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The speech of Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu about Estonian Foreign Policy in Riigikogu

11. February 2020 - 10:07

President of the Riigikogu, members of the Riigikogu, diplomats,

The foreign and security policy decisions of the incumbent Government of the Republic are guided by Estonia’s national interests, national sovereignty, and international law, following international agreements and the principles of the UN. We are implementing an independent and consistent foreign and security policy, mainly through our involvement in the European Union and NATO. Estonia values the unity and cooperation between the European Union and NATO, and we continue to see the European Union as a union of states, not a federal state.

On 2 February, we celebrated the centenary of the Tartu Peace Treaty. The Tartu Peace Treaty was a great triumph of our diplomacy that ended the War of Independence and ensured Estonia’s place among sovereign states. We have gone through a complicated journey over these past hundred years. Today, we are stronger than ever before as a state and as a nation, acting according to the principles of the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia and the Tartu Peace Treaty. We have committed ourselves to building our state and our diplomacy has represented us with dignity. The success of our foreign policy is manifested in our membership in the UN Security Council – the centre of global diplomacy. The election of Estonia as a member of the Security Council is a clear sign of the maturity and credibility of our diplomacy.

It is also a responsibility and an opportunity for Estonia – the responsibility to bolster security in the world and the opportunity to make sure that international law and the rules-based order is respected. The hundred years of our statehood have demonstrated the importance of international law for small states in particular. Our success story after the restoration of our independence affirms the fact that international cooperation and alliances are the guarantee for freedom and development. This government aims to further raise Estonia’s global profile, fortify current alliances and take part in new important international initiatives, following our clear national interests.

From the beginning of this year, we are participating in the UN Security Council. Belonging to this circle of decision-makers strengthens Estonia’s national security. In the Security Council, we will champion the application of common rules and agreements in international relations when ensuring global peace and security. We consider it crucial to counter aggression, protect human rights in crises, and meet the Sustainable Development Goals. In the Security Council, we will present Estonia as an advocate for international law and human rights norms, and a supporter of multilateral diplomacy. We have doubled the size of our diplomatic team in New York and, for the first time, sent a permanent diplomat to the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Members of the Riigikogu,

Security is and remains the foreign policy priority of Estonia – global security, regional security and, above all, the national security of the Republic of Estonia. In addition to independent defence capabilities, alliances and collective defence will continue to underpin Estonia’s security. Naturally, a united and determined NATO plays an indispensable role in this. 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. In recent years, Europe and the United States have had differences on some issues, however, when it comes to security, Europe and the United States are the closest of allies.

The continued strengthening of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is and remains a priority for Estonia. The collective decisions of the past years have boosted this posture and an excellent example is the enhanced Forward Presence of NATO forces in Estonia and other countries of the region. We highly appreciate the presence of the Alliance in the Baltic Sea region. The continuation of NATO Air Policing from the Ämari airbase is crucial. It is also vital to implement the remaining decisions on filling deterrence and defence posture gaps, especially on the sea and in the air.

NATO is built on the values of democracy, freedom and rule of law. We find that the door of NATO should remain open to any country willing to follow the principles of the Washington Treaty. It is positive indeed that the accession of North Macedonia is in its final stages.

Increased security is also the central issue in the cooperation between NATO and the European Union. It is important to direct the debates around European security so that they would bring added value to existing security, and not undermine the current security architecture. Collective defence is based on NATO’s Article 5, which is why discussions on the contents of Article 42(7) of the Treaty of the European Union must be conducted in a balanced and unrushed manner. The participation of third countries in the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is justified because engaging the EU’s strategic partners in defence cooperation contributes to bolstering security. Without a doubt, increasing the resilience of allies against cyber threats is a significant challenge. Estonia’s expertise in cyber and digital affairs allows us to further increase our experience and expand cooperation opportunities with strategic allies, such as Germany and France.

Deepening and diversifying our bilateral cooperation with the United States continues to be important. The United States is our most important security policy partner. Therefore, strengthening transatlantic relations and intensifying bilateral cooperation with the United States is a crucial objective for Estonia, including in our actions in international organisations. We are convinced that a strong and functioning transatlantic cooperation and a close alliance between the democracies of Europe and North America are essential for ensuring both our security and prosperity, as well as that of the entire Western world, but also for maintaining broader international stability. Based on that vision, the cabinet adopted its main objectives in relations with the United States last August, and specific actions for meeting these objectives. The main strategic objective of Estonia is to ensure the immediate engagement and active participation of the United States in all aspects of Estonia’s security. Last October, Estonia and the United States adopted a joint statement that envisions intensified cooperation in several important areas. One example is the joint statement of the Prime Minister of Estonia and the Vice President of the United States on the security of 5G networks, and also our decision to join the International Religious Freedom Alliance founded by the United States last week – an initiative that helps advance the freedom of religion and belief across the world. The United States has become the fourth partner for exports for Estonia, we continue our development aid cooperation assisting third countries, and we have a closer cooperation on energy issues.

