Dear Members of the Riigikogu,
We will soon celebrate the 95th birthday of the Estonian state. At the end of March the period of uninterrupted de facto independence will equal that which Estonia experienced before the war. The foundations of our statehood are stronger and more secure today than 21 or even 74 years ago. We have completed the stage of restoring our statehood. The stage of re-integrating with Europe and the world.
The Estonian Encyclopaedia of the interwar period states that diplomacy is a method of implementing a country’s foreign policy goals. But foreign policy is also a reflection of domestic policy. Foreign activities must serve the interests of Estonia’s people. The government’s goal is practical and people-centred foreign policy in our neighbourhood, in the world’s current and future power and economic centres, and in the important organisations to which we already belong.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The focus of this speech is foreign policy that serves the people. Human rights and values are a constant theme in all areas of foreign policy, from security to European policy, from economics to consular issues. Improving and protecting the human rights situation has for 95 years been and will remain a matter of principle as well as a goal for Estonia.
Human rights are the cornerstone of peace, security, and sustainable development. It’s a good example of how truly idealistic things are also pragmatic. And vice versa. Estonia is a global leader when it comes to personal, economic, and political freedoms. We also enjoy widespread freedom of movement. We would like to protect these rights at home and abroad. When these rights and freedoms are guaranteed for other peoples, we benefit as well. It is important to emphasise that in contrast to simply doing whatever one pleases, true freedom comes with responsibilities. As Lord Acton said, “Liberty is the right of being able to do what we ought”.
We protect and want to expand the space in which rule of law and human rights are respected. Estonia became a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in history. The government’s priorities in the Human Rights Council are the rights of women and children, taking gender into account in conflict resolution, fighting impunity, and the rights of indigenous peoples. We also give special attention to freedom of expression and internet freedom.
The Human Rights Council helps prevent and react to conflicts and widespread violations of human rights. This relates to our work supporting the International Criminal Court, whose Assembly of States Parties is led by an Estonian diplomat. We feel that the development of the Court is essential to help prevent the perpetration of serious crimes. Already 122 countries have joined the Rome Statute. We continue to encourage more countries to join. Only this will make it possible to avoid gross crimes against humanity and hold the perpetrators responsible.
Internet freedom is important as the digital divide grows and authoritarian states seek opportunities to limit access to the internet. Our policy is to address internet freedom in the context of basic freedoms and human rights. For the third year in a row, we ranked first in the world for internet freedom. For Estonia, it’s just as important to protect freedom of expression on the internet as it is to protect other fundamental rights and freedoms. We belong to the Freedom Online Coalition, which Estonia will lead next year. At the conference of the International Telecommunications Union we were against greater regulation of the internet. The government will continue to work against internet censorship.
The other side of the internet freedom coin is cyber security. This is an indivisible aspect of security. It encompasses cyber protection and safety and the protection of vital information systems. All of this has a growing impact on our everyday lives, including in the physical world. Potential cyber attacks are not limited to crippling websites. The world’s energy, water, transportation, and other strategic infrastructures widely depend on vulnerable technology. The e-state and interconnectivity have been conscious choices. But we must do more to come to terms with accompanying threats. Therefore cyber security is a priority.
More and more countries have begun to understand the importance of cyber security. An important development is the completion of the European Union cyber security strategy. The work of NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre is also essential. Most recently France and the United Kingdom announced that they would join the centre, located in Tallinn. The National Cyber Defence League has earned a lot of attention in the world as an example of a joint effort between the public and private sector. Estonia has become a modern security producer in the cyber field. We have effectively – and with minimal expense – strengthened our security. But the government also stresses the need to develop NATO’s conventional capabilities.
The war in Afghanistan is one example of how seemingly far-away events affect us. This is natural in the 21st century. Estonia is thankful to every soldier, civilian, and family that has sacrificed dearly in the name of Estonia’s security.
