At the deliberation of foreign policy as a matter of significant national importance in the Riigikogu, the focus was on ensuring security, and on the unity and consensus of the Western world.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser confirmed that the best way to protect the national interests and objectives enshrined in the preamble of our Constitution is to remain faithful to our values both in domestic and foreign policy. “A close allied relationship with countries and nations respecting democracy, the rule of law, and human values, and the world order based on international law and rules provide the best protection for our independence and freedom,” Mikser said.
When speaking of trans-Atlantic relations, Mikser said that the allied relationship between Europe and North America has been the backbone of the international security architecture for decades, and will continue to be so. In Mikser’s words, this relationship is founded on common values as well as a sense of cultural unity and a significant congruence of strategic interests.
Mikser said that Estonia is making efforts to ensure that the USA would always remain a firm ally to Estonia whose support we can rely on in complicated situations. “Our close allied relationship stands on the foundation of common values as well as close daily communication and practical cooperation,” he said.
Touching upon the challenges that the European Union is facing, Mikser noted that, throughout the whole period that Estonia has been a member of the Union, the European Union has been moving towards geographical expansion and increasingly deeper integration. He stated that this trend had been broken at the Brexit-referendum last year. The Minister said that it is for Estonia to keep the unity of the 27 Member States in the soon-to-begin negotiations on the conditions and details of the exit of Great Britain.
In his speech, the Minister stressed Great Britain’s readiness to continue to play an active role in European security and to make a contribution to NATO’s strengthened deterrence posture by deploying, as a framework country, its units to the composition of the NATO contingent located in Estonia.
As a key issue of European security, Mikser discussed prevention of terrorist attacks which is possible only in cooperation of partners and allies. In his words, for that, it is necessary to improve cooperation between allies and partners to prevent terrorism, thwart planned attacks, raise awareness of danger, and improve the crisis readiness of their societies.
As main topics for future debates of the European Union, the Minister pointed out the ensuring of security, and economic growth, which are also central issues in Estonia’s development.
The Minister said that Estonia with its small open and export-oriented economy stood only to gain from the opportunity to trade freely in export markets. Besides the four fundamental freedoms of the European Union, that is, the principle of the free movement of goods, services, capital and people, he considers also the implementation of the fifth freedom – free movement of data – important for an innovative e-state. “Protectionism is not a solution for the world or the global economic growth,” the Minister said.
The Minister also spoke of the Estonian presidency priorities and said that although the presidency programme will be formulated by the end of June, already now it can be said that it will focus on the development of an innovative, secure, digital and inclusive Europe.
Among horizontal issues of Estonia’s presidency, he highlighted the digital development action plan and the issues of the Eastern Partnership.
In his speech, Mikser also touched upon the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and sanctions. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine has not been restored, Crimea continues to be illegally occupied, and military activity in eastern Ukraine is going on and has escalated in recent weeks,” Mikser said.
“Until Russia continues to violate the norms of international law and does not meet the commitments it has made, there can be no talk of restoration of trust or a return to usual communication. Sanctions must remain in force until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. A necessary precondition for mitigating them must be that Russia returns to the principles of international law and meets the commitments it has made. If Russia fails to meet these commitments, we must be ready to tighten the sanctions,” he added.
In his speech, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson admitted that the world is not what it was a year ago and, in a year from now, it will no longer be what it is today. “Disruptions are obvious, unfortunately even in the world order we are used to,” Mihkelson said in his speech. “The question is whether the Western unity and unanimous spirit that are so important for us will withstand the ever increasing internal and external stress.”
Mihkelson said that the test of the viability of the European Union that had started with Brexit would undergo a trial in the upcoming elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Czechia, and maybe also Italy. He said that withdrawal and return to the balance of powers and spheres of influence politics common in the 19th century would spell out destruction for the West, and its appreciation for individual freedom. “A world order based on international law and agreements is the corner stone of the value based foreign policy that would serve our national interests,” Mihkelson said.
Presidency of the European Union should definitely not serve as an argument in allowing laxity when shaping our foreign policy positions.
