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Estonia and Perspectives Toward Europe

17. January 1995 - 14:23

Address by Jüri Luik, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia at the French Institute of International Relations
17 January 1995, Paris

Monsieur le Directeur,
Mesdames et Messieurs,

It is a pleasure to be in Paris once again, this time at the beginning of the French Presidency of the European Union. The fact that France has launched its Presidency by welcoming three new members into the Union is, for Estonia, a harbinger of good things to come in 1995.

I am also honoured to begin my visit by speaking at IFRI. This institute, led by Thierry de Montbrial, has distinguished itself through the work of its associated scholars and through its publications and programs as a forum for analysis and debate of sometimes controversial issues. Without debate there can be no informed opinion and certainly no rational policy, so I am glad for the opportunity to explain my views here today.

As I have said on previous occasions, Estonia's approach to the historic opportunities we face in a post-Cold War Europe has been to view security as a mathematical equation. That equation reads: Security equals Integration plus Normalization. Integration refers, of course, to tying ourselves as closely as possible in as great a variety of ways as possible with the rest of Europe. By normalization, in turn, I refer to our historically complex relations with our large Eastern neighbour. Normalization for us means establishing the same kinds of relations with Russia as we enjoy with France, or Germany or Sweden.

The events of the past month have made this more difficult, but from a medium-term perspective, we have made considerable progress toward normalization during the past year. In 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, and Tallinn came under foreign rule in the very days in which the same fate befell Paris. Last August, however, the Russian Federation withdrew the last occupying troops from my country. Some problems associated with the withdrawal remain, but we are working them out through regular dialogue with our counterparts in Russia. Now we feel the same sense of enhanced security and elation--some would say bittersweet elation--that France, too, felt after its liberation. In this way, we are cousins, because this withdrawal means that the final battle of the Second World War has been won, even if fifty years too late. With developments in Chechniya, this process of normalization has taken a twist for the worse, not in Russian-Estonian bilateral relations as much as in Russia's relationship to the rest of the civilized world. I will return to this question later, and focus now to integration.

We have made considerable progress on the integration part of our security equation during the last year. For us, the centerpiece of this effort is the European Union. Last summer, our negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement with the Union came to fruition with what we regard to be a very favourable deal. This Free Trade Agreement was ratified in December by the Estonian Parliament, was promulgated by the President and came into force with the new year.

As far as the bigger picture is concerned, you are surely aware that the European Union gave the go ahead to negotiate Europe Agreements with the three Baltic states last November. As though in confirmation of the decision on our mandate, the European Council meeting in Essen in early December used very clear and simple language on the enlargement issue. The Presidency's Conclusions from that meeting reiterate wording that dates from Copenhagen, and states as follows: "the associated States of Central and Eastern Europe can become members of the European Union if they so desire and as soon as they are able to fulfill the necessary conditions" (end of quote).

Immediately after Essen, on 15 December, we had our first round of talks in Brussels; the second round will take place this Friday. We are hopeful that by March, we will have initialed a Europe Agreement and only technicalities will remain before the agreement comes into force. So this is where we stand at the moment.

Both at home and abroad, we have been asked at times why we are so interested in association status and eventual full membership in the European Union. Some political commentators in Estonia, playing the devil's advocate, have even posed the question in this way: having recently wrested ourselves free of economic control by Moscow, why would we want to accede similar decisionmaking authority to Brussels? Besides highlighting the need for a broader public relations campaign at home--something the referenda of our Nordic neighbours also demonstrated--this question strikes those of us intimately involved in the integration process as almost rhetorical in quality.

Why, indeed? The answer is rather straightforward. Besides the obvious economic and commercial benefits, we place great importance on the political dialogue associated with the Union membership and the implications of the Common Foreign and Security policy for European security and stability. This is perhaps the most significant aspect for us.

We understand that enlargement of the EU, and of NATO, which I will address shortly, are not going to happen today, or tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow. Still, the fact that the process is well underway demonstrates that Western Europe understands the reality of our still-uncertain post-cold War World. If Central and Eastern Europe believes it is insecure, whether this is founded on objective qualities or not, then Western Europe, at the heart of which is France, cannot ultimately feel itself to be secure, either. We saw the results of this stable insecurity during the Cold War, and I believe we cannot risk allowing such a configuration to develop in the New Europe of the late twentieth century.