Members of the Riigikogu,

Russia continues its aggressive foreign policy, which is why the European Union and NATO must continue their current policy in their relations with Russia. Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Russia continues its forceful presentation of a historical narrative that ignores historical facts and tries to alter a generally recognised view of history.

Six years ago, Russia launched its military aggression in Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea. The war has claimed thousands of lives in eastern Ukraine where the victims are mostly civilians. The number of casualties continues to rise, the truce concluded at the last Normandy summit in Paris has not endured. Ukraine needs the support of allies. Estonia supports initiatives aimed at restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine and at the continued non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea. We support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia are inseparable parts of Georgia. Considering the fact that Russia has not ended its aggression against its neighbours, making a fresh start in Western-Russian relations is inconceivable.

The Eastern Partnership continues to hold importance for Estonia. We support a greater political and economic convergence of the Eastern Partnership countries with the European Union, including offering them a European perspective. In view of the Eastern Partnership summit in June, the commitment of partner countries to reforms and the continued support of the European Union are equally important.

Perhaps the migration crisis does not seem as severe as it did a couple of years ago. The figures for illegal migration to the European Union are decreasing. However, Europe remains under migration pressure. The root causes of migration, mostly in the Middle East and the African continent, have not gone away. We must find the means for engaging more efficiently with the root causes of migration, and this is why we are contributing to military and civilian missions in the south. Estonia considers it crucial for Europe to be able to control its external borders. The Estonian Government continues its conservative migration policy. It is important to preserve maximum sovereignty in migration issues.

In the Middle East Peace Process, the presentation of the new peace plan of the United States has been an important development that has gained widespread attention. We welcome the leading role of the United States because without the initiative of the United States there can be no progress in the peace process. It is important to relaunch the dialogue between the parties of the conflict, as negotiations are the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace. Success requires a unified position of America and Europe on this issue.

Our objective is an influential and strong Estonia in an active European Union. Estonia supports a common foreign and security policy of the EU that is strategically prudent and geopolitically operational. Last November, the government set out the immediate objectives of Estonia in the EU. Looking at the EU budget, we would like to see an ambitious European Union budget that supports cohesion, protects the equal competition conditions for farmers and helps us realise major infrastructure projects we consider crucial, such as the synchronisation of the Baltic electric grids with Central Europe, and the Rail Baltic rail link. We must articulate and protect our interests in the European Union, and find like-minded supporters in advancing the interests of Europe as a whole. The Conference on the Future of Europe is about to kick off and national parliaments play an important role here. I would like to call on the Riigikogu to actively participate in this work and speak out for Estonia’s interests. It is the position of the Estonian Government that in the future, when addressing the challenges we are facing, the European Union must base its actions on current founding treaties.

2020 has brought a change in Europe: Brexit has become a reality, and the European Union will continue with 27 member states. The transition period does not entail major changes in our relations before the end of the year. Here, it is important to stress that Estonia’s relations with London have always had a broader basis that goes beyond European Union membership. As the leaders of the United Kingdom have said, “The United Kingdom may be leaving the European Union but not Europe”, and we have a shared interest in continued cooperation on several current issues, such as cooperation on defence, research, digital or cyber affairs, and strategic communication. In addition to excellent bilateral relations, the United Kingdom remains an important ally in NATO. We are grateful for the fact that it is the United Kingdom that is leading the enhanced Forward Presence of NATO in Estonia.

While the United Kingdom is leaving the EU, the latter’s enlargement policy continues. It is Estonia’s position that the European Union must continue its open-door policy. This is why we support launching negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania based on set criteria. The Western Balkans summit in May must help expand our shared space of values as well as advance practical cooperation and connections with this region.

One of the priorities of the European Union in the upcoming period concerns climate policy. The Estonian Government supports the climate targets, based on the assumption that states will maintain sovereignty on taxation, and changes are enacted in a way that maintains regional competitiveness. We must also make sure that meeting the 2050 climate targets does not impinge on ensuring our energy security. I have appointed Kaja Tael as the ambassador at large for climate and energy policy at the Foreign Ministry.

We must be able to protect and advance our values and principles in light of the long-term developments in global politics. I am referring to the relations of Estonia and the European Union with the emerging China. In relations with China, we see opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation in many areas. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure the unity of the EU and allies in general and develop common policies to avoid the fragmentation of the interests of Estonia and the European Union as a whole in the interplay of global change. We strive towards united EU positions in all formats dealing with foreign, security and external economic policy.

Dear guests,

When it comes to regional cooperation, 2020 sees us coordinating the Baltic Council of Ministers and the Nordic-Baltic cooperation format (NB8). Estonia’s priority is to increase regional security, and accordingly, we are coordinating positions on foreign and security issues of shared importance. The keywords here include supporting Eastern Partnership countries and advancing transatlantic relations. We also see the need to improve the compatibility of the defence capabilities of the region’s states and increase cyber cooperation. In order to expand the economic potential of the region, we need more transport, energy and digital connections. A telling example is the opening of the Balticconnector pipeline in January, which made the joint gas market of Finland, Estonia and Latvia operational.