The full transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan forces will happen in the middle of this year. Currently our 170-strong force remains in southern Afghanistan, where we have been successful alongside our British brothers in arms. Soon we shall decide when to pull out our soldiers. NATO will continue its work in Afghanistan after 2014, leading an international training mission. Estonia is also ready to help build up the rule of law. We will significantly increase development co-operation support for Afghanistan. Our priorities are health care, education, good governance, and safety. This has been fruitful. For example, in Helmand Province about 80% of residents have access to free health care services. The whole province is covered by a network of clinics. Our health expert’s task was to co-ordinate Estonian and international development co-operation projects, and to advise Helmand’s provincial government. The situation there has changed markedly compared to what it was years ago when we first went to Afghanistan. From the perspective of Afghanistan’s future, other countries in Central Asia also play a strategic role. Thus far activities have focused mainly on transit but should be expanded.
The broader Middle East and North Africa region is one of the primary sources of danger in the world. The region’s terrorist organisations are attempting to use the complicated situation to their advantage. Paradoxically, in this day and age it is necessary to act far from home in order to be safe at home. For example, Estonia participates in the European Union anti-piracy operation Atalanta. We shall also participate in the EU’s training mission in Mali. All this has a practical link with Estonia. It is important to us that in Mali, Afghanistan, and elsewhere extremists that threaten the peace and stability of the whole world do not come to power. It’s important to us that Somali pirates don’t damage the world economy – and therefore also the Estonian economy – with their actions.
Returning to the topic of NATO, it is essential that the Alliance remains active. Particularly after the reduction of the Afghanistan mission. Estonia has directed and will continue to direct its allies’ attention to fundamental tasks like ensuring protection and deterrence in NATO’s territory. The reason is simple. This is the greatest security guarantee for Estonia and our whole region. The last NATO summit confirmed these same principles. One good example is the major NATO exercise Steadfast Jazz, which this year will be held in Poland and the Baltic states and will focus on practicing collective defence.
An important achievement from Estonia’s perspective is the decision to continue Baltic air policing indefinitely. Thus far the air policing mission has been based in Lithuania. In two years Ämari air base will be fully operational. Estonia aims to get at least one air policing rotation per year based in Ämari in the future. Logically, a mission that is in the interests of all three countries should use all the available opportunities. This is what Ämari has to offer for the security of Baltic airspace. One of the goals of developing the base was the air policing mission. Estonia recognises all the countries that have participated in air policing. Among them, the ones that have served the most are Germany, followed by Poland, France and Denmark. A general lack of resources and the concept of smart defence assume more co-operation and the sharing of capabilities.
For this reason, I would also like to emphasise the importance of defence spending. Currently Estonia is one of the few allies that contributes the NATO minimum to national defence – 2% of GDP. We would like our allies and closest partners to also set the goal of contributing more to their defence budgets. To quote Shakespeare’s Coriolanus: “That when the sea was calm all boats alike show’d mastership in floating”. Occasionally we must face stormier seas. Therefore the government maintains the position that Europe must contribute more to security. The USA cannot and should not carry the full responsibility and expense alone. Just as Germany cannot and should not carry Europe’s debt burden alone.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The security of the Baltic Sea region is stable, but needs strengthening as a whole. “Nordic” is a stamp of quality in matters of economics and finances. The whole region must set the same security goals. Estonia would like to see Finland and Sweden tied more closely to the Alliance. In the future, when their societies are ready for it, even as members. At any rate, we must strengthen NATO-centred co-operation in our region. We regularly and effectively work together with Finland and Sweden in NATO crisis management exercises. A lot of our co-operation takes place within the framework of the European Union. The Nordic Battle Group is one way to intensify our defence co-operation even more.
Northern Europe is economically and financially strong. We are more competitive, stable, and growing faster than the rest of Europe. However, everything is not ideal. Here in the Nordic region we’re doing better than most. But even we’re not doing as well as we’d like. Closer regional co-operation is essential. Next year Estonia will chair Baltic co-operation, co-ordinate the work of the NB8, and lead the Council of the Baltic Sea States. We will have a clear chance to encourage closer ties among the Nordic and Baltic countries.