This is why we believe that EU--and NATO--enlargement according to objective criteria and not group-by-group is to the advantage of Western Europe and, in turn, to Europe as a whole. If some countries were to join up while others were left outside, we would accentuate the very situation we are seeking to avoid: a potentially unstable politico-security gray zone between Western Europe and Russia which could be seen by some as being "up for grabs."

All of this explains why French leadership is of the essence during 1995. We regard our bilateral talks here this week to be a clear signal of France's good intentions, which is why we have high hopes for the French Presidency.

I noted with great interest the remarks of President Mitterand this afternoon in Strasbourg, in which he outlined the priorities of the French EU Presidency before the European Parliament. Estonia strongly supports President Mitterand's remarks that the Union must be enlarged, but in such a way as to maintain democratic conditions and standards. We applaud this view, that bringing the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe closer to the Union is necessary to enhance stability in Europe as a whole.

Our Europe Agreement will be initialed during the French Presidency, but this is only the start. We look forward, for instance, to French implementation of the Council's White Paper dealing with pre-accession strategies. We believe that the Baltic states should be included in the White Paper's treatment of integration into the Union's internal market from the very beginning, without delays before the Europe Agreements come into force. This would not only make sense, it would also save manpower. It would be illogical, for instance, if we were encouraged to implement GATT rules on tariffs only to eliminate tariffs as soon as the Europe Agreement comes into force.

The same goes for the structured political dialogue reserved for countries with Europe Agreements. We see no reason for not beginning our participation in the dialogue as soon as our negotiations have ended and our agreement is initialed, rather than waiting for the agreement to actually come into force. Part of this dialogue may include helping with input to the agenda for the IGC when negotiations are through.

Finally, I would highlight one other French initiative that we have strongly supported from the start. I speak of the European Pact for Stability. We regard the Pact not only as a stability enhancing measure, but also as a means to prepare ourselves for future membership in the European Union. The Pact is an exercise through which we can demonstrate our willingness and capability to work together to solve problems that require resolution before accession to the EU.

During the past year, talks on the Pact have already started movement for us in the vital areas of borders and the integration of populations of foreign origin. We have already presented the Baltic Roundtable with some concrete and, we think, constructive programmes. We also welcome the fact that the European Union's PHARE program is prepared to finance the programs under discussion in the Baltic Roundtable. This is another way in which the European Union, led by France, is demonstrating its confidence in Estonia as a future member of the EU. This is one reason why I look forward to returning to Paris in March to attend the concluding conference of the Pact, which to date is the centerpiece of enlarging the CFSP to include countries that have an Europe Agreement.

Clearly, we have many reasons to look forward to a Presidency of strong leadership in a most challenging time. But let's not forget about the French-Estonian connection. We have built a foundation of cultural exchange, political dialogue and economic-commercial ties between our two countries, but we can do better, especially with regard to the last named area.

Estonia has come a long way since we re-instated independence, as a short stroll through our medieval capital city will demonstrate. We have implemented an economic reform program that is hailed by the IMF and the World Bank as among the most successful in Central Europe. It is no wonder that some observers refer to Estonia as a modern Wirtschaftswunder.

We Estonians are a modest people, so we prefer to refer to ourselves using a term coined by Newsweek magazine last year as The Little Country That Could. Foreign investments are up, as are exports. Our currency is among the most stable in Scandinavia, and our foreign currency reserves have more than tripled since the kroon was introduced in 1992. We have a balanced state budget, we have actual growth in the GDP, not to mention a flat 26% income tax and full repatriation of profits for foreigners doing business in Estonia. Moreover, our new Free Trade Agreement with the EU will make us even more attractive to foreign business people.

Political stability also helps improve our investment climate. Of course, we have had our ups and downs, as all countries do. The French sociologist Raymond Aron has said that in France, the tendency to criticize the government is a national sport, if not a chronic disease. I can speak from experience when I tell you this is another quality that Estonians and Frenchmen have in common. Still, like you, we are approaching elections. For us these will be regular parliamentary elections, our second in the post-communist period. This is a sign of political stability and pluralism that is good news for investors.

