You are here

Address by Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves to the Riigikogu

5. December 1996 - 10:01

Honourable Mr. Speaker, respected members of parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to stand before you again today only three days after having sworn my oath of office. I am addressing you in order to open the semi-annual foreign policy debate and to report on what has been achieved by Estonia's foreign service in the past six months. Estonia's foreign policy is a continuous process that is based upon firm principles and beliefs and therefore cannot, and indeed should not, be dependent solely upon the current foreign minister. On the basis of the opinions that you will express in today's discussion, I will verify whether my understanding of Estonia's foreign policy line is in fact correct. My wish is to base my work, and that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on a basis of mutual understanding and as wide a parliamentary consensus as possible.

The smaller the state the more important is its foreign policy to the prosperity of its people. Foreign policy is of primary importance to a small state for the simple reason that a small state is inevitably highly dependent upon foreign trade for it can never provide its citizens with the necessary variety of goods and services. And because of the importance of foreign policy for our country, I am pleased that neither Estonia's foreign policy nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have ever wanted to be, or indeed have been, subordinated to party politics. I can testify to this having been in the foreign service for many years. I firmly believe that I too will be able follow this same principle. This and the firm conviction that Estonia's foreign policy is, and will remain, on the same course gave me the strength to stand before you on Monday and today.

We all agree that a foreign service is more than just a 'messenger' for the state. A foreign service serves as a state's eyes and ears abroad and is responsible for conveying a clear picture of that which is taking place there. In other words, these eyes and ears - the representations abroad - must always report back home. Our 'eyes' - Estonia's 'eyes' - must also always be able to see Estonia. They must see Estonia, as it is seen in the country in which they reside. Without a doubt, forwarding this picture of how Estonia is perceived by others, to both the government and the parliament, even if it is not entirely to our liking, is one of the Foreign Ministry's principle tasks. Despite the fact that this task of serving as a mirror for our country can at times be unpleasant, we must fulfill it.

Implementing Estonia's foreign policy, as designed by my predecessors, is continuous, on-going work. It is a policy that is designed to be successful and I, as their successor, can only succeed together with the people of Estonia. After all, foreign policy is no more than an extension, and indeed, a servant of domestic policy. Whereas one can find cases in the history where the domestic development of a state has been positive despite a failed foreign policy, a successful foreign policy can only exist if positive development takes place within a country.

As a parliamentary state, Estonia's foreign policy priorities are obviously defined by the Riigikogu. On August 1, 1995 the Riigikogu passed, and I stress, unanimously, the law on ratifying the Estonian Europe Agreement. In the preamble of the Europe Agreement which came into force based on such a unanimous decision, it is firmly stated that, and I quote: 'Estonia's ultimate objective is to become a member of the European Union.' Therefore I am in a more fortunate position than the majority of my European colleagues as the task that I must fulfill is clearly and unanimously set out for me. And in today's address I would like to focus upon this task.

Mr. Speaker,

I interpret Estonia's wish to become a member of the European Union as a firm determination to maintain and develop Estonia's national identity and strengthen its security. A nation's identity can only be preserved in constant development and without development a nation will cease to exist as such. The successful development of the free and democratic European states is proof of the fact that we have set ourselves the right goal.

At numerous meetings with European leaders, the same questions have been asked of us: who are you? how do you define yourselves? Our answer has been: as Europeans, as one of the Nordic peoples. The fact that we have been asked this question proves that the European Union is much more than just a single market, where bananas must have the right curvature and price. The European Union has one firmly defined goal: to provide the free and democratic nations of Europe with conditions that guarantee peace, prosperity and freedom.

Here I would like to repeat and confirm what my respected predecessor Siim Kallas said in this same chamber on May 30 of this year. Estonia's prospects for being among the first of the applicant countries to accede to the European Union are good. The achievements of the last six months have not only confirmed but noticeably strengthened them. Having said this, how should we proceed? We should by no means be overly confident, believing that Estonia is already a member of the European Union or that we will inevitably become one. Accession to the European Union is not predetermined as is the changing of the seasons, or the passing of another year. Nor should it be compared to jumping over a fence - a one time effort. The European Union is constantly changing and developing - it is a moving target. And we must act accordingly. As stated in Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland': in order to keep in one place one must run faster and faster.

