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Foreign policy debate as a matter of significant national importance was held in the Riigikogu today. Reports were by Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson. They focused on the international security situation, the importance of allied relations and international cooperation, and the objectives and priorities of foreign policy.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets said that effective and consistent foreign policy was essential for the successful functioning of a small state. “The past 30 years in international relations have been successful for Estonia because our foreign policy interests and goals have been clear and we have worked towards attaining them together,” she said. The minister added that we could be successful in foreign policy only if we could plan and implement a coherent foreign and security policy. She emphasised that, every day, Estonia’s diplomacy was working to ensure that Estonia’s security was protected and certain, and that the Estonian nation, language and culture were preserved through the ages.

Liimets underlined that reinforced transatlantic security was in Estonia’s interests. “The security of Estonia is inextricably linked to the security of all of Europe. Its cornerstone is our membership in NATO.” In her words, active participation of the United States in protecting the security of the region as well as a strengthening Europe are critical to Estonia’s security. “When it comes to ensuring the security of Europe, there is no alternative to NATO and close transatlantic cooperation with the United States,” the minister said.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs affirmed that Estonia was contributing actively and constructively to the policies of the European Union. “An active participant in shaping the foreign and security policy of the European Union, it is in Estonia’s interests that the Union speaks in a single, principled voice and can assert itself,” she said. Liimets noted that it was important to develop the defence capabilities of the European Union and to become increasingly focused on reinforcing the international system of trade, including on concluding free trade agreements.

“Estonia’s size does not mean we should be mere spectators in global politics. Quite the contrary, Estonia must actively uphold the current international order. Advancing our interests is based on close cooperation and good relations with allies – in international organisations, regional cooperation as well as bilateral ties,” the minister said. She highlighted Estonia’s activity in raising the security issues of our region and of more distant flashpoints at the UN Security Council, and underlined Estonia’s goal to apply for Chairmanship in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, as well as Estonia’s application for becoming an active observer in the Arctic Council.

In Liimets’s words, the foreign policy of this government is focused on supporting Estonia’s economic development through active business diplomacy to boost exports, investments and tourism. “Attracting foreign investment is a precondition for economic development. We consider it important to conclude bilateral investment protection agreements and assist Estonian companies operating abroad,” the minister said. She noted that they were developing an action plan for the protection of investments, and the scope of business diplomacy had been significantly expanded. “Estonia’s brilliant reputation is an important precondition for success in business diplomacy – our aim is not to be merely known, but to be known as a forward-looking, innovative and vibrant society,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs said.

In conclusion, the minister spoke of the global programme for Estonians, one of the aims of which was to include Estonians living abroad in the development and life of Estonia. “Estonia cherishes each and every one of its people,” Liimets noted. “A considered and efficient engagement with Estonians abroad contributes to our future goals and international success.”

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Marko Mihkelson said that Estonia’s foreign policy continued to solidly rest on the old three fundamental columns – ensuring the security of our citizens, solidifying economic wellbeing, and maintaining close relations with the Estonians around the world. He noted that, over the years, the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee had played a central role in shaping and influencing Estonian foreign policy. “The stronger the common ground in foreign policy in our democratic and parliamentary republic, the better guaranteed are Estonia’s interests and security in the world,” Mihkelson said. “Estonia’s foreign policy rests on the corner stone of consistency, and this is upheld by the current members of our Committee.”

As an excellent example of the substantive cooperation between the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mihkelson pointed out the Foreign Policy Development Plan that had been approved on extensive common ground in the previous year. He emphasised that region and topic based strategies, including the African and Asian countries’ strategies, created opportunities to plan the diplomatic resource more efficiently and to discuss politically sensitive international topics.

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee noted that strengthening strategic planning, better planning of means of foreign policy, and well-planned tactical steps allowed Estonia to pursue a more pro-active foreign policy. “It is clear that we cannot lead or get swept along with every international topic, nor should we,” he noted and underlined that it was necessary to make calculated decisions. “With every decision, it is important to ask whether and how this helps to achieve our foreign policy goals.”

When setting priorities, in Mihkelson’s words, it is necessary to proceed from the broader support base of foreign policy – the European Union, NATO, and strategic relations with the United States of America. In his opinion, increasing pro-activity would also benefit from a regular audit of diplomatic toolbox, from international organisations and bilateral representations around the world, as well as from the Center of Eastern Partnership and development cooperation projects.

In Mihkelson’s words, as foreign policy goes, a strong and motivated foreign service and experienced diplomats play a central role. He emphasised that motivated people as a basic mainstay for smart diplomacy had to be complemented by professional career planning that would help strengthen the key capabilities in foreign policy, and would create a more tension-free development environment for diplomats.

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee noted that, over the past year, diplomacy on all levels had been strongly suppressed by the corona pandemic. “Such a lockdown is definitely negative for a small country. We find it difficult to make our voice heard and gain the attention of the great powers even under normal circumstances,” Mihkelson said. “Yet, international dynamics have not ground to a halt. It is necessary to spread Estonia’s positions and defend our interests non-stop.” In spite of the scarcity of direct communication, in the words of the chairman of the committee, web meetings have created speed and flexibility that we failed to appreciate before.

Mihkelson emphasised that one of the foreign policy priorities of Estonia was supporting Belarus, Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries through both diplomatic steps and development cooperation programmes. “This work must continue even more actively because the success of these countries in creating and strengthening democratic societies directly affects the security of the whole region,” he said. Mihkelson also highlighted the Statement of the Riigikogu “In Support of the European Union Common Foreign Policy and in Defence of Civil Society in Russia” that had been passed a day earlier.

In the words of the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is crucial that the Western countries quickly carry out a joint Russian policy audit and develop a strategy that would allow us to cool down the increased tensions without abandoning our principles. At the same time, Mihkelson underlined the importance of strengthening the transatlantic relations to avoid disagreements between allies in shaping an effective policy. “We must not forget that the worse the relations between Russia and the West become, the more complicated our security environment becomes,” he noted.

In conclusion, Mihkelson mentioned Estonia’s application to become an observer in the Arctic Council. He noted that the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee had dedicated a lot of attention to this topic; among other things, they had commissioned a scientific analysis on the importance of the Arctic Council and the opportunities as an Observer to further our foreign policy in relations with our Nordic neighbours, but also Russia, USA, and Canada. In Chairman’s words, in the near future, the Foreign Affairs Committee is also planning to pay more thorough attention to the current situation in implementing the business diplomacy strategy and to the development of the Global Estonia Programme and the activity of the special envoy.

During the debate, Siim Kallas (Reform Party), Imre Sooäär (Centre Party), Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Mart Helme (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Indrek Saar (Social Democratic Party) took the floor on behalf of their factions.

The Bill on Amendments to the Code of Enforcement Procedure and the Bailiffs Act and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (291 SE) and the Bill on Amendments to the Code of Enforcement Procedure and Amendments to Other Associated Acts (315 SE) that were on the agenda today were not deliberated due to the end of the working hours of the plenary. The first reading of the Bills is scheduled for tomorrow’s sitting.

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.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)

Riigikogu Press Service
Liisa Johanna Lukk
Phone: +372 631 6456, +372 5331 0789
E-mail: [email protected]
Questions: [email protected]