As priorities of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mihkelson pointed out Estonia’s security and foreign trade. He pointed out in particular the strategic communication concerning the national foreign and security policy.
In his words, the Foreign Affairs Committee is also expecting the Minister of Foreign Affairs to provide an overview of the plan to strengthen the foreign service. In Mihkelson’s words, this is especially important at the time when the work of Estonian diplomats has become the front-line of safeguarding the well-being and security of Estonia. Mihkelson added that strengthening the foreign service requires a fundamental review of the Foreign Service Act, with the aim of creating a new dynamic, and openness.
Andres Herkel, who spoke on behalf of the Free Party Faction at the deliberation of Estonia’s foreign policy, said that value-based politics must be protected, and the elite has to look in the mirror. In Herkel’s words, it seemed to him that the foreign policy debate was getting stuck in fruitless chatter about what we think is going on in Trump’s or Putin’s head. “Instead of this guesswork sport, we should much more think of what we can do here and now to ensure that European unity would be maintained, the cooperation between the European Union and the United States of America would continue, and Estonia would remain a democratic country and a free society,” Herkel said.
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, who took the floor on behalf of the Reform Party Faction, said that Estonia’s survival and chances of success are always in danger when the world returns to big nation egoism or dictatorial power politics. “Without inciting panic, it is fair to admit that the principles and values that support the success of the Estonian state are in danger in the world today,” Pentus-Rosimannus said.
Pentus-Rosimannus stressed that nothing is more important to Estonia than unity and constancy of the EU, NATO and Western allies. More broadly, however, the imminent question is whether the EU is capable of pursuing a consistent, understandable, supportable and effective policy in ensuring economic growth, the daily security of the people, and hopeful future prospects.
Mart Nutt spoke on behalf of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union Faction. “We must not settle for the idea that Estonia is only a consumer in the European Union and NATO; rather, we must be a leader,” Nutt said. In his words, Estonia has interests also in other parts of the world, and Estonia must actively protect and represent these interests. He pointed out two spheres in which Estonian foreign policy still has room for development – consular activity and foreign economic policy.
Henn Põlluaas, who took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, said that a relative consensus had been prevailing in Estonia with regard to Russia’s aggressive policy that ignores international law. However, due to Russia’s practice to use military force in achieving political goals, there must be no compromises as regards the sanctions, he said.
Põlluaas also touched upon Estonia’s European Union policy, saying that Estonia had assumed the role of a conformist. “If we want the European Union and the European way of life to be preserved, we have to boldly and frankly discuss the developments in the East and in the South, point to the problems in the European Union, and offer functioning solutions instead of an ineffectual chatroom thriving on hypocritical political correctness,” Põlluaas said.
Marko Shorin, who spoke behalf of the Centre Party Faction, drew attention to foreign economy. “While Estonia can rely on our membership in NATO when it comes to defence capability, and on the European Union in pursuing a common foreign policy, the development of foreign economy is in the hands of Estonia and no-one else. Only we can create preconditions for Estonian undertakings, for export capacity growth,” Shorin said.
Liisa Oviir spoke on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction. She spoke of the unresolved migration crisis and the issue of Ukraine that must be tackled further.
She said that Estonia cannot afford the luxury of leaving the making of foreign policy only to professional diplomats, and every member of parliament must make his or her contribution to the strengthening of foreign relations. “Everyone of us can and must make their contribution, for example, to entering into relations with members of parliament of the allied countries, in fact, to entering into relations with representatives in all countries that bear the same values as we do,” Oviir said.
In his speech, member of the Riigikogu Jürgen Ligi said that he believed in the competence and integrity of Estonian diplomats. Nor did he put in doubt the consensus in Estonian foreign policy. Ligi criticised the agreement between the Prime Minister’s party and a political party of our Eastern neighbour, and the inability of the Prime Minister to communicate in foreign languages.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser confirmed at the end of the discussion that the Government’s foreign and security policy has not changed and is moving on a steady course in waters that are unfortunately becoming ever rougher. “Consensus on foreign and security policy is worth to be maintained. It is never absolute, but it should not be broken offhandedly,” Mikser said.
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.)
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