Unfortunately, Estonia will not become a member of the European Union until all of the fifteen member states say 'we want Estonia to become one of us' and Estonia in turn responds with a firm 'yes' to membership. In reality the member states will only give their measured consent if they are convinced that Estonia's accession will also benefit them and fully meet their own national interests. Thus neither the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Government nor the Parliament can promise that if we make every conceivable effort then Estonia will definitely become a member of the European Union. We simply cannot promise this because, after all, the elected representatives of each member state are ultimately responsible for defining their country's national interests.

By this, I by no means want to claim that the optimism and energy that has existed up until now has been pointless or that we abandon all of our efforts. Rather I would like to encourage everyone to continue their efforts but with open eyes. We are not trying to achieve the impossible. Yet even if we appear to be doing just that - trying to achieve what appears to be impossible - we should still not lose hope. If ten years ago someone had claimed that in 1996 Estonia will be what it is today, then almost every sensible person would have responded in the same way: impossible.

After all we have ultimately but one objective - this objective is not only to become a member of the European Union but also to guarantee a better future for ourselves, for the people of Estonia. This sole objective is a well considered one that will require efforts in all fields including the field of foreign policy. And here I would like to recall Admiral Nelson. Prior to the famous battle of Trafalgar, Nelson ordered all of the ships in his squadron to transmit but one short message consisting of two letters -EE- England Expects. And it was clearly understood that England expects that everybody will do their duty.

My experience has shown that nobody abroad is interested in our pathetic complaints of our lack of experience, people, money and time. Nor is anybody interested in our difficulties in effectively organising our domestic administration. Thanks to our joint efforts, once again, Estonia has grown up. Now we must take on the responsibilities of adulthood and not only define integration into the European Union as a priority but we must also act upon it. Estonia European Union policy can only be successful if weaving its way through our domestic politics like a thread, it becomes part of the work plans of the Estonian government's and all of its ministries and local governments. The success of this policy is also dependent upon the allocation of the necessary resources to carry it out.

Respected Riigikogu members,

good-neighbourly cooperation with all of our neighbours is the fundamental principle underpinning Estonia's behaviour in the field of foreign policy.

Today, as throughout many centuries, of all the countries with which we have relations, Estonia has the best and closest ones with the Nordic countries with whom we share an instinctive closeness. All existing statistics confirm this: personal contacts, cultural relations, tourism, trade and investments - in all of these areas the Nordic countries occupy the first place out of all of our partners. Since the barbed wire was removed from Estonia's beaches, the Baltic Sea has brought us closer to one another. The Nordic countries, as we have repeatedly noted during the last half a year, have been our most dedicated and active supporters on our road towards the European Union. As a new positive development from the past six months I would also like to mention the Swedish prime minister Göran Persson's initiative aimed at strengthening and deepening economic relations in the region. Of course, we do not always agree with our neighbours on every issue but this is not surprising in light of the complexity of our relations. There is always room for improvement. Let us take, for example, the issue of visa freedom. It is clear that our partners' fears have hampered progress on this issue. It is important that we do not ask fruitless questions of our partners or ask for final dates. Our responsibility - and not only the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' - is to promote Estonia's general trustworthiness as a state as well as a partner while acting in accordance with the law. And once again let me repeat -everything that we do we do for our own good and in our own interest and not in the interest of others.

Cooperation with Latvia and Lithuania is always important for Estonia. On practical matters, we share a great deal of important common interests. Issues that have been in the focal point during the past six months such as the functioning of effective trilateral free trade, transport cooperation, regional airspace control, BALTBAT and finally border and customs cooperation.

