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Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu at the Parliament of Estonia (Riigikogu) at the discussion of Estonia’s Foreign Policy Strategy 2030 on 19 May 2020

19. May 2020 - 22:52

Members of the parliament,

The objective of the foreign policy of the Republic of Estonia is to realise the full potential of all policy areas in international relations in order to ensure the comprehensive protection of Estonia’s national interests. The general objective of our foreign policy is, firstly, the preservation of the Estonian people, the Estonian language and the Estonian culture through the ages, as well as reinforcing the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Estonia in international relations. Secondly, increasing prosperity in Estonia and protecting the Estonian community abroad. And thirdly, Estonia’s increasing contribution to global sustainable development.

The general objective is implemented through the following three central policy platforms: security and the stability of international relations, and sustainable development; boosting external economy and finally, supporting the Estonian community abroad.  

It is the first time such a comprehensive strategy has been composed and it is the first time for a foreign minister to present long-term foreign policy goals to the parliament.  

The strategy is centred on a more efficient inclusion of all sectoral actions of the state in implementing foreign policy, setting sectoral objectives and planning instruments.

This is a long-term strategy, with a 10-year perspective. I consider it important to provide the parliament with annual overviews of the implementation of the strategy. The strategy must be a live document that can be changed if necessary. The strategy provides us with the principles and methods for shaping foreign policy. The strategy does not include specific current policy choices in international relations. 

By way of introducing today’s discussion, I would like to thank all our partners, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the parliament and other committees for their substantive discussions and proposals for Estonia’s Foreign Policy Strategy. It has been a long but necessary journey that has involved a critical evaluation of our activities so far and making plans for the next ten years.

With the support of the foreign service and our diplomats, the Foreign Policy Strategy makes sure that in 2030, we can note that

• Estonia’s security in a rapidly changing world is solid;

• Estonia is known, listened to and trusted;

• Estonian entrepreneurs are doing well abroad and foreign investments are growing;

• thanks to convenient public services, Estonia is always close to the Estonian community abroad.

It is difficult to find a better illustration for the importance of international cooperation than the current coronavirus crisis. This crisis has been an exceptional event for our foreign service. I would like to thank our diplomats for the commitment they showed during the crisis. I would like to thank the governments and diplomats of all other states who have helped our state and citizens. At the moment, we are interested in restoring the possibility of cross-border travel that includes the protection of public health, continuing the extensive provision of consular assistance, supporting international cooperation more generally and mitigating the negative effects of the crisis. It was at Estonia’s suggestion that the UN Security Council discussed the coronavirus crisis.   

The global COVID-19 pandemic that erupted in recent months, is ongoing and will shape an uncertain future has a great impact on the foreign policy of countries across the world. I have provided the government and the Foreign Affairs Committee with the current outlook on international processes and concomitant risks resulting from the coronavirus crisis. It is necessary to make changes to the Foreign Policy Strategy accordingly. Yet the current crisis does not essentially change the foreign policy aims, principles and methods of the foreign policy strategy, which entails our foreign policy based on our national interests. When considering the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and its prolonged duration, we must be aware of serious consequences not only for healthcare and the economy but also security. We are already witnessing the short-term repercussions of the crisis, which, among other things, manifest themselves in global rivalries in handling the pandemic, pressures on social and healthcare systems (which can affect the domestic conditions of countries), and an impact on trust and cooperation between countries. We are also witnessing the long-term effects of the crisis that include negative economic effects, which are somewhat mitigated by generous national aid packages; structural changes in the economy, including a larger share of automation and digitalisation; competition in developing the cure and the vaccine but also the increasing role of research and development cooperation.

