has begun that could ultimately result in Estonia obtaining observer status in the Arctic Council. This is an area and organization which, as a result of changes in the Arctic, will become increasingly important in terms of economics, security and of course the environment. Moreover, Estonia is the closest county to the Arctic, which does not belong to the Arctic Council.

Dear Riigikogu,

A well planned, consistent, but ever-evolving foreign policy has been our strength. Inevitably, resources change – whether it be a growth in the role of diplomacy, the emergence of twitter diplomacy, or social media in general. However, these are tools, not values and certainly not goals. We need to be determined and confident in what we do and help those who need it most. And today, understanding, support and assistance from us, as well as from all of Europe is needed most by the people in Ukraine.

Thank you very much for listening.

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