With its largest neighbour, Russia, Estonia wishes to have mutually beneficial cooperation in all possible and necessary areas. Our aim to have good relations with Russia is motivated by both political and economic reasons. For example, among our foreign trade partners Russia significantly occupies second place after Finland. During the second half of this year, significant progress has been made on the drafting of a new border treaty. Both parties to the agreement as well as all influential western powers have expressed satisfaction over the progress that has been made on this issue. I sincerely hope that the signing of this new agreement as soon as possible and its entry into force will act as a positive influence upon Estonian-Russian relations in other areas. In its relations with Russia, Estonia will continue to implement its positive engagement policy and strive towards making Estonian-Russian relations an inseparable part of the good relations that exist between the European Union and Russia today. Estonia must relate to Russia as a normal Western state, free and confident of its independence and not as a former colony or oblast burdened by complexes and doubts - assuming the later role would but ferment uncertainty and doubts not only in the east but also in the west and at home in Estonia.

Formally, the new border agreement is an agreement with Russia. In essence, however, it is an agreement with ourselves; an agreement with which we will define our membership either in the east or to the west. A clearly defined border already exists between Estonia and the west yet one between Estonia and the east has yet to be defined - how should the international community perceive this? Upon the basis of the new border treaty we will define whether our state should be guided by our innate pragmatism, or by emotions.

Of course, the border agreement between Estonia and Russia is a necessary but not sufficient condition for accession to the European union. In other words, it does not and can not give us any guarantee that we will attain full member status. On the other hand, lest the road to the West remain closed, Estonia must uniquely place itself in the West with practical foreign policy actions because no-one else would do it for us. It is true that the best case scenario will make us full members of the European Union in many years' time. At the same time, it is probable - and very many different sources confirm this - that decisions which may postpone or essentially exclude accession of many EU and NATO applicant countries will be made in the next few months. A decision either postponing or alternatively deferring accession to a second round actually means postponing accession not by 2 or 3 but by at least 10-15 years. Honoured members of the Riigikogu, the realization of the goal you so unanimously set depends on your decision.

At the same time we must not forget that the new border agreement would at last allow us to solve problems which we cannot solve now. Here, I would like to mention only the border crossing regulations for the Setu people, which have caused us much worry. This November we successfully negotiated with Russia a practical solution, but its realization awaits the finalisation of the border agreement.

Once again - everything we do and decide, we do for the people of Estonia and for ourselves, not for anyone else.

Speaking of Estonia and the European Union, I neither want nor could remain silent about the United States, who have given us very effective support on this road. The US remains one of Estonia's greatest and most steadfast friends in the world. The US's longtime unwavering resolute support for Estonia, which we keep in mind with thanks, has today become a friendly shoulder, on which we can support ourselves in good as well as in bad times.

Germany has throughout the ages been one of our closest partners in our common Western European cultural region. We are thankful to Germany for many very open suggestions which suggest renouncing unattainable wishes yet at the same time propose new practical approaches. We are happy that federal chancellor Helmut Kohl has in principle accepted President Lennart Meri's invitation to visit.

Thinking of the European Union, Estonia must further open and intensify its foreign relations. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I wish to give my best to establish much closer working relations with southern European states, which from time to time have expressed doubts about us which were based on insufficient information. This includes opening embassies. The first step was taken during the past half year by opening an Estonian embassy in Rome.

An indication that the reach of Estonia's foreign policy is extending as a consequence of our ever broadening interests is the sending of diplomats to work in Tokyo in order to open the first Estonian embassy in Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen,

affirming that the first and principal priority of Estonian foreign policy is accession to the European Union, we say to all of Estonia's neighbours: our goal is goodneighbourly relations with you. Nevertheless, among Estonia's neighbors are those who are not fully convinced of our friendly intentions. Many a time they have asked, doubtfully: very well, you are striving to join the European Union, but why then do you cooperate ever closer with NATO? Here and now, from the podium of the Riigikogu, I would like once more to present Estonia's views.

