Honourable Chairman of the Riigikogu, Members of the Riigikogu, guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Last year’s address on foreign policy was focused on security. And on this day, the priority of Estonia’s foreign policy continues to be security – both global as well as regional, but first and foremost the national security of the Republic of Estonia. These are the subjects of my speech today.
The political unity of our NATO allies and a common understanding of the risks and requirements the alliance faces has been and is very important for Estonia. We are pleased that in 2015 the security of Estonia was visibly strenghtened ith the support of our allies – they shared our assessment of threats and understood us. As is stated in the National Security Concept of Estonia, NATO, with its transatlantic nature and the principle of collective defence, serves as the cornerstone of European, and therefore also Estonian, national security and defence.
The presence of allied forces is an additional guarantee to our security and we are grateful to allies who have contributed to our security by being here. However, work on the reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank is by no means finished. The security situation in Europe – including in our region – is unstable and remains as such for an unforeseeable period.
We welcome the plan of the United States of America to quadruple the defence expenditure allocated for the reinforcement of European security and thus enhance the presence of the United States in Europe. I am also glad that The United Kingdom have decided to send additional warships to the Baltic Sea and further forces to the region. It is essential that these capacities be sent where they are needed the most at this moment. The decisions made at the previous NATO summit were mainly driven by the immediate reaction to Russian aggression towards Ukraine. The next NATO summit in Warsaw must take a more comprehensive and longer-term view. NATO must determine how to manage both eastern and southern challenges. How to act together in a new, more uncertain and unexpected security environment.
When talking about NATO’s future I also mean enlargement and partnership. Striving for membership gives the candidate countries an additional impulse for development. Therefore we consider it very important to continue NATO’s policy of open doors. It is positive that the military cooperation with Finland and Sweden, the closest partners of NATO, has intensified. For Estonia, NATO membership remains the main element of the security policy, and work on reinforcing NATO, the priority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Our security policy does not end by allocating 2% of our gross domestic product for national defence. It cannot be measured only by the number of national and allied troops and armaments present in the territory of Estonia. Security is a term so much larger. For instance, it includes energy security, direct investments made in Estonia, the number of tourists visiting us, our trade in goods, in short, our economic relations, are directly dependent on our security environment. Our more general security includes our global status and international relations. Estonian diplomacy in its entirety is currently working on guaranteeing our security. To paraphrase a former president: diplomats fight for peace in a situation where the whole world seems to wish for war.
Dear Members of the Riigikogu,
In more general terms Estonia’s security depends to a large extent on our ability to operate at the international level as a serious partner. A number of escalating conflicts in the world turn our attention once again to the situation of human rights and democratic values in the world. I emphasise that ensuring and spreading these values is our main goal in the world politics.
The most important body dealing with such matters continues to be the United Nations and the UN Security Council. This year, it is the 25th anniversary of Estonia’s UN membership. During this period we have also “grown up” in regard to our activities in the UN and keep on being active. In 2016, Estonia fills the position of both the President of the Bureau of the UN Children’s Fund as well as the Vice-President of the Bureau of the UN Economic and Social Council. In April this year, Estonia will also run for the membership of the UN Commission on the Status of Women for the period of 2017–2021. We have also taken active part in the reform initiative of the UN Security Council’s working methods.
In 2015, our contribution to UN peace keeping increased considerably as we decided to participate in the United Nations peace keeping mission in Lebanon with 50 peacekeepersserving in Finnish and Irish joint battalion. Furthermore, we enhanced our participation in the Mali mission.
It is understandable that in previous years we were very much focussed on the guaranteeing of our own security mainly in regional terms. We were very busy with our integration in the EU and NATO. Meanwhile, the world has changed and global security problems have deepened. This is a challenge for us as well. We must work even harder to ensure that the United Nations is able to perform the most important duty set in its Charter – to maintain international peace and security.
In 2016 we keep working towards Estonia becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period of 2020–2021. The Security Council membership would ensure Estonia’s image as an active member of today’s world. We wish to participate in the decision-making process in order to contribute to the keeping of peace and security in the world. We wish to stand for the spreading of human rights and help alleviate the situation of people who suffer because of conflicts.