The Foreign Policy Strategy 2030 stipulates Estonia’s foreign policy interests and actions for the next decade and while this crisis has not changed those objectives, when looking to the future, we must consider processes that are only taking shape and will guide our foreign and security policy decisions. When drawing up the strategy, we have allowed for the fact that global crises will occur more frequently and this is why we must dedicate more attention and resources to the protection of our interest through international relations. Today’s uncertainty around many issues does not change the main lines of foreign and security policy of Estonia. Our actions continue to focus on alliances and cooperation in the European Union and NATO, as well as international organisations like the UN. Strong transatlantic relations will continue to be our focus, as well as Nordic and Baltic cooperation. When it comes to foreign policy, it is vital to punch above our weight. To this end, Estonia must contribute to the development of new initiatives, such as the Three Seas Initiative of Central and Eastern European states. Next year, a meeting of the foreign ministers of NATO’s Eastern Flank is held in Tallinn at my suggestion. Estonia is participating in the International Religious Freedom Alliance initiated by the United States, and the Media Freedom Coalition initiated by the United Kingdom. It is crucial to protect the truth. No matter what the ideologues and theoreticians say, truth does exist – in international relations as well. In tense and critical situations, there is an even greater need to look out for the spread of disinformation and competently counter hybrid attacks and hostile propaganda.

The strategy highlights the need to convince Russia to end its aggressive policies. Looking at geopolitical developments, our foreign policy is increasingly influenced by China that has quickly grown in influence and activity in the world. 

In light of the current situation, it is crucial to clearly acknowledge our national interests and make long-term plans for activities in order to realise our foreign policy interests in a rapidly changing world. Foreign policy does not only involve reacting to external events, instead, we are continually working towards ensuring Estonia’s security, creating more opportunities for Estonian entrepreneurs on foreign markets, raising Estonia’s profile, and strongly supporting states and countries in their ambitions of freedom.  

Members of the parliament,

In cooperation with experts of various fields, we mapped the general trends that have the greatest significance for Estonia in the coming decade.

When planning our foreign policy activities, we must be aware that there is continued pressure on the Western way of life based on democracy, market economy, human rights and the rule of law. Tensions in international relations are growing. Security threats are becoming more diverse, and hybrid, cyber and pandemic threats are increasing. It can be assumed that the majority of conflicts will begin domestically and can then become international. There are power shifts in the economy, innovation, technology and industry across the globe. The population of the West is declining, while the global population is growing rapidly and migratory pressure increases. Additionally, the environment we are living in is increasingly under strain. This is caused by a rising global population, the growth of consumption, a more extensive use of natural resources and climate change. Our choices are significantly more affected by a larger share of new technologies and digitalisation in the economy. As a result of these changes, the foreign policy choices and decisions of today and tomorrow will have an impact on Estonia’s future.

Members of the parliament,

At the foreign policy discussion a few months ago, I underscored that security – global, regional and above all, Estonia’s national security – is and remains a foreign policy priority for Estonia. Therefore, the first and most important task of the strategy is to ensure and reinforce security. Estonia’s foreign policy objective is to prevent threats and react flexibly to security threats as they emerge. The aim of our activities is to be able to state 10 years from now that our regional security is solid, Estonia’s presence and influence in the world have increased and the people of Estonia have good grounds for supporting the main lines of foreign policy, including our European Union and NATO membership. We also consider it essential for Estonia to be an international advocate of cybersecurity and for our contribution to global security and sustainable development to increase.

Following the restoration of our independence, our experiences tell us that Estonia’s interests are best protected through international cooperation based on values and rules. Therefore, we offer every support to preserving and strengthening the rules-based order based on international law. To this end, the strategy includes specific actions.
We are working towards ensuring a Euro-Atlantic security architecture that is indivisible. This means that NATO is the cornerstone of the security of the Euro-Atlantic region and collective defence, and defence cooperation in the European Union complements and does not compete with NATO’s collective defence. Transatlantic unity and the military presence of the United States in Europe have successfully ensured peace and stability on our continent for the past 70 years and for more than 15 years in Estonia. Despite our differences, Europe and the United States are firm allies when it comes to security, and our goal is for it to continue. Competition or confrontations on a few issues should not grow into a broader suspicion and become a false belief that we can ensure our collective security while standing apart.

A functioning and strong European Union is in Estonia’s interests. We prefer the development of the EU according to the founding treaties currently in force. In bilateral relations, we will boost alliances and partnerships, make our regional cooperation even closer and advance neighbourly relations with all our neighbours. We are also looking for new opportunities to cooperate with global power centres while remaining true to our values.