We support Latvia and Lithuania’s accession to the euro zone and the OECD. As the most integrated country in the region, Estonia’s goal is to strengthen the entire region. It is in the interests of Estonia as well as Finland, Latvia and Lithuania that Sweden and Denmark, which do not belong to the euro zone, do not to drift away from the European Union’s core.
Poland and Germany are key countries in the Baltic Sea region. We encourage Germany to take an even greater leadership role among the “rational Nordic economies”. As with Latvia and Lithuania, we support Poland’s accession to the euro. A positive attitude towards the euro has developed there. Poland’s potential accession within a few years has become realistic. Estonia would like for both Poland and Germany to see themselves more as Baltic Sea region states.
Developing the region’s infrastructure is vitally important if we wish to create fast and modern transportation connections with Western Europe. Anything else is inconceivable. Already around 15% of the world’s maritime transport takes place in the Baltic Sea region. Proper railway connections with the rest of Europe would improve opportunities for travel and increase the region’s competitiveness. The Rail Baltic project serves this goal. During the past year a great deal of work has been done for Rail Baltic. We are no longer just drafting the project. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are making actual preparations. Poland and Finland are involved as well.
The creation of energy connections is equally important. This goal is supported by a functioning single market and equal conditions for energy trade with third countries. This year will bring clarity regarding the regional liquefied natural gas terminal. With the completion of Estlink-2 we can expect greater stability in the price of electricity. The NordBalt underwater cable between Lithuania and Sweden is being built, as are the Lit-Pol-Link from Lithuania to Poland and a new Estonia-Latvia electrical connection. This creates a Baltic Sea electrical circle. Hopefully we will soon be fully integrated with the entire European energy market and shake off our energy island status.
What is done in the European Union must support our region’s past success and future goals. I started this speech with the statement that Estonia has re-integrated into Europe. This doesn’t mean that our attention can now drift from Europe to other topics. The goal was never just to join. More important than the fact of EU membership is what we do in Europe. What’s important is how we stand for the interests and rights of our people. But also the interests of all of Europe.
One of our goals is to achieve a lasting solution for the debt crisis. An effective cure requires the correct diagnosis. This crisis is not just a cyclical phenomenon. There are structural problems. The problem is in debts and budget deficits. The government has consistently spoken out for the whole European Union to accept this diagnosis. Our work has borne fruit. The crisis has been long. Nobody denies this. But the economies of both Estonia and the European Union are already standing on firmer ground.
It may seem that the European Union is resolving the crisis slowly. But member states have taken steps towards a solution. By moving towards binding rules and responsible fiscal policy, the union is taking the shape that is in Estonia’s interests. Countries with compromised economies, such as those in southern Europe, have adopted significant measures to get the situation at home under control. A year ago some economists predicted the collapse of the euro zone. The developments of the past few months have once again renewed faith in the survival of the euro zone.
At the European Union budget negotiations we achieved our goals in matters important to Estonia. Estonia stands for the strengthening of the single market and the development of the digital market. But economic growth should not just come from within the European Union. Access to large and developing markets is essential. The European Union must continue liberalising trade and concluding comprehensive free trade agreements. We’re talking about countries like the USA, Canada, and Japan, but also the European Union’s Eastern Partners. This allows us to ensure a greater sense of security for entrepreneurs as they enter and engage in new markets.
Hopefully relations between Europe and the USA will gain even more momentum during President Obama’s new term. Reciprocal interest and a special relationship between Europe and the USA are natural. The potential of the USA’s market has not been exhausted. A comprehensive free trade agreement between the European Union and the USA would enliven trans-Atlantic trade. Both economies would win. Jobs would be created. Since the European Union and USA have the world’s two biggest economies it is essential that we work towards mutually beneficial solutions and our common interests in the world. Estonia and the USA’s relations also carry special weight. Our co-operation has developed and is currently much broader than just security. Some examples are our joint development co-operation projects in Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. And co-operation within the framework of Open Government Partnership, where we share our experiences with an e-state and good governance.