I think that it is also time for Estonia to deal with equality matters at the international level. The UN Security Council resolution 1325 “Women, peace and security” set as its goal to integrate gender perspective into the resolution of all conflicts. As the result of changes in the nature of military conflicts, the majority of victims of such conflicts are civilians. And the most vulnerable are women and children since conflicts increase gender-based violence against them and limit women’s access to healthcare, education as well as to economic and political activities.
It is positive that the main priorities of Estonian development cooperation also include the promotion of equality, involvement of women, making education accessible for all children, including girls, and improving the situation of women and children both during a conflict and thereafter.
I am glad that we as a country were able to work for the promotion of human rights during our term in the UN Human Rights Council in 2013–2015.
Estonia has also set human rights and the issues of the rule of law on the Internet as the main topics for our presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of EuropeDear audience,
In terms of foreign policy, 2015 was an extremely difficult year for Estonia and Europe, and 2016 will not be any easier. Instability on the borders of the European Union increased. Soon two years will have passed since the occupation of the Crimea and beginning of military actions in Eastern Ukraine. Two years will have passed from the day on which a country once again decided to violate a security situation which was based on international law and principles. We know that a single country cannot invalidate international law and legal order. However, a single country can undermine international security and create uncertainty. We also know that one must bear liability for one’s acts and omissions. In less than a year, Europe forgave Russia for the attack against and occupation of Georgia. Our duty is to stand against the same thing happening with the occupation of Crimea and military actions in Ukraine. This kind of behaviour cannot become an everyday practice. Therefore it is very important not to recognise the annexation of Crimea at an international level, just like the occupation of the Baltic Countries was never recognised. The sanctions imposed on Russia bear the message that there is a price to pay for the violation of international rules.
In recent months there have been talks about restarting a dialogue between the West and Russia. Estonia has never been opposed to a dialogue with Russia. In September, I myself met with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and in November political consultations with ministries of foreign affairs took place in Tallinn; however, I am certain that the most difficult issues must be firmly placed in the centre of the dialogue between the West and Russia. Restarting cooperation must be dependent on the fulfilment of the Minsk agreements and Russia once again honouring the principles of European security.
Until the obligations assumed are performed, the pressure of sanctions must continue and Ukraine must remain the focus of European attention. The sanctions are not a goal in themselves, but by combining their efficient implementation with diplomatic efforts and other means of foreign policy, we can achieve common European foreign policy objectives. It is essential to find a solution to the Ukrainian conflict, which would honour and ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
In the short-term perspective, the goal should be adherence to the Minsk Protocols. We must not forget that Ukraine is the victim of Russian aggression. Over 9,000 people have been killed as a result of this. At a rough estimate, over 5 million people need humanitarian aid. About 1.1 million people have already left Ukraine, and there are 1.6 million internal migrants in Ukraine. This is the price that the people of Ukraine have paid for their freedom. This is the context, within which the Ukrainian government is trying to carry out their reforms. Besides, we must not forget that the events that happened at the Maidan two years ago originated from the wish of the Ukrainian people to live as free people in a free state. They wanted to achieve something that they had failed to achieve twenty years ago. The Ukrainian people have expressed their intention to create a society that respects European values and rights. The efforts that Ukrainians are investing into integration with Europe are a huge compliment to the European Union as a whole. They prove that the image of Europe as a bearer of democratic values is indeed very strong.
The second Maidan has imposed certain obligations on the governing bodies of Ukraine. The future of Ukraine will not be decided upon the battlefield. The future of Ukraine can only be guaranteed by successful reforms. Significant steps have been taken across the economy, and in the fields of banking and energy generation. I do understand the difficult situation that Ukraine is facing at the moment, but I still expect more of the Ukrainian government. If Ukraine fails to free itself of corruption and create a constitutional state, then the reforms will also fail.
Estonia is ready to support Ukraine in effecting the reforms. For Estonia, Ukraine is a long-term top-priority partner state in terms of development cooperation, and we are going to continue providing assistance to Ukraine. This year, the three most important fields of development cooperation with Ukraine for Estonia will be the development of democracy, the implementation of good governance, and the support of entrepreneurship and education. I would like to emphasise that, in terms of Estonian foreign policy, development cooperation is the means by which we immediately enhance security.
