A threat to Estonia’s long-term priority of enlargement?

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


Atti­tudes towards the EU in Esto­nia must be inter­pret­ed in the con­text of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis that hit Esto­nia full force in the end of 2008 (GDP is fore­cast­ed to decline by 5.5 per­cent in 2009). In this con­text, mem­ber­ship in the EU is seen as a source of sta­bil­i­ty. In a recent speech to the Par­lia­ment on the government’s EU pol­i­cy, Prime Min­is­ter Ansip called on the pub­lic to reflect on the sit­u­a­tion that Esto­nia would be in today were it not a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union. Accord­ing to Ansip, it would be clear that in that case: “Estonia’s secu­ri­ty would be more frag­ile, the eco­nom­ic decline would be deep­er and it would be inap­pro­pri­ate to use the word wel­fare to describe the abil­i­ty of the cit­i­zens to cope eco­nom­i­cal­ly. All Euro­pean coun­tries that do not belong to the EU, be they more pros­per­ous than Esto­nia, such as Ice­land, or poor­er, such as Moldo­va, are hav­ing a hard­er time today than the coun­tries that are mem­bers of the Union”.[1]

This sen­ti­ment appears to be shared by the gen­er­al pub­lic: accord­ing to the recent Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey, Esto­ni­ans are more con­fi­dent than any oth­er nation in the EU that their coun­try has ben­e­fit­ed from being a mem­ber of the Union (78 per­cent respond­ed affir­ma­tive­ly to this question).[2]

The Eston­ian Par­lia­ment rat­i­fied the Lis­bon Treaty on 11 June 2008 (one day before the Irish ref­er­en­dum) and the domes­tic rat­i­fi­ca­tion process was com­plet­ed a week lat­er with the Pres­i­dent sign­ing the rel­e­vant leg­is­la­tion. The Irish ref­er­en­dum result was per­ceived as a dis­ap­point­ment but Estonia’s lead­ers have insist­ed that the deci­sions of the Irish peo­ple “must be respect­ed” and no one has the right to call on Ire­land to halt its mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Union.[3] Accord­ing to Pres­i­dent Ilves, “there are no sim­ple solu­tions, but the solu­tions exist and the EU has to find them jointly”.[4] Estonia’s lead­ers have joined oth­ers in the EU in call­ing for con­tin­ued rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the treaty in the oth­er mem­ber states. The main val­ue of the Lis­bon Treaty for Esto­nia appears to lie in strength­en­ing of the com­mon for­eign pol­i­cy: “We can­not leave the EU with­out a com­mon and strong for­eign pol­i­cy and with­out a strong deci­sion-mak­ing mech­a­nism”, said Ilves. [5] Anoth­er key con­cern is that the delay in the imple­men­ta­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty could have neg­a­tive con­se­quences for enlarge­ment; a long-term pri­or­i­ty for the Eston­ian government.[6] Pub­lic debate on the treaty has been slug­gish, but accord­ing to For­eign Min­is­ter Paet, this is no fault of the gov­ern­ment, as all doc­u­ments relat­ed to domes­tic deci­sion-mak­ing on the issue have been pub­licly acces­si­ble. In a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety, the media plays a cen­tral role in keep­ing up a debate: the Lis­bon Treaty sim­ply has not been a top­ic that would inter­est the Eston­ian media.[7]

Discussing EU candidates but not its future

The upcom­ing Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (EP) elec­tions are fre­quent­ly in the news now, as par­ties are announc­ing their can­di­date lists. How­ev­er, cov­er­age of EP elec­tions so far appears to be dis­con­nect­ed from any dis­cus­sion of the EU’s future. The tim­ing and cir­cum­stances of the 2009 EP elec­tions in Esto­nia sug­gest that these elec­tions will have strong ’sec­ond-order’ char­ac­ter­is­tics. Tak­ing place two years after the last Riigikogu elec­tions, with the gov­ern­ment com­plet­ing two years in office, these elec­tions are gen­uine mid-term elec­tions. The elec­tions coin­cide with a major eco­nom­ic cri­sis that is already tak­ing a toll on the sup­port rates of the gov­ern­ment par­ties. Fur­ther­more, the EP elec­tions in June are wide­ly regard­ed as a warm-up for local gov­ern­ment elec­tions held in Octo­ber 2009. Under these cir­cum­stances, par­ty can­di­date selec­tion is influ­enced by the under­stand­ing that the elec­tions entail a vote of con­fi­dence in the government.