Our consistent objective is a comprehensive and deeper cooperation with the United States.  

Our security is connected to developments in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhood and beyond. Estonia is also guided by the principle that by ensuring global security and supporting sustainable development, we are also bolstering our own security. One of the ways of doing this is to address problems in countries of origin through development cooperation. Considering future trends, the importance of such activities is likely to increase.

According to an Estonian proverb, a good name is more precious than gold. For us as a small state, a good reputation and recognition is a greater treasure than for larger and more powerful countries. A good reputation and influence serve not only our economy but also our security. We have set it as our goal that Estonia is known, listened to and trusted. Estonia has a lot to offer to the world and there are many ways to set an example, such as with our strong education system or cyber and digital topics. In the strategy and relevant action plans, we are making specific proposals for continuing to pay attention to raising Estonia’s profile in Europe and the world, and act as a reliable partner in the European Union and NATO, and, since January, an elected member of the UN Security Council. In this role, we are initiating discussions on pressing global security issues. Estonia is known and appreciated in the world. A positive example is the first event of the Estonian UN Security Council Presidency focusing on the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe and today’s security threats. The number of states and foreign ministers participating was unprecedented in Security Council history. This event – the largest international commemoration of the end of the Second World War – stopped Russia’s narrative that manipulates history.   

On external economy. 

The second line of action in the strategy includes steps that would increase Estonia’s position in world trade, boost Estonia’s competitiveness and sustainably increase the volume of exports and foreign investments. We can do this through excellent cooperation with entrepreneurs, by ensuring our role as the provider of the best business environment through legislative and executive authority. I admit that we can do more to support the excellent exporters of Estonia and bring in new foreign investments. Especially in a situation where the economy is already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when there is deep uncertainty on foreign markets, the state must offer more support in opening foreign markets to companies. This is why we have taken specific steps and plan to expand them.

The government has set the goal of ensuring the existence of agreements necessary for exports and investments with all main economic partners, and continues to work towards this goal. We have accelerated the signing of double taxation agreements in line with the interests of our companies. We will also protect the interests of Estonian companies when negotiations over free trade and investment protection agreements. We are doing our best to implement these activities even in the current global crisis.

It is the state’s job to support companies in entering foreign markets, particularly at the end of the crisis, when previous rules may no longer apply. To this end, we are closely cooperating with Estonia’s exporters, especially on more distant markets, where state assistance in 'opening doors' is particularly essential. Companies are increasingly interested in more distant markets, particularly in Asia and Africa. In Africa, we also see opportunities for closer economic cooperation in the future. We have already taken steps to make sure that when operating on all main export markets and entering new ones, entrepreneurs have the support of a business diplomat or a foreign advisor of Enterprise Estonia. This means that we will increase the number of business and investment officers offering direct assistance to entrepreneurs, open additional foreign missions on new markets and consider other relevant measures. For the state, increasing our business diplomacy capabilities is a long-term benefit, not an expense. The economic diplomats have clear and measurable targets for increasing exports and foreign investments and a running record is kept on these targets. Entrepreneurs have given their explicit endorsement to boosting this line of action.
We will look for ways to increase foreign investments. This includes ensuring a balance between security and economic interests.

Members of the parliament,

Allow me now to address our compatriots.

The third, but equally important activity of the strategy includes specific plans for offering consular services in a way befitting a digital state, doing our best to allow Estonian citizens to travel without a visa to a greater number of countries, and making sure that they are even better informed travellers and receive travel information quickly. We also wish to maintain a strong bond between Estonia and compatriots abroad, and include them in our society to a greater degree.