The Eastern Partnership policy of the European Union is also associated with helping Ukraine. It has been, and still is, a focus of Estonian foreign policy. Today we can also talk about some success stories. The European Union abolished the visa regime for citizens of Moldova two years ago. Georgia and Ukraine are moving in the same direction. All of the three states are implementing the Association Agreement, which is the important framework in terms of reform processes and is going to bring those states closer to Europe.
Estonia believes that the European Union should stick to the Open Door Policy. Integration with the European Union is the only policy that will prove successful for the Balkans and in the Eastern Partnership states. The people of those countries who have managed to meet certain criteria should be provided with an opportunity to integrate with Europe, if they wish to do so. We have not managed to think up any better neighbourhood policy than that so far.
But we must be ready for temporary halts or even setbacks, and we must not lose our energy. Our support for the democratic reforms of our eastern neighbours and their integration within the European Union must be steadfast, systematic and sustainable. The past few years have been quite difficult for Moldova. The government has changed six times within 15 months in Moldova. The assumption of office by the present government on 20 January 2016 was accompanied by protest meetings with tens thousands of participants. The Moldavian government has promised to continue effecting reforms, fight corruption, and bring the resolution of the banking crisis to an end.
Yesterday I met with the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who thanked Estonia for its support – both political and financial. Estonia is a living role model for Georgia, which proves that democratic reforms are accomplishable if politicians listen to people and place the interests of the state and it’s citizens ahead of their personal interests, including their business interests. In addition to Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, it is important to continue the development of relations with other partner states, such as Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, which do not want to associate with the European Union, but are interested in cooperation across different fields. Every single state should be free in the choices that it makes. The European Union should define the policies which are aimed at the states within the Eastern Partnership more clearly and offer individual cooperation options. The new crises in Europe and its neighbouring countries have also attracted attention to some other problems that appear to be of extreme importance at the moment. In the light of the above-mentioned, it is crucial to continue implementing and developing relevant policies for the Eastern Partnership, because this is also one of the elements of the provision of security in that area. Europe should keep an eye on the states within the Eastern Partnership and integrate them into the field of the rule of law.
Distinguished members of Parliament and guests,
We really like this strong, growing, and expanding European Union. It was some five or six years ago when everyone was last sure that this is what the European Union actually was and always will be. Unfortunately, since the last economic recession and the crisis in Europe the challenges have become more and more intense.
The year 2015 will make it into history as a year when brutal terrorist attacks happened in Paris, the heart of Europe – in the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo in January and at the national stadium, at the Bataclan theatre, and in the streets and cafes of Paris in November. Those attacks, in a very cruel and bloody way, have reminded us of the fact that terrorists do not feel mercy for anyone or anything. Their goal is to accomplish their political objectives through violence and to sow fear and hatred. It was the first time in the history of the European Union that one of the member states, i.e. France, asked for help on the basis of subsection 42 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty, which deals with using military, political, or civil means of the member states of the European Union for providing assistance to a member state, against which an armed offensive has been attempted. In reply, member states, including Estonia, expressed solidarity and offered help to France.
The terrorist organization, Daesh, which was responsible for the terrorist attacks in Paris, has proclaimed a caliphate, occupied about one third of the territory of Iraq and Syria and is trying to expand its activities into Libya.
Nothing can excuse terrorism, and we should fight against terrorism globally, as a joint effort, using all possible means, including military operations, hindering the financing of terrorists, and social media.
Estonia participates in the international coalition led by the USA, which consists of 65 members. Estonia is a member of the working group offering military aid to the coalition against Daesh. We have supported the fight against Daesh by supplying weapons and ammunition. We are planning to take part in the training that will be held for the Iraqi armed forces by military instructors. It is a very positive fact that the countries in the area, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, have also joined the coalition against Daesh. It is extremely unfortunate that the military actions of Russia in Syria have caused additional sufferings to the people of Syria and brought the negotiations to a dead-lock.
Dear members of the Riigikogu,
It is up to us to decide whether we allow ourselves be influenced by and feel threatened by terrorists. It is indeed good luck than none of our compatriots has yet fallen victim to terrorists. I am urging you not to succumb to terrorism, but to live, work, and travel the way we are used to. At the same time, I am urging you to be vigilant and careful. I am urging you not to equate terrorists with conflict refugees, or terrorists with all those who follow the Islamic faith. I am urging you to fight back against the attempts to incitie hostility and hatred and not to become tools in the hands of terrorists and other firebrands. Let us do everything we can not to let terrorism turn into the new normal. Freedom and human values are much more powerful and much stronger than terrorism.