All of this means Estonia has created a favourable investment climate that is improving every day. We would like to see it improve on a bilateral basis with France, in particular. In terms of both investments and trade, France ranks fifteenth among Estonia's trade and investment partners. Considering, however, that France is the world's third largest exporter, this situation is somewhat unnatural. At the same time, it also indicates a potential for substantial growth. Right now, we buy your wine, perfume, machines and vehicles, glass products and sweets, whereas you buy our inorganic chemicals, fertilizers, furniture, cotton and fish, to name a few products. Investments are mainly in jewelry production and sales, warehousing, and such. I hope that newly energized economic and commercial relations will be one result of my visit here this week.

Allow me at this point to return to multilateral ties. The first president of the predecessor to the European Commission, Frenchman Jean Monnet, wrote in his memoirs of the necessity of providing a firm institutional foundation to give effect to political intentions. He wrote, and I quote, "Nothing is possible without men: nothing is lasting without institutions" (end of quote). This has never been more true than today. We can speak of the primacy of the European Union, but we cannot forget that the Union is embedded in a web of other organizations, all of which contribute to enhanced security on the continent.

I would like to highlight four institutions Estonia holds in particular regard, beginning with the WEU. It will soon be a full year since the WEU decided to extend enhanced status to the six states with Europe Agreements and the three Baltic states as the next in line for association with the EU. Then, as now, we welcomed this joint French-German proposal as having remarkable foresight. We regard the WEU as a vital fourth pillar of the EU, as the security arm of the Maastricht Treaty. We are hopeful that relations between the EU and the WEU will be further strengthened after the Intergovernmental Conference in 1996, because we believe that the processes of association with the WEU and the EU should move in parallel.

The Council of Europe is another institution of great importance in our process of integration back into Europe. By having accepted us as full members of the Council in May of 1993, the Council of Europe acknowledged that Estonia's legal system is based on universally recognized principles of justice and that Estonia is a democratic state which honours and fully respects human rights. We strongly believe in the standards which stem from our common cultural and historical heritage. These are standards that lend Europe its unique identity and that France, as host of this institution, embodies. These standards should be maintained and strengthened among potential member states. We worked hard to bring our legislation and implementation procedures into compliance with the standards of the Council and we continue to do so. We encourage others to do the same.

If the Council of Europe guards Europe's identity, then NATO is the Euro-Atlantic institution that secures that identity. I spoke earlier of the arguments for EU enlargement. Many of the same apply to NATO. This should not surprise anyone, since these are parallel processes that should go hand-in-hand, albeit at varying speeds. I would come back to the idea of enlargement by groups for a moment. In yesterday's New York Times, political commentator William Safire made the point that the West ought to treat the Baltic states the same as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in any talk of NATO expansion, lest the process leave some out in the cold and thereby threaten the security of Western Europe.

Last September, French Defence Minister Francois Leotard wrote of similar dynamics in Le Figaro, where he said, and I quote, "The possibility that the new democracies will join the Atlantic alliance must not be viewed on the basis of solely military considerations, but should also be viewed globally, combining the various political, military, economic, and even cultural dimensions of their integration with the West" (end of quote).

We are gratified that France understands well the security implications of the planned enlargement for Western Europe. We have established, then, that enlargement would be good for us and good for you.

But I argue that it would also be good for Russia. You have all heard the explanation from Moscow that NATO cannot expand eastward in such a way as that NATO states would meet Russia's borders. I would remind you, however, that NATO already borders on Russia, in Norway and at Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Rather than having caused problems, these two points of contact have been models of cooperation that are excellent examples for the future.

Beyond borders, there is a larger conceptual reason for why NATO expansion is to Russia's benefit. Last month, at the Budapest summit of the CSCE--now the OSCE--, I met with NATO's new Secretary-General Willy Claes. Mr. Claes made an excellent point about expanding spheres-of-prosperity, if you will. The argument goes like this: if Western European countries are democratic and prosperous, and if these qualities overlap, as they do, with NATO's area, then it follows that to expand NATO is to expand a zone of increasing prosperity. Not only does this expansion suggest a contagion effect--a la, if prosperous countries border Russia, then Russia, too, will by transference become more prosperous and stable and democratic--but the idea also makes sense from the point of defending Western European prosperity. It is difficult to defend an island of all that is good; but defending the island is made easier if it is surrounded by other like states.

