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Deliberation of foreign policy as a matter of significant national importance was held in the Riigikogu today. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson made reports. Both of them stressed cooperation with allies, based on values and rules, as the focal issue of the Estonian foreign policy institute.

In his speech, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser spoke of the challenges facing Estonia, and the solutions that would help protect and promote rule-based world order, and so serve Estonia’s foreign policy and security interests.

Speaking of Estonia’s candidacy for the non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the minister said that the UN was particularly important to small nations, whose powers never competed with those of great nations, but who had completely equivalent rights as members of the international community. The minister listed issues that Estonia would have to be particularly committed to as a member of the UN Security Council: application of international law in cyber space, conflict prevention through improved resilience, issues relating to climate and natural environment, women’s and children’s rights and security, and definitely also updating the very working methods of the UN Security Council.

In regard to transatlantic relations, minister Mikser pointed out that the US’s leading role in ensuring NATO’s deterrence and defence, and their contribution to Europe’s security continued to be necessary. At the same time, in his words, European allies must take seriously US’s call for a fairer burden-sharing. “It is every country’s duty to invest in its security, and meeting this duty creates the basis for trustful allied relationships,” Mikser said.

Mikser said that in recent years there had been significant developments in European Union security cooperation and the cooperation between the European Union and NATO. As a good example of mutually beneficial cooperation, he pointed out the issues relating to strategic communication and cyber and hybrid threats, and the development of military mobility.

In the minister’s words, it is important that the development of European defence cooperation would supplement the security solution based on the transatlantic bond and would not try to substitute it. “Also, the debate on Europe’s strategic autonomy must not become an unnecessary irritant in transatlantic relations,” Mikser said.

Speaking of threats, the minister said that the global threat picture was becoming increasingly more complex, and asymmetric threats did not recognise state borders and their sources were difficult to identify. “Extremists, terrorist organisations as well as autocratic regimes act more and more vigorously and arrogantly. European security is also affected by illegal migration that arises from conflicts and instability in the neighbourhood of the European Union, as well as from economic and climate problems,” Mikser said.

The minister said that the unity and fundamental values of the European Union were under attack, as populism based on lies and fears appealing to low instincts were tools in the hands of opponents to the idea of Europe. “If we yield our sovereignty to the service of common interests, it is precisely in order to ensure the preservation of our independence and sovereignty. Joint decisions and policies in the European Union amplify Estonian policies as well as the development of Estonia’s economic development,” he said.

The minister stressed that although the final solution for Brexit was not yet clear, Great Britain remained an important partner for Estonia also outside the European Union.

With regard to European Union’s priority areas and objectives for the following five years, the minister pointed out Rail Baltic and the synchronization of the power grids with European frequency as large projects important to Estonia. Within the framework of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, the minister expressed support to the Eastern partners’ reforms and said that Estonia gave a perspective to the further development of the relationships.

The minister said that Estonia also continued active promotion of rule-based free trade in the foreign economy sector, looking for solutions that would help maintain transatlantic trade relations and ground the tensions that had arisen in the relations between the European Union and the US. He said that the Estonian foreign service priorities were to assist Estonian undertakings in finding export markets and to bring foreign investments, focusing on capital-intensive smart sectors in order to increase the added value of Estonian products. The implementation of these objectives will be facilitated by the soon-to-be-opened embassy in Abu Dhabi, which is a gateway to the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the new Consulate General in San Francisco on the west coast of the USA.

Mikser noted that the digital dimension of Estonian foreign policy was growing and Estonia was helping other countries, regions and international organisations in the implementation of the information society solutions. Estonia has also created a strong national cyber defence and cyber security system and can teach how to create a functioning national cyber defence system with small resources.

In conclusion, the minster stressed that Estonia’s interests proceeded from Estonia’s values and they were best protected in cooperation based on liberal values and rules. “A democratic small nation will survive and develop if it defends its values both at home and abroad, and if it has allies who share these values and are also ready to promote and defend them jointly,” Mikser said.

In his speech, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson said that it was of existential importance to Estonia that the idea of a united Europe survive both Brexit and the expected increasing pressure from Eurosceptic populists. “The closely cooperating European Union of nation states with its strong common ground simply has no alternative at a time when Russia is making attempts to extend its borders with military force and China is aiming to become a global leader,” Mihkelson said. He said that Estonia’s commitment to keeping the common value and allied space was the central issue of our foreign policy.

Regarding transatlantic cooperation, Mihkelson stated that, for the first time since the Second World War, dangerous hesitations and tensions could be detected in the Western allied space that in the worst case could lead to fading of transatlantic cooperation or even to disintegration of NATO.

Mihkelson noted that it was not wise for the Western world that was losing its relative influence globally to break up the well-functioning NATO defence alliance. Instead, in his words, the European and American leaders should cast aside personal grudges and make efforts to strengthen allied relationships, increase deterrence on NATO’s eastern flank, and revive trade talks to create a transatlantic free market.

Mihkelson said that the dynamics of international relations required Estonia’s foreign services to constantly improve their professionalism, and the state to direct more resources into diplomacy, which is the front line of the protection of our national interests.

The chairman of the committee also gave an overview of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the recommendations to the Government to strengthen the diplomatic capacity of Estonia, based on the hearings in the committee and the relevant analysis by the International Centre for Defence Studies.