The danger that originates from religious radicalism and terrorism has been significantly boosted by an increase in the number of countries with failing economies in the last few years. Religious radicalism would not be so powerful if the path over which radical ideology spreads had not paved by political, economic, religious, and ethnic conflicts and disruptions. Unfortunately, the expectations that prevailed at the start of the Arab Spring were not fulfilled. At the moment, it is difficult to predict when the direct conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya might come to an end. The Iran nuclear deal framework paves the way for an initiation of this political process. This framework is, without any doubt, one of the greatest achievements in the field of international diplomacy within the last few years. However, nothing is indicative of a fast and efficient political process in this area. The achievement of a ceasefire in Syria would be a significant breakthrough on its own. Without it the turmoil in the southern countries neighbouring the European Union will continue for the next few years. The European Union should pay special attention to those conflicts. If the number of the countries with failing economies does not increase, that on its own would already be a success.
This last year was marked by an increase in the influx of migrants. Over one million migrants have come to Europe. Similar numbers to this were last observed during the Balkan crisis. The migrant crisis should be viewed in perspective: this is not just a problem that affects the source countries and Europe, but a global issue. At present, there are 250 million people in the world who are defined as international migrants. 86% of them are in developing countries. Those who are talking about massive immigration here, in Europe, are either mistaken or misled. The civil war in Syria for instance, has generated over four million refugees. However, this crisis is not impassable for Europe. Across the European Union, with its 500-million plus population, 1 million refugees would make 0.2% of the population. For comparison, in Jordan, the number of immigrants from the crises that have occurred at different times amounts to 56% of the population, while in Syria, as a result of the current crisis, the population has increased by around about 20% in recent years.
While several years ago the refugees arriving by boats from the Middle East and Africa were the concern of just a few Southern European countries, today the migrant crisis is an urgent issue within the entirety of Europe. Only if we join forces and respond fast to the changes in our society that the influx of migrants is causing, shall we be able to deal with this crisis.
This period of membership of the European Union, which has lasted for 12 years already, has taught us that if we want to be heard and supported when we are talking about the issues that arouse our concern, we must be ready to listen to our partners and support them on the issues that are of major importance for them. Right now is the time that our partners are expecting this of us. We must show that we are an equal part of Europe.
It is unfortunate that the European Union has failed to implement political decisions concerning the relocation of refugees. It is a shame that still, less than 500 conflict refugees have been relocated. It is very irresponsible with regard to these people who are fleeing from wars, who need international protection, and whose only wish is to find peace for themselves and their children.
I will bring several specific examples which, in our opinion, are important when dealing with the migrant crisis. It is crucial that the decisions that have already been made in the European Union and in other countries affected by the migrant crisis should be implemented as fast and efficiently as possible. For example, the initial reception centres should be launched, and the issues connected with relocation of the newcomers should be resolved. Besides this, we believe that, in addition to dealing with the immediate consequences, we should also boost the efficiency of the policy of return and re-admission and convey a clear message to third party countries that those people who do not need international protection will be sent back home.
It does not mean that Europe and Estonia will be closing their doors and turning their back on migrants, but just that changes will be made to the rules. We have always accepted those people who want to come to Estonia to work, visit, or study, and we are going to continue doing so in the future. Neither Estonia nor Europe can be closed or xenophobic in their essence.
When managing the migrant crisis, it is important to prevent the activities of the criminal networks that deal in human trafficking and pose a threat to people´s lives. This is why we also support moving to the next stages of the EUNAVFOR Med Sophia naval operation that the European Union is carrying out in the Mediterranean. Today, NATO Secretaries of Defense were discussing how NATO could contribute to the fight against human trafficking in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, confirmed that NATO is taking both the migration crisis and the aid requests coming from the allies in their fight against organized crime very seriously.
