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Today, deliberation of foreign policy as a matter of significant national importance was held in the Riigikogu. Reports were by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Paet and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Marko Mihkelson.

In his speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs highlighted Estonia’s primary foreign policy goals this year: to stand up for Estonia’s security interests at the NATO summit in Chicago, to contribute to the solution for the European economic and debt crisis, and to support Estonian companies all over the world and, in that connection, to develop the network of representations of Estonia. Paet emphasised the proportion of Estonia’s defence spending: in 2012, it equals 2% of the gross domestic product and we must ensure that the 2% requirement remains among NATO’s primary goals. He added: “We must not forget that there are many countries outside of NATO that are increasing their defence spending. In our region, the ongoing militarisation of Kaliningrad is cause for concern, as is the increase in armed forces stationed in Leningrad and Pskov oblasts.”

The Minister of Foreign Affairs noted that development co-operation with Afghanistan is becoming more important and therefore we will continue leading the health care segment of the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s work in Helmand Province and starting up a training centre for medical workers. In Kabul, we focus our activities on education and good administrative practice. We will also continue contributing to the NATO Training Mission and the European Union Police Mission. “An important security policy area in which Estonia is and will remain active is cyber security,” Paet stressed. Last year we also continued working on involving our allies in the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence located in Tallinn: the USA and Poland joined the centre, and hopefully the Netherlands and Turkey will do so soon. Paet spoke in more detail about contributing to the development of the European Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy, to the solution of the European debt crisis and to the implementation of the European Union Neighbourhood Policy. As an important issue, he also mentioned Nordic-Baltic and the Baltic Sea region cooperation. “One of Estonia’s chief priorities in the European Union is the Baltic Sea Region Strategy. In order to ensure that the implementation of the strategy is supported with the necessary financial resources, we hope to update the Baltic Sea Region Strategy action plan during Denmark’s presidency. We are also working towards getting the Baltic Sea Region Strategy funding principles affixed in the next EU financial framework,” Paet said.

In the Minister’s words, in focus in Estonia-Russia relations was the updating of contractual relationships. In 2011, we signed a social security agreement and the implementation protocol for a readmission agreement. We also changed the passage point agreement. In connection with development co-operation which is an aspect of every state’s global responsibility, we would like to increase the official portion of the state budget dedicated to development co-operation to at least 0.17% of the GDP by the year 2015. Estonia’s development co-operation contribution has increasingly been tied to introducing e-state services and supporting its partner countries in developing this sector.

When speaking of Estonia’s activities, Paet welcomed the Asian strategy of the Riigikogu where the upcoming Asia discussion will play an important role. The Minister stated that the Asian region is important in terms of both future economic as well as security interests.

In conclusion, the Minister of Foreign Affairs also touched upon the importance of business and foreign economic relations and cultural diplomacy.

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu gave an overview of the developments in the world which affect Estonia, in particular the possibility of China becoming the world’s largest economy already in 2016. “It is not the rise of only China but the whole Asian region in world economy and politics that has mainly prompted the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu to accord so much attention in its work on this region,” Mihkelson said. In the words of the Chairman of the Committee, the report compiled by the Foreign Affairs Committee is concentrating on the period up to the year 2025. This makes it possible to simultaneously perceive the major trends in the shaping of the Asian century and to map the short-term activities that the Estonian government should or has to do in order to better apply the challenges of one of the most developing global growth regions for strengthening Estonia’s international competitiveness. Mihkelson: “The Foreign Affairs Committee intends to finish its report during this session and to organise a debate in Asian issues in the Riigikogu Plenary Assembly this spring.”

In Mihkelson’s opinion, the greatest challenge to Europe in the nearest future lies however in the East. “And it is nothing else than Russia’s permanent ambition to set a clear border to the possible enlargement to the East of the European Union and especially NATO. At the same time they persistently try to get closer to influencing the decisions of both organisations,” Mihkelson added. The developments referred to in the report, and other changes in the security environment of the Baltic Sea region are the reasons why the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu is planning to hold thematic hearings and order a relevant analysis this year. The Committee’s aim is to gain a better understanding of the greatest challenges of the coming decade in the security picture of the region and to give its recommendations to the Government if necessary. In cooperation with the National Defence Committee, during the second half of the year, they are going to analyse how the Government of the Republic has observed the provisions of the National Security Concept. Mihkelson said that they were planning to discuss the issue of security more widely also at different regional parliamentary forums, including at the Baltic cooperation and NB8 level. Among other things, this spring, the Riigikogu will organise the traditional meeting of the chairmen of Foreign Affairs Committees of the Nordic Countries and the Baltic States.

He emphasised that Estonia as a small state needs as purposeful and well-planned foreign representation as possible. “For that purpose, last week, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu published its conclusions and recommendations to the Government of the Republic regarding Estonia’s representation in the world and developing our network of foreign representations. To formulate our positions, the Committee conducted 21 hearings and ordered a relevant analysis from the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute. The final decision of the Committee was based on consensus,” Mihkelson said. The Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged the activities of the Government of the Republic, but at the same time called on analysing thoroughly the location and work of the foreign representations of Estonia under the conditions of limited resources, new challenges and broader possibilities of representation, proceeding from our short-term and long-term foreign policy and foreign economic policy goals. Taking into account the need to optimise existing resources, the Foreign Affairs Committee recommended considering a reduction of the number of our embassies in Europe in the nearest future. More attention should be paid to introducing Estonia in the world through meaningfully integrated activities. The Committee considers better implementation of public diplomacy as one of its levers. The Committee’s recommendations also suggest that the Government of the Republic should update the policy of the Estonian diaspora, in order to use the existing resources better for upholding the connections of Estonians living abroad with their homeland. In conclusion, Mihkelson spoke about the work of the delegations of the Riigikogu. He promised that, this year, too, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu would focus on promoting parliamentary diplomacy and better use of our internal resources.

Both speakers stressed as this year’s major event the forthcoming NATO Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Estonia, with participation of 28 countries and 14 partners, where NATO’s future development will be discussed. It will be a good opportunity for Estonia to touch upon the defence issues of importance to us.

Comments were presented by Members of the Riigikogu Enn Eesmaa, Andres Herkel, Sven Mikser, Raivo Järvi and Imre Sooäär.

For more details, read the verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian):

The Riigikogu Press Service