First, the backbone of NATO is formed from the common values - peace, freedom, democracy and welfare - which Estonia values above all and which the European Union has made its watchword. NATO was created to jointly defend these common values. Estonia shares these values and therefore sees its future as a full member of NATO, not only as a consumer but also as a producer of security.

Second, a good neighbour does not endanger the security of neighbouring states. No threat to neighbouring states in the form of armaments or military potential in excess of the requirements of national defense emanates from Estonia now nor will it in the future . At the same time, it is not permissible for Estonia to be a security vacuum in terms of national defense, because any such vacuum inevitably possesses an unstable attractive and provocative potential, which also endangers the security of neighbouring states. Thus Estonia must, in both its own interest and that of neighbouring states, develop adequate national defenses and do this as fast as possible. Considering Estonia's limited material resources and also limited knowledge and experience in the field of national defense we could not do this unaided and unadvised. Here NATO, the most recognized and trusted international national defense alliance, has reached out to assist us and we have accepted this with thanks.

Third, we may not forget European history, which has largely been the history of war. Only now, after the second world war, has western Europe for the first time reached a situation where military conflict between indigenous neighbours and opponents has been made practically unthinkable. This has been reached thanks to the fact that after NATO was founded, national defense ceased to be a jealously and obstinately guarded national affair and became international cooperative effort. Armies with intertwined command structures, whose soldiers and officers train every day shoulder to shoulder, do not fight each other. We believe that all of Europe deserves a lasting and secure peace, and that precisely NATO, in its proven efficiency, relinquishing its cold war role and concentrating on the basic functions mentioned above, can guarantee such a lasting peace. Hence Estonia too must move towards NATO and cooperate with it as closely as possible. In this way we will anchor Estonian national defense into international cooperation, and change it in this way into a form which is transparent to all interested neighbouring countries and other partners and contributes to confidence-building.

Fourth, every UN member has the moral duty to help guarantee peace and security even outside its home region. Thanks to cooperation with NATO and its member states, Estonia has made and continues to make its worthy contribution. Estonian soldiers participated under the IFOR flag in the Danish battalion to establish peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Estonia's peacekeeping company ESTCOY just began its participation in the continuing UN mission in Lebanon in the ranks of the Norwegian battalion.

I am convinced that as a NATO member, Estonia would doubtlessly be a more stable and secure neighbour than it is today, for Russia as well as other neighboring states. Keeping this in mind, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has in the past half year actively participated in the discussion on NATO enlargement. The suggestions we have formulated regarding self-differentiation of applicant countries as well as further development of the Partnership for Peace program (the so-called PfP+) have been received with positive interest both in Brussels and in NATO member capitals. Yet I would consider the most significant attainment to be that thanks to our diplomatic efforts over the past half year, the need to assure the security of Estonia and of our Baltic neighbours is now very close to the focus of the debate on NATO enlargement. This is a true step forward compared to the previous marginal interest of large countries.

Estonia is convinced that in the course of NATO enlargement there is no need whatsoever to delve into the fears that Russia expresses. Giving in to such fears would mean recognizing that they are essentially legitimate. At the same time we see a danger in treating Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania separately, which gives them, even unintentionally, the status of a barter object. I would bring a parallel from the theater: if in the first act a gun hangs on the wall, in the third act it is highly likely to fire.

Esteemed members of the Riigikogu,

Estonia's image in the world is closely tied to the quality of our ties with important international organizations, with our participation in their work. During the past half year the most important event which has brought Estonia the wide-ranging recognition of many European states, may be considered Estonia's chairing of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which was brilliantly conducted by my esteemed predecessor Siim Kallas.

As a notable success of Estonia's foreign policy I regard the effective participation in the present session of the UN General Assembly. Based on information provided by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the General Assembly decided through a statement by the Chairperson of its Third Committee to conclude consideration of the question of the situation of human rights in Estonia and Latvia, which we saw as a treatment with purely political aims. This statement was a product of Estonian, Latvian and Russian consensus. For effective support in attaining this result I would like to thank among many others the European Union, the United States and Australia.