Two of the most important goals in terms of the unity of the European Union, in the context of the migration crisis, are the strengthening of the common borderguard and the preservation of the Schengen area. I understand the desire of some states to close borders for some time in order to bring migration under control. But this should be a temporary measure if we want to avoid the collapse of the Schengen system. The Schengen Agreement is one of the cornerstones of the European Union, that symbolises free movement between the 26 European states. But there is much more to the Schengen Agreement than that, and it has an irreplaceable practical value. Every year people cross the internal borders of the European Union about 1.3 billion times. Every year about 57 million vehicles carry goods across the internal borders of the European Union, the total value of which amounts to about 2.8 billion EUR. The restoration of internal borders would be a hard blow on the reputation of Europe and could have a negative effect on the movement of both people and goods. This is why we must do everything we can to prevent the collapse of the Schengen system. If the need arises, we must be prepared for changing the Schengen Agreement, if that is the price we have to pay for free and safe movement.
The external borders of the European Union must function properly and prevent any kind of illegal border-crossing. This is why we support the fast promotion of the borderguard agency initiative. We also support the formation of additional borderguard units in the European Union. At the same time, the relocation of resources must not weaken the member states that are located at the external border. We have responded to aid requests coming from Slovenia and Greece when they asked us to send policemen to help dealing with the influx of migrants and maintain order. We have also sent reinforcements to Greece via Frontex. In total, last year we took part in 15 Frontex operations, and in 2016, we would like to continue our participation to the same or a larger extent. Helping Greece and Slovenia will be important and valuable work experience for our policemen and border guards, both in terms of dealing with the massive influx of migrants and as a contribution to the provision of national security in the European Union in general and in Estonia in particular. The day when representatives of some other member states will stand side by side with Estonian border guards at the eastern border of Estonia is not that far. Although we would, surely, prefer to manage on our own.
Together we must protect the external borders of the European Union, stop criminal human trafficking in the Mediterranean, and find safe homes for conflict refugees. Estonia always fulfils its obligations, because to us it is natural that we respect and follow the values and basic principles of the European Union. We associate ourselves with Europe.
There is also an extra task Europe has to deal with, which is to integrate refugees into our society. In Europe, for some reason it is often believed that others take on our common values and principles as a matter of course. This process should be natural. Our experience has shown that integration is a long-term and complicated process. It requires patience, respect, and consistency. The newcomers that we see today are not the first in Europe. It would be wrong to say that in the past the integration of newcomers failed completely, but we cannot only talk about success stories here either. Take a look at the terrorist attacks Europe has experienced recently or at the fighters in Syria who originate from Europe. The number of the people who need to be integrated into society has increased considerably. This is a very serious test for us in the current situation where the European economy is not growing very fast.
Talking about the search for solutions to the migrant crisis, one of the important factors that should be mentioned is cooperation with Turkey. Estonia has always supported the strengthening of connections between Turkey and the European Union. Today this cooperation should reach a completely new level. We must move on with Turkey both on the issues of managing the uncontrollable migration and the integration of Turkey into Europe. And we must support Turkey, our important NATO partner, in providing its national security.
In addition to Turkey, our European partners and ourselves must cooperate for the sake of resolving the migration crisis in Lebanon and Jordan. The recent participation of our Prime Minister in the Syria Donors Conference in London has confirmed our wish to continue contributiuting. The London donors conference received pledges approaching 5.8 billion dollars for 2016 alone. The contribution of Estonia for the years 2016-2017 has been 4.1 million EUR, out of which amount we have allocated 1.2 million for the alleviation of the situation with conflict refugees in migrant camps, through development cooperation. Unfortunately, we have to admit that the situation in both middle-eastern countries is very difficult and requires serious international support. Gaining stability in Lebanon and Jordan is as important as the development of an efficient partnership with Turkey.
Summarising the topic of the migrant crisis, I must say that this is one of the most difficult tasks the European Union has ever had to deal with. Taking into consideration other problems, it becomes clear that within the next few years member states will have to make some very difficult decisions extremely quickly. Until now, we have been able to deal with the problems Europe had to face only because we have managed to preserve the unity of Europe in all of these crucial issues. This is the main aim of the policy of the European Union.