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia stipulates that the state protects its citizens abroad. We have always done so in the past and wish to do so even more efficiently in the future. The Estonian state not only protects its citizens but also offers them public services regardless of their location. It can be said that thanks to digital solutions, the organisation of contacts between the people of Estonia and the state is the best in the world. However, it is all the more reason to consider the fact that we are still doing things the old-fashioned way when issuing passports and ID-cards – handing them over physically at the embassy. Many European Union countries, for example, are doing this by post. We have made it our aim that people no longer have to travel hundreds (or even thousands) of kilometres to apply for and pick up the Estonian passport from the nearest foreign representation, and instead provide a service that befits our digital state. Issuing passports to Estonian citizens living abroad continued even during the emergency situation. We took the opportunity to issue passports through a secure postal service provider, and the Foreign Ministry posted more than 500 passports to citizens.  

Estonian citizenship is valuable; our citizens can travel to 179 countries without a visa. We are working towards further increasing the number of countries and regions where we could travel without a visa. In general, Estonians are informed passengers and despite increased travel, there has been no notable growth in the number of consular cases under normal circumstances. However, the rapid and unforeseen spread of the coronavirus has clearly demonstrated the need to inform our people more quickly and organise information exchange. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been providing crisis information and assisting citizens 24/7, and Estonians in every corner of the world have asked for and received help. Over two months, responses were given to 10 000 enquiries that mainly concerned lockdowns and suspended transport links. We helped thousands of Estonians return home. To this end, special flights were mediated, a special ferry link was opened, and numerous certificates were issued to ensure safe passage through transit areas and much more. The Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to advise those in need to help the last citizens stranded abroad return safely to Estonia. Our cooperation with Estonia’s honorary consuls and the private sector has been excellent when managing this crisis. Looking ahead, we must find a solution for offering prompt crisis notifications to Estonians travelling abroad so that we would be able to pass on information in a quicker and more efficient way to a maximum number of people in the affected region.

We plan to give particular consideration to the Estonian community abroad. Here it is important to stress that in addition to Estonians, this also includes all Estophiles, our friends across the world, many of whom have been with us since the restoration of our independence and many have joined us in recent years with new initiatives like the e-Residency Programme. At the initiative of the Minister of Population, the government is putting together a programme of global Estonians to ensure an even stronger link with our community abroad. In terms of foreign policy, this means more extensive cooperation with Estonians and friends of Estonia living abroad to support Estonian exporters and boost Estonia’s positive image in the world.

Members of the parliament,

As I highlighted in my introduction, the precondition for attaining all foreign policy objectives is a professional and dedicated foreign service. The greatest asset of the foreign service is our people.

In order to develop the foreign service, it is crucial to move on with the amended Foreign Service Act, which is currently being processed in the parliament.

The range of Estonia’s foreign representations is more extensive than ever. It is a significant achievement. At the same time, we cannot stop here, because in some respects, the network of Estonia’s foreign representations has become outdated and no longer meets the needs of the foreign service. We must keep in mind that the need for international communication is increasing, the character of this communication is changing, our companies and people are active across the world and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure the protection of their interests.

In the strategy, we have set out measures for reinforcing the network of foreign representations because for a small state it is essential to be seen and heard. In doing so, we must be innovative, resourceful, prudent and analytical. For example, this entails innovative new showcase areas in our foreign representations in partnership with entrepreneurs, a more open foreign service, and more analysis- and knowledge-based policymaking.

An integral part of the network of Estonia’s foreign representations are the nearly 200 honorary consuls who work on a daily and voluntary basis to represent Estonia and Estonians in the best way they can. We have planned several changes to further improve this cooperation.

Members of the parliament,

As I pointed out in my introduction, we have closely cooperated with various committees of the parliament and civil organisations when writing the strategy. We will carefully consider the amendments that have been submitted and will make the relevant changes to the strategy. A separate section of amendments concerns conclusions drawn from the current crisis. To name a few, these include activities aimed at preventing global crises, efficient cooperation and increased global confrontations. Amendments that are too detailed to be included in the strategy can be taken into account when composing implementation programmes and action plans.

The strategy is the result of the joint efforts of many parties. Therefore, I feel confident in saying that it is the foreign policy strategy of Estonia, and not strictly a Foreign Ministry or government document. It is also important to stress that it is not the strategy of the current government, instead it is based on continuity with the actions of previous governments and should show the way for the foreign policy of future governments. I would like to thank you for committing so much time and submitting your amendments!

Thank you!

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