I would use this opportunity to mention an article by Mr. Montbrial, the director of this institute, who seemed to suggest last Wednesday in Le Figaro that the security interests of some states are more important than the security interests of others, and that when speaking of European security and stability, the West must understand that Russia has certain objective interests in the Baltic states.

I could not agree more with Mr. Montbrial! Of course Russia has certain objective interests in the Baltic states, just as we have certain objective interests in Russia, in Finland, in Latvia, and so on. But this does not mean that we have special rights in those sovereign countries, just as it does not mean that Russia has special rights in the Baltic states.

The West would do well to make that clear, as Mr. Montbrial suggests, by agreeing beforehand on what its interests are, and then communicating them to Russia in an unmistakably clear fashion. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. was right not to acquiesce to strong Russian objections to the inclusion of a reunited Germany in NATO. What was important then, and is equally important now, is that the determination is clear and the message is clearly imparted. As Mr. Brzezinski correctly noted, the present circumstances call for a similar display of constructive firmness.

This discussion of Russia leads me to my final point, which concerns the OSCE. In December, after two months of drafting work and arduous negotiations, the CSCE came together for its fourth summit. I must say that the CSCE holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of all Estonians. The inaugural Helsinki summit in 1975 lit a flame that we could see clear across the Gulf of Finland, a flame that grew to be a beacon of hope through the long, dark and cold years behind the Iron Curtain.

We tried to attend the next summit, held here in Paris in 1990. That year we were in the throes of our struggle for independence, and Mikhail Gorbachev was General-Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I remember as though it happened yesterday how Mr. Gorbachev, who coined the phrase "common European values," forced France, as the chairman, to expel the Baltic delegations from the signing ceremony for the Paris Charter. That was a black day for France but a day of great victory for Estonia. As a result of that incident, every television viewer, every radio listener, every newspaper reader in France and throughout the world became instantly aware that the consequences of the Second World War had not been liquidated, not by far. I am eternally grateful to French journalists for having made that point far more succinctly and elegantly than we could have, and grateful to the French public for its tremendous show of support that day.

By the next summit in 1992 we had reinstated our independence and had become a CSCE Participating State. With the wording in the 1992 Final Document for the "early, orderly and complete" withdrawal of foreign troops from the Baltic states, the CSCE proved absolutely vital in helping us achieve the goal of a final Russian troop withdrawal by 31 August of last year.

That fact alone made the fourth summit of the CSCE an historic event. Unfortunately, the fruits of victory over the Second World War that we tasted in Budapest are but vague memories today. Just a month after the CSCE approved a Code of Conduct and renamed itself the OSCE to reflect a greater determination to fulfill its mission, we see one OSCE member state making mockery of OSCE principles in Chechniya. It astounds me that at the very end of the twentieth century, we see Russia savagely murdering civilians, bombing orphanages, restricting freedom of the press and refusing to make good on promises of OSCE intervention toward a political settlement.

Estonia is as outraged as the European Union, and applauds Foreign Minister Alain Juppe for his leadership of the EU during this crisis. We are very happy to hear the latest press reports that reached us just an hour ago that Russia and Chechniya have agreed to a ceasefire, which, according to Chechen Justice Minister Usman Imayev, is set to take effect tomorrow evening. Although this report has not yet been confirmed by the Russian side, we certainly hope it is the case, and that the negotiations which began today will continue. We urge the Russian Federation to take most seriously proposals for authentic OSCE mediation efforts, and I will discuss our specific proposals for alleviating this crisis tomorrow in my meeting with Mr. Juppe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am afraid that we will continue to learn the lessons of Grozny for some time to come. At least one lesson, however, is already clear. We all talk a lot about spreading stability in Europe. But Chechniya has shown us exactly what instability looks like. It has also shown us how a crisis in a small, relatively unknown corner of the world can spiral out of control, thus affecting the domestic stability of one of the world's largest states, and thus casting doubts on the very state security of European countries. If we are to have a safer Europe, then member states of the institutions I have discussed must find the political will to do the right thing, even in the most difficult of circumstances. If we are to have a more stable Europe, then we must take seriously this idea of spreading stability in a very real way across the entire spread of the continent.

Thank you. I am ready for your questions.

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