Right now I am quite optimistic in terms of the future of Europe. The reason for my optimism is the fact that European leaders do actually realise what is at stake. But the road that has led to the current valid principles of the functioning of the European Union has been difficult indeed. Smart people and smart leaders are capable of seeing its true value. Try to remember what Europe was like before 1945 or 1991. Besides this, my optimism is also based on the fact that in the end, Europe has always managed to cope with the challenges it has faced. When the European debt crisis broke down, some people claimed that it was not possible to save the euro. It was a simple calculation that did not take into account the capacity of Europe to manage the processes. But it is exactly owing to the will of the decision-makers and, of course, the support of the majority of the population that we have managed to preserve the euro as a functioning currency. I can see that this will and desire are still here. This is why I am assuming that we will be able to cope with the current problems as well.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of unity in difficult times. We have been one single whole in Europe and in Estonia, not only when fighting against something, but also when standing for common values. In this respect, the release of Eston Kohver, the Estonian citizen, has been of major significance. It was process in which the support of our partners has been invaluably important for our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It is vital for the preservation and future of a unified Europe to avoid the emergence of any process that may disintegrate the European Union. Let us not forget that Europe is foremost an unified economic area, which can operate and evolve only on the basis of common values. We need to act towards the growth, not the decline of this area of common values. For Estonia, United Kingdoms departure from the European Union would be a woeful event. I feel that outside of the European Union, a working economic model would be difficult to build up. The referendum is United Kingdom´s internal matter and a question for its citizens to decide on, but Estonia would definitely not want one of their most important security partners to leave the European Union. Although that would not hinder any cooperation and good relations with United Kingdom, it would significantly weaken the Northern Dimension’s cooperation within the European Union. But it would also be a bad signal in a wider perspective to all of Europe and would decrease the sense of optimism towards Europe’s future. I believe that an agreement with United Kingdom will be accomplished, but it would also require a lot of effort.
With the Greek question, we all wish, that Greece would successfully remain in the European monetary union. For Estonia it is important to not solve a crisis at the expense of the unity of the European Union. A strong and unified European Union is a vital interest to Estonia.
Never in its history has the European Union had to deal with so many complicated issues at once. Never has the European Union been so close together and at the same time on the verge of splitting. There are those who wish to see the European Union as weak and splintered. We cannot let that happen, may they try to do it politically, energetically or through information warfare. We all have in our best security interest an unified and strong European Union, a strong cross-Atlantic union and a successful cooperation with all like-minded countries. Only then could we could we come out of a crisis situation stronger than we are now.
In the light of the words before, let me remind you of the words the president of the European Council Donald Trusk spoke to the European Parliament a year ago: “Europe is not old, not exhausted or fruitless. Europe is young, dynamic and vigorous. Our continent is the best place to live in the world”. We should remind ourselves of that more often, that Estonia is part of that best continent of the world, whose economic wellbeing is our business, for better or for worse. It only takes a little push to breach that unity, but it may take years, if not decades, to mend it.
The Estonian presidency of the European Union is approaching. I can assure you that we take this very seriously and prepare for it thoroughly. We also prepare some preferred subjects for our time of presidency. These may be the unified European Union market and the development of a digital domestic market, energy policy and neighboring and foreign policy. In the context of foreign policy of the European Union, we would wish to see that expansion countries and eastern partnerships continue their approach to the European Union. An important topic therein is the development of cross-Atlantic cooperation, including an intercontinental trade agreement. We have continuously emphasized on digital solutions for every field of policy within the European Union, including health, internal security and environmental policy. We wish to bring forward novel e-solutions in public sectors, therefore improving information exchange and cooperation between countries. The compilation of the presidency program starts in the summer of 2016 and our goal is to confirm the program by the end of 2017. By then we would know how the preceding United Kingdom´s presidency resolved, what our goals for the unification of interests for all 28 member States may be and what goals would be actually attainable during our presidency. It is really good to see that discussions about other possible priorities have already started in our society and the public involvement notions that will be held in 2017 will give everybody a chance to think along with us.
In addition, preceding and during our presidency, we will be hosting thousands of guests in Estonia and other important capitals of the world where they will be introduced to the good practices of different domains, along with the chance to get acquainted with Estonian culture.