The government has expressed its wish to become an observer member on the Arctic Council in 2021. The broader interests of Estonia are linked to the increasing geopolitical importance of the Arctic. The environment and sustainable development are at the centre of the work of the Arctic Council. Observer status would provide added value for enhancing relations with allies and partners through regional cooperation.

This year, Estonia has taken the initiative in the Three Seas Initiative that comprises 12 countries between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Sea. The initiative aims at developing the transport, energy and digital links on the north-south axis, and improving cross-border cooperation. The Three Seas Initiative summit held in Tallinn in June this year is one of the main foreign policy events for us in 2020. As a part of the summit, we are organising a business forum with the objective of increasing interest in investing in the region’s economy and paving the way for contributions from international investors to the Three Seas Fund. The Three Seas Investment Fund was established to finance the infrastructure projects of the Three Seas Initiative. The successful launch of the fund and a greater number of states and investors joining it are among the objectives of the Tallinn summit. In principle, Estonia is ready to join the fund and allocate €20 million for the launch of the fund.

Estonia continues to contribute actively to development cooperation and humanitarian aid to alleviate human suffering, assist those in conflicts and help continue reforms in Eastern Partnership countries. Estonia’s development cooperation continues to focus on priority partners Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Afghanistan. Thus, we have supported small enterprises in Ukraine, healthcare in Moldova, and school education in Georgia. For an improved efficiency and analysis of our development cooperation, plans are underway to establish a Development Cooperation Agency and compose its strategy for action.

Protecting the interests of entrepreneurs and boosting Estonia’s economy through growing investments is undoubtedly among our main foreign policy priorities in my view. As early as this year, and in the coming years, we plan to boost our external economy actions. To this end, €3.1 million in additional funds has been allocated for this year from the state budget for advancing the business diplomacy activities of the Foreign Ministry.

Primarily with a view to expanding our external economy interests, we plan to open embassies in Singapore and South Korea in 2020. Additional business diplomats will be appointed at first to Tokyo, Toronto, Geneva, Warsaw, Riga, Washington and Abu Dhabi this year. Mainly for representing the interests of the IT sector companies, we are appointing an economic diplomat for Africa who will reside in Tallinn. All these actions demonstrate that boosting entrepreneurship by supporting exports and encouraging growing investments, as well as boosting tourism are among the main priorities of the Foreign Ministry today.

We also consider it vital to develop cyber diplomacy. We created a special Cyber Policy Department for that purpose. It is also time to present the success of our education internationally. In cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Research, we will create the position of a special envoy for education for that purpose.  

Honourable deputies,

I would like to thank the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu and other committees for their thorough processing of the Estonian Foreign Policy Strategy 2030 and their substantial discussions. It is the first time a comprehensive foreign policy strategy of this kind has been put together. The strategy will strengthen our foreign policy in the long term. Based on this strategy, we will reinforce our three main lines of action, which are security, the stability of international relations and sustainable development; foreign trade; and Estonians abroad. For a more detailed discussion on the Foreign Policy Strategy, I will address you again in March.
Additionally, over the past year, we have updated and composed several more detailed strategies for an improved articulation of, and agreement on, the foreign policy actions of the government. I consider the government’s priority foreign policy initiatives to have a broad basis. A broad-based foreign policy is the keyword of this government. This is why the comprehensive inclusion of government institutions in implementing foreign policy objectives is essential. I am referring to several strategies, such as the strategy for new treaties for the avoidance of double taxation, the strategy for the expansion of the network of economic diplomats, the plan for the provision of digital consular services, and policies towards various states and regions.

In the Foreign Policy Strategy and in planning our future actions, we have paid special attention to the Estonian community abroad. Estonians abroad and friends of Estonia have expressed great interest in and enthusiasm for supporting exporting companies from Estonia, and contributing more widely to reinforcing the positive image of Estonia abroad. We would like to thank them for this enthusiasm.

The most important asset of foreign policy are the people who are working on a daily basis towards ensuring Estonia’s security, supporting Estonian companies in export markets, and representing and protecting the interests of citizens abroad. I am glad that the Riigikogu supported the government’s proposal to increase the operating expenses of the Foreign Ministry by a fifth in this year’s budget. It was a historic increase in operating expenses. From the beginning of this year, the salary of all staff in the main building of the ministry was raised by at least €100. After the Foreign Service Act, currently processed in the Riigikogu, enters into force, we also plan to increase the salaries of the staff on foreign missions. Estonian diplomats are doing excellent work. Throughout the implementation of foreign policy, we are mindful of ensuring the increased profile and influence of Estonia. The aim of foreign policy is to ensure the comprehensive protection of Estonia’s national interests. Again, I would like to thank the Foreign Affairs Committee in particular and the entire Riigikogu for their cooperation.

Thank you!

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