The further integration of the euro zone and the future of the European Union still require profound discussion. In Estonia as well. A place at the table ensures that we are sovereign decision-makers, not a choice on someone else’s menu. Not belonging to the euro zone is becoming an increasingly significant issue, especially for those on the outside. The euro zone has become the true core of the European Union. The more deeply this core integrates, the more distant the bystanders become. But Estonia hopes that nobody is left out when it comes to key issues and that nobody drifts away from the EU.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Union received the Nobel Peace Prize because it truly is a successful peace project. But the world around us is changing and turbulent. We must stay alert and constantly consider the meaning of security. It’s a fact that European Union members do not wage war on each other. That enlargement to date has ensured a peaceful region in Europe. But this development is not finished. Europe is not complete. There are European countries that are not in the European Union, but want to join. Therefore the enlargement process should continue.
Croatia’s accession is a positive step and encourages other Western Balkan countries to continue reforming. Clearly the European Union is still attractive if over ten countries wish to join. It is possible that accession negotiations with Serbia and Macedonia will begin this year. We consider speedy negotiations with Montenegro and Iceland, and the continuation of negotiations with Turkey, to be important. We hope that enlargement will soon take place in Northern Europe and Iceland will become a member state.
The European Union’s Eastern Partnership has long been and remains a priority. At the summit in Vilnius at the end of the year we wish to see concrete conclusions regarding many partners. The brightest star has been Moldova, and Georgia has also been successful. It seems we can conclude association agreement negotiations with both countries this year. Armenia has also made significant reforms and promoted political and economic integration. With other partners there have been some setbacks. We hope that these are temporary and we can finally sign an association agreement with Ukraine. If all goes well, in Vilnius we can declare that the free trade area will increase by three or four new partners. Estonia also considers visa waivers to be important. We must not forget frozen conflicts. They should not hinder the integration of Eastern Partners. It’s essential that we continue to support the resolution of the Georgia-Russia but also the Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria conflicts.
Estonia’s relations with Russia are developing and busy. Based on the proposal from the Riigikogu, we have started new consultations on the topic of a border treaty. Recently we concluded social security and border point agreements and an implementation protocol for a readmission agreement. Progress has been made in agreements on higher education, cross-border co-operation, and emergency situations. The government is interested in developing partnership relations between Russia and the European Union. We support the conclusion of a new comprehensive framework agreement for relations. Our bilateral communication is more active, trade is increasing, and more Russian tourists visit Estonia. It is positive that Russia’s accession to the WTO has created new opportunities and brought many positive changes. Unfortunately, Russia does not fulfil all the obligations it accepted when it joined. For example, it restricts the import of live animals.
In the post-Arab Spring southern neighbourhood, development has been slow and uneven. Change was the free choice of the people there. We support them, but admit that changes have not come easily. There is still much to do. Questions have also arisen regarding the region’s safety. From a stability standpoint, it is the European Union’s task to help find a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Syria. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic and human rights violations unacceptable. Estonia has supported Syrian refugees on many occasions. A month ago in Jordan I visited the Zaatar camp, home to nearly 63 000 refugees. The people there are in a difficult and tragic situation. The international community must contribute significantly more aid to these people than it has previously. And of course do everything to end the violence in Syria.
The topic of development and humanitarian aid has at times raised questions. Why does Estonia even give development aid when there are many places at home we could be spending the money? Estonia is among the 50 wealthiest countries in the world. There are at least 150 countries that are poorer. In addition, many countries experience violence and natural disasters. In the 90s we received a lot of aid from others. To paraphrase Virgil: no stranger to misfortune, Estonia has learned to relieve the sufferings of others. Helping those that are weaker or in a worse situation is elementary in a decent society. Although not related to development aid, let’s not forget that for every euro Estonia pays to the European Union budget, we get four euros back.