Respected members of the Parliament,
Estonia’s cooperation in the Baltic Sea district is a vital key to strengthen our regional security. Our most important and widest platform of cooperation is of course with our neighbors. Much of this cooperation stays within the framework of the European Union, but our diplomacy and foreign policy continue to make efforts to develop regional projects and two-way relationships. Our Baltic cooperation will always be special to us. I am convinced that a closer association with the Northern countries and Poland in in the best interest of all Baltic States. The Baltic Sea region is our most important economic area. We must pursue novel and future-oriented ideas to develop this Baltic Sea region. We see it foremost through the introduction of new technologies and smart e-solutions. In the context of the whole of Europe, it is in our interests to create a working common digital market. Estonia is convinced that the development of digital state solutions would increase the effectiveness and administrative abilities of any country. There are good conditions in the Baltic Sea region to utilize e-solutions even in international communication. The Nordic countries are historically known as an innovative area that uses modern technologies. Utilizing e-solutions would be a good way to reduce any bureaucratic difficulties in the cooperation and economic dealings between countries. It would significantly further economic relations between counties and provide an additional impulse for further economic growth in the region. For Estonia, a mutual cooperation with Finland in this field is extremely important. If successful, it would surely make a good example for other countries as well. We are very interested in similar cooperation in the whole Baltic Sea region.
Honored head of the Parliament, parliament members and guests,
Estonian security depends on many more components, aside from the aforementioned, including our reputation. Our security certainly depends on the success of our economy, our fruitful export policy and our thought-out energy policy and business diplomacy. Estonia has always been, still is and will continue to remain a supporter of a liberal market economy. We know from experience that free trade does not cause economic crises but, on the contrary, aids in overcoming them. Therefore we support a quick deployment of an open trade agreement between the EU and Canada and the formation of an open trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. These agreements will benefit everyone involved. An impact assessment by the European Commission predicts a GDP growth of 0,3-0,5% to the European Union as a whole by the year 2027. Export from the European Union is predicted to increase by 3,4-5,9%. An open trade agreement with the United States is predicted to have an effect of 0,3-0,4% of GDP for Estonia.
Our security depends also on our attitude towards democracy and the rule of law, to human rights and tolerance. European values dictate, that no person shall be discriminated for their nationality, religious beliefs, gender, race and sexual preference. Estonia needs to be based on a value set where rules and agreements are honored and human dignity is valued. Here I can remind you of the four main liberties of the European Union – the unrestricted movement of people, goods, services and capital -, that need to be equally guaranteed to all. These are the sources from which to find answers when seeking solutions to our problems.
Estonia is more and more known to the world as a country of smart e-solutions. We are among countries to whom cyberspace is one of the foundations of the successful functioning and development of the country and society.
We know from experience, how great a role info- and communication technology (ICT) solutions can play for the development of all fields of the state and society. We also know how differently countries can feel about and use innovative solutions. Therefore we must do all we can so that the use of ICT solutions would not widen the gap between countries and that ICT and cyberspace would not only be the playground of richer countries. We are ready to contribute to international security measures and to continue present e-solutions in developmental cooperation.
At a time of spread for ICT, it is important for Estonia to hold to existing international legislation and also to its development. We belong to a group of countries to whom cyberspace is one of the foundations of the successful functioning and development of the country and society and so we condemn all attacks of any kind against information networks. The analysis and utilization of international regulations in support of cyber security plays a significant role in that they should increase the predictability of international relations. It is important for countries to fulfill their obligations and clearly condemn any breaches of international law both in cyberspace and in the physical world. We continue to work in the core group of the coalition for internet liberty to further global protection and promotion of human rights in the virtual world. Freedom of expression on the internet must be guaranteed to everyone and the internet must be available without restrictions.
Estonian reputation, which also helps our security, depends on the top achievements of our culture and also on the mark every single Estonian person leaves on the world. Our people are our greatest asset and opportunity. In different estimates, about 120 000 – 200 000 Estonian people live abroad at the moment. Among them is a significant amount of active and outspoken people who gladly advertise Estonia abroad and therefore help to increase our visibility and positive image in the world. The figureheads of today’s Estonia are cultural figures and scientists, athletes, students and many other fine and talented people. The more Estonia manages to involve these people, the stronger we will become.
As another important tool for involvement, we see the maintaining and growth of Estonia’s e-residence network. The promotion of e-residency and finding new e-residents has been and continues to be a lasting goal for the Ministry of foreign affairs. That provides the opportunity to keep relations with Estonia to a great number of people who for many reasons otherwise would surely not keep them. The use of this emerging network is purely in our own hands. We must be able to develop this program in a way that the e-services we provide in the world would be accessible to those that wish to develop for example economical of cultural relations with us. That would help to connect Estonia with altogether many more people than those who would ever decide to actually move here.