Mr. Chairman,

in conclusion I would like elucidate the most fundamental issue. I in my role as ambassador and the whole Estonian foreign service from its reestablishment have had one joy, one secure backer - that is the people of Estonia. The people of Estonia have shown themselves to be the most willing to make sacrifices, the most able to reform, the most determined in the part of Europe freed from communism. In economic terms we began from a much worse initial condition compared to other European countries which were freed from communism, yet today we have reached the level of the best of them. We have grown into a country which is taken seriously and in which our partners are ready to believe. And this foremost because of our economic reforms.

Everything positive that Estonian diplomacy has managed to attain in the past years has been attained with the backing of our real, palpable economic success, with the support of the unprecedented radicalness and speed of our economic reforms. I know and understand how heavy the social burden of these reforms is. I would very much personally like to thank from each lectern Estonia's pensioners and young families, our low-paid working people for their patience and willingness to make sacrifices. Without their determination I would not have had a message which opens doors, my work would have been meaningless. Estonia would have irreversibly plunged into the ranks of those unhappy nations which are not taken seriously, which have become entangled in the misery of half-finished half-hearted reforms, which feel sorry for themselves and only seek pretexts to rationalize their ineptitude. The people of Estonia had enough determination even in the hardest of times not to waste their seeds for the next year and even to increase their stores when they could.

Our most important joint task and responsibility before our people today is to unabatedly continue our reforms. The stalks of our economic success are blossoming fast, we must protect and fertilize them until they bear fruit. We too must maintain our determination to do this. We have no right to steal our people's harvest with unconsidered steps. Thanksgiving must follow and not precede the harvest.

Estonia's complete foreign service is convinced of one thing: Estonia's most important and most powerful argument to open the European Union's door can only be our thriving and quickly developing economy. Without this, all other arguments lose their impact. Without this all other doors will also be closed to us - I mean those which we wish to enter.

Economic success and the image of a successful country are also one of the best possible defense and security guarantees for Estonia. True security does not entail being armed to the teeth, but is rather the knowledge that nobody would even think of attacking you. Picture yourself one fine day driving from Tallinn to Tartu and seeing by the roadsides well-groomed lawns like we see driving from Lausanne to Geneva. If we get this far, Estonia's security will be as impregnable as that of Switzerland. Or another example - nobody even thinks of attacking Singapore, although it was greatly endangered at the beginning of its independence. Everyone simply understands that attacking such an important economic center would mean economic catastrophe for the attacker too.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its part tries to do all in its power to create better conditions to develop Estonia's economy. Estonian-Ukrainian relations are visible example of how close foreign policy cooperation and mutual understanding of two distant countries can benefit their economies. After the entering of force of the unique free trade agreement we signed with Kiev we are now witnessing how our trade with Ukraine is growing in nearly geometric progression.

Estonia will stay the course to maintain its open, liberal market economy. In the past half year alone we have signed agricultural products free trade agreements with Latvia and Lithuania, a free trade agreement with Slovenia, a double taxation prevention agreement with Germany, an international highway transport agreement with Belarus, a trade agreement with Cyprus. The Estonian delegation continues, in consultation with the European Union, with highly prioritized negotiations about how Estonia can most quickly join the WTO. We have intensified contacts with the OECD with the goal of in future becoming a member of this renowned organization.

Esteemed Riigikogu members,

The Ministry of Foreign affairs does not nor can it have any foreign policy of its own. The Ministry of Foreign affairs as servant of the people, which means that it may have but one task - to breathe life into the foreign policy which the people of Estonia prefer, in the manner which has been formulated by the representation elected and empowered by the people - the Riigikogu.


I thank you for your attention.

About Estonia

Get closer acquainted with Estonia, coming here for a visit, studies, business or investments!

Official Estonian Gateway

Get closer acquainted with Estonia and see what are the most important facts and main areas of activity here.

Digital Society

Estonia has
transformed itself into
one of Europe’s business success stories of the last decade, mainly thanks to the sophisticated e-solutions available here.