We would like for the European Union to utilise Estonia’s reform and transition experiences in implementing development co-operation. Our focus is on prioritising human rights in all sectors and on more conditionality in development co-operation. Compared to many others, our official development aid is small. We feel a moral obligation to gradually increase it as possible. And we have done so. Our goal is still to reach 0.17% of GDP. In light of our increased development aid budget, we must also think about expanding our activities. Currently we work primarily with the Eastern Partners and Afghanistan. It would be logical to initiate activities in, for example, Central Asia and other regions. But we must also keep in mind that money alone does not fix anything. The president of a well-known US think tank, Arthur Brooks, has said that foreign aid is just a band-aid, but free enterprise is the cure. We have experienced this in Estonia. Only the right reforms bring true development. This experience is the best thing we have to offer developing countries.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The world is changing rapidly and constantly. Countries that were previously in the shadows are starting to join the conversation. Estonia must take this into account. But we must recognise that the rise of the rest of the world, especially Asia, is not coming at the expense of Europe and the West. It is not a zero-sum game. We can think, for example, of the USA’s upcoming energy independence. Estonia must therefore find additional opportunities to focus on developing markets and centres of power. We hope to become a member of the UN Security Council in 2020.
I am grateful to the Riigikogu and the public for participating in discussions on Estonia’s opportunities in Asia and elsewhere. A discussion on Asia took place in the Riigikogu and in November the government approved its Asia programme. It is a good way to continue developing concrete activities.
A vital step that the government can take is increasing Estonia’s presence in distant regions. Therefore we hope to open our very own embassy building in Beijing this year. We just opened our embassy in India. We are sending a representative to Brazil, who will make preparations for opening our embassy there. With the opening of the India and Brazil representations, Estonia will have established its presence in the countries with the top ten economies in the world. Currently close to 51% of Estonian export is tied to just four countries: Sweden, Finland, Russia and Latvia. New representations lay the groundwork for diversifying this distribution.
I have spoken about the European Union, NATO, bilateral relations. In the OECD, where we are a fresh new member, Estonia is already the vice-chair of the Ministerial Council meeting taking place this year. This role allows us to influence the work of the organisation and its image considerably more than usual. One of the reasons we joined this organisation was that as a member we can more effectively stand for the liberal economic principles that have brought much success to our people and our country. The main topic of the ministerial meeting will be the situation of the global economy. Employment and reforms will also be discussed. So will the further enlargement of the organisation which, among others, Latvia and Lithuania hope to join.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Needless to say, Estonia’s consular policy is people-centred as well. New representations have given us the opportunity to provide consular services in even more places. Last year the number of visas issued and consular services provided both increased remarkably. Visas issued increased by 21.5% and consular procedures by 34.6%. We increasingly utilise our network of honorary consuls and the opportunities provided by visa representation agreements. The number of countries where Estonia does not have a representative is diminishing. We are looking for additional opportunities to expand co-operation with European Union countries.
To increase Estonians’ awareness and ensure their safety we have expanded the use of IT solutions. We invest in activities that help Estonians avoid potential problems while abroad. New visa-free destinations for Estonians are Brazil, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Foreign policy serves the Estonian people. It is values-based and pragmatic. Because security, human rights, and the stability of our economic environment are our main interests. Internationally we strive for the same goals that we have set for Estonia. So that it would be safer and better to live in both Estonia and the whole world.
Kaspar, born in 2002, told Delfi’s project, which portrays the lives of 95 Estonians as Estonia turns 95, that “It’s good to live in Estonia, because there’s a nice language and good friends here.” Kaspar hopes there will be no war. That there would be plenty of happiness and money. I wholeheartedly agree.