To stay connected with our people in the world, one of the goals for the government’s platform for 2015-2019 is the development of a global Estonian network. The purpose of this network is to promote business, culture, diplomacy and a global Estonian identity. A global Estonian network must surpass departmental borders and join Estonians and the friends of Estonia, to allow turning to different communities both thematically and regionally.
Providing services to our citizens is one of the main priorities of our Ministry of foreign affairs. Estonians make close to 4 million trips abroad every year. That means that every Estonian takes an average of three trips a year. To ensure the safety of our citizens while abroad, the Ministry launched a web app called “Travel wisely”. Our consular section handles four new consular cases every day and around the world we offer some consular service to our people every two minutes.
Distinguished members of Parliament and guests,
As the last subject I consider it my duty to inform you of some work organization and structural changes the Ministry of foreign affairs will go through in the coming years.
The priorities of the Ministry are based on those of the government of Estonia. Our priorities are ensuring Estonia’s security, developing foreign economic relations and providing citizens with consular aid. 2016 will be a year of change to the foreign services of Estonia. We must review our staff and structure to find the best balance of protection and advancement of Estonian foreign policy interests in a time when we are forced to reduce staff and close foreign offices.
Our government has opened several new foreign offices in the last years and this has widened our diplomatic possibilities. On the other hand, the number of staff in the Ministry of foreign affairs has remained the same as in 2003, before Estonia joined the European Union and NATO. Considering the means at our disposal and financing perspectives for the coming years we must admit that maintaining the existing network of foreign offices in these conditions is not affordable. Offices will need to be closed. We would like to close as few as possible, but the remaining network has to be sustainable. We have made several surveys on where and for what purpose should we open our offices. Based on this data, we will propose the government to cut back the network of foreign offices. We also consider possibilities to continue our diplomatic presence jointly with our neighboring countries. We already have positive experiences and practice with this.
I cannot yet tell you here and today, which offices we plan to close. The screening process in the Ministry is still underway and we will of course consult with the committees in the Parliament and the business community. I assure you that the changes in the Ministry of foreign affairs that will take place in the coming years will not be made at the expense of Estonian national interests.
As I conclude my first speech on foreign policy here before you all, I will again stress the most important parts of what I wanted to talk to you about. Firstly, the following years will require much work from our foreign services to ensure the stability of our security environment. We work for the further strengthening of NATO.
Secondly, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine remains in the center of our attention and we consider the support for Ukraine in restoring their territorial integrity and securing their sovereignty a priority. We must support the government and people of Ukraine in their reforms. The protection of human rights and democratic values is our priority and an important safeguard for our own security.
Thirdly, our priority for the following years is managing and solving the refugee crisis in Europe. The Ministry’s area of responsibility is the external dimension of the refugee crisis – the situation beyond the border of the European Union, conflict prevention and solving, and crisis management. We need unified efforts to secure the outer border of the European Union and to alleviate the consequences of the crisis within the Union. This is a real challenge to the whole European Union and we must overcome it together – we must keep the unity we have spent decades working towards. Unity is the key to success. The disintegration of European Union s united policy would mean decades of recession for the whole of Europe and nobody wants that. The wellbeing of Estonia and Europe depends on all of us.
Estonia has been successful because our priorities of foreign policy have been clear and solid. We have not let internal politics affect the course of our foreign policy and have not sacrificed foreign policy to our internal policy. Even in this complicated foreign situation we can be successful, if we disregard any demagogy and populism and implement a unified foreign policy. That in Estonia and also on a wider scale – in the European Union, the transatlantic union and with other like-minded countries.
The first foreign Secretary of reindependent Estonia, Lennart Meri, has said that despite all hardships, Estonia has learned an important truth: if you wish to be treated as a country, you need to act like one. I would elaborate on that – if we wish to be treated as a trustworthy and responsible country, we need to act accordingly. It is expected of us by our people and also by friends, partners and allies. Only thus can we ensure our security, only thus can we make sure we would never be alone again. Only thus can we give our children a better safer and happier Estonia.
I thank you for thinking along and for your attention and I am now ready to answer any questions you may have.