The chairman of the committee said that strengthening of the foreign service was inevitable if Estonia wanted to be internationally ambitious in defending its security and economic interests. As another topic that had been in the centre of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mihkelson pointed out the report “Readiness to Counter Interference in Elections at the Example of Western Countries”. He said that, in countering influencing activities and disinformation, the point of departure was to strengthen society’s psychological safety net and to increase awareness of the tools used for influencing activities.

Mihkelson confirmed that the Foreign Affairs Committee had always centred its activities around an open and democratic debate on all the foreign policy topics important to Estonia. He said that finding a strong common ground in the shaping of Estonia’s foreign policy did not mean that political parties did not have different opinions on particular questions. “At the same time, an attitude emphasising consistency, trust and predictability has dominated in Estonia’s foreign policy so far. This has brought us success, and this will have to remain so in the future as well,” Mihkelson said.

During the debate, Andres Herkel (Estonian Free Party), Mart Nutt (Isamaa), Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform Party), Kersti Sarapuu (Centre Party), Henn Põlluaas (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Barbi Pilvre (Social Democratic Party), Oudekki Loone (Centre Party), Mart Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Jürgen Ligi (Reform Party) took the floor.

The Riigikogu passed an Act:

At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu approved the Act which increases pensions for the police and Defence Forces pensioners whose salary level was lowered at the time of the economic crisis. 72 members of the Riigikogu voted in favour of the Act on Amendments to the Military Service Act Implementation Act and the Police and Border Guard Act (667 SE), initiated by 34 members of the Riigikogu. There was one abstention.

The initiators of the Act said that it ensured that servicemen who had retired before April 2013 and police officers who had retired before January 2010 were treated equally in pension schemes. The initiators estimated that the Act concerned around 1400 Police and Border Guard Board pensioners, and around 660 Defence Forces pensioners.

The Act enters into force on 1 January 2020.

Two Bills passed the second reading in the Riigikogu:

The Bill on Amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and Other Acts (merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate) (789 SE), initiated by members of the Riigikogu Andres Metsoja, Raivo Aeg, Tarmo Kruusimäe, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Priit Sibul, Aivar Kokk, Sven Sester, Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits, Maire Aunaste, Marko Pomerants, Mart Nutt, Valeri Korb, Jaanus Karilaid, Märt Sults, Inara Luigas and Tanel Talve, will make amendments to the Government of the Republic Act and 38 other Acts with the aim of merging the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate, two governmental authorities in the area of government of the Ministry of Environment.

The merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate proceeds from a more general principle of the state reform which is reduction of duplication in state offices, reduction of the number of administrative agencies and improvement of the quality and availability of public services. The document “A State Tasks Analysis” also recommends the establishment of a joint agency in the environmental sector.

The aim of the merger of the Environmental Board and the Environmental Inspectorate is to enhance the implementation of the strategic tasks of the state in the environment sector, to use the existing resources more efficiently and effectively, and to offer high-quality public services and to also meet the expectations of society in a longer perspective.

The agency to be established will be performing all the current main functions of the two agencies. A Bill with the same title (No. 710 SE) was also in the legislative proceedings of the Riigikogu earlier, but it did not receive the support necessary to be adopted, that is, 51 votes in favour were needed. The same Bill was introduced again now and it passed the second reading.

The Bill on Amendments to the Rural Development and Agricultural Market Regulation Act (788 SE), initiated by the Rural Affairs Committee, is intended to provide for a provision delegating authority to the Government to recognise adverse climatic events. According to the Bill, the Government may recognise, by an order, the occurrence of adverse climatic events that cause important economic damage to farmers and are significantly different from ordinary weather conditions.

The Bill has been drafted in connection with the need to provide for a provision delegating authority to the Government to recognise by an order the occurrence of a situation in the case of which weather conditions may cause important damage to the economic activity of farmers. Thereby, a message that an extraordinary situation has arisen is sent at national level to society, as well as farmers, and other persons and organisations involved in the value chain of agricultural products.

The need to amend the Rural Development and Agricultural Market Regulation Act aggravated due to the exceptionally hot and dry summer of 2018, but autumn 2017 with considerably more than average precipitation was also complicated for the agricultural sector.

The explanatory memorandum states that weather conditions that can be considered significantly different from ordinary weather conditions on the basis of long-term observation data have become more frequent in recent years. For example, in 2017, the beginning of the growing period was cooler than usual and therefore the harvesting period was also delayed. However, the harvesting period was rainy, and many farmers could not harvest, or incurred post-harvest costs that were significantly higher compared to usual years. The spring and summer of 2018 were very hot and dry which decreased the crop harvest by nearly 30 per cent, according to forecast.

As a result of both of the cases described above, a situation may arise where farmers experience economic difficulties because they are unable to ensure the agreed supply or it is impossible for them to service their loan obligations due to a lack of circulating capital. In view of that, several farmers and their representation organisations have found that the minister responsible for the field must have more possibilities to help farmers who are in the situation described above. An order recognising the occurrence of the above-mentioned adverse climatic events will provide moral help to farmers in negotiations with their cooperation partners.

The weather conditions will be assessed on the basis of the long-term observation data collected about ordinary years. The order specified in the Bill will only have informative content and will not affect the contractual relations of farmers.

Photos of the sitting.

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian).

Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu

 (NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Epp-Mare Kukemelk
+372 631 6356; 515 3903
[email protected]