The gov­ern­ment calls on cit­i­zens to active­ly par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions (turnout in 2004 was a mere 27 per­cent). Accord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Ansip, five years of mem­ber­ship in the EU have clear­ly proven that neg­a­tive sce­nar­ios and pre-acces­sion fears have not mate­ri­al­ized. Politi­cians who tried to demo­nize Estonia’s part­ner­ship with the EU (draw­ing par­al­lels to occu­py­ing regimes of the past) have clear­ly been proven wrong.[8] A recent Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey showed that Esto­ni­ans are bet­ter informed about upcom­ing EP elec­tions than cit­i­zens in most oth­er mem­ber states (46 per­cent were aware of the fact that EP elec­tions will be held in 2009, com­pared to 26 per­cent in the EU as a whole), but they are not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in these elec­tions (63 per­cent claimed not to be inter­est­ed, com­pared to the EU aver­age of 54 percent).[9]

There has been very lit­tle dis­cus­sion about the for­ma­tion of the new Com­mis­sion, aside from some spec­u­la­tion about who will be nom­i­nat­ed by the Eston­ian gov­ern­ment as a can­di­date for the post of the Com­mis­sion­er. Prime Min­is­ter Ansip said con­sul­ta­tions have not start­ed yet but that he per­son­al­ly believes that Siim Kallas has done very well as Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion and should be giv­en the chance to continue.[10]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities


Cooperation and stabilisation of the post-1991 security architecture

A strong and sta­ble part­ner­ship between the Unit­ed States and Europe, as well as the improve­ment of the inter­na­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion of the USA, is a key pri­or­i­ty for Estonia.[11] In his recent ‘advice’ to the pres­i­dent-elect of the Unit­ed States, Pres­i­dent Ilves argued that “(o)f all the inter­na­tion­al issues that will demand Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s atten­tion, two will be increas­ing­ly urgent: restor­ing the still-frag­ile rela­tion­ship with Europe and address­ing the col­lapse of the continent’s post-1991 secu­ri­ty archi­tec­ture”. The top three Eston­ian pri­or­i­ties for re-vital­iz­ing the EU-US rela­tion­ship appear to be the following:

1) Devel­op­ing a uni­fied pol­i­cy towards Rus­sia. This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant in the wake of the Geor­gia con­flict. Both the EU and the US must “con­tin­ue defend­ing the lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues that end­ed the cold war while work­ing with a resur­gent, author­i­tar­i­an and resent­ful Russia”.[12] Accord­ing to Pres­i­dent Ilves, the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue to defend lib­er­al-demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples while proac­tive­ly restor­ing its ties to Europe: “Oth­er­wise, 2008 could go down in his­to­ry as the year when the fun­da­men­tal assump­tions of the post-cold-war world ceased to apply. These assump­tions include the ideas that aggres­sion is unac­cept­able, that bor­ders can­not be changed by force and that demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed gov­ern­ments and the rule of law should not be for­sak­en for prag­mat­ic concerns”.[13]

The EU, in turn, must resist the temp­ta­tion to give in to Realpoli­tik when deal­ing with Rus­sia. While the call to treat Rus­sia ‘as it is’ is often heard in EU cir­cles, many EU lead­ers appear to for­get that Rus­sia ‘as it is’: “now ranks 147th in the world in fight­ing cor­rup­tion (accord­ing to Trans­paren­cy Inter­na­tion­al) and 141st in free­dom of the press (accord­ing to Reporters With­out Bor­ders), and in 2008 was down­grad­ed by Free­dom House from ‘par­tial­ly free’ to ‘not free’”.[14]

2) Coop­er­a­tion in solv­ing region­al con­flicts from the Mid­dle-East to Afghanistan and inten­si­fy­ing secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion under the NATO umbrella.

3) Coop­er­a­tion in the sphere of ener­gy and cli­mate pol­i­cy. Accord­ing to For­eign Min­is­ter Paet, the US and the EU need to take into account the geopo­lit­i­cal aspect of the ener­gy issue. Coop­er­a­tion with the US is par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal in car­ry­ing out ener­gy infra­struc­ture projects in the Caspi­an and Black Sea region.[15]

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


Strengthening the market rules without enforcing protectionist measures

Among all EU mem­ber states, the Baltic coun­tries have been hit par­tic­u­lar­ly hard by the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis. While the Eston­ian econ­o­my expand­ed 10.4 per­cent in 2006 and 6.3 per­cent in 2007, it stopped grow­ing in 2008, and the GDP is fore­cast­ed to decline by 5.5 per cent in 2009. The gov­ern­ment has decid­ed to imple­ment mas­sive bud­get cuts in order to reduce the bud­get deficit for 2009. The gloomy out­look has not changed the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of the government’s eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy: i.e. com­mit­ment to lib­er­al mar­kets and acces­sion to the Euro­zone at first opportunity.

In the government’s view, the inter­na­tion­al cri­sis of finan­cial mar­kets has “proven the need for a com­mon mon­e­tary pol­i­cy in Europe”.[16] The Euro is seen as “an irre­place­able pro­mot­er of mar­ket sta­bil­i­ty and guar­an­tee of long-term eco­nom­ic growth“.[17] Join­ing the Euro­zone is the Eston­ian government’s num­ber one pri­or­i­ty in the com­ing years. The gov­ern­ment is deter­mined to car­ry out the painful bud­get cuts at any cost in order to retain Euro-eli­gi­bil­i­ty. The slow­ing econ­o­my has helped curb the high infla­tion rates, mak­ing acces­sion to the Euro­zone in 2011 a real­is­tic prospect, pro­vid­ed that the bud­get deficit can be kept with­in lim­its. Accord­ing to recent pub­lic opin­ion polls, about half of the pop­u­la­tion of Esto­nia sup­ports changeover to the Euro, while 40 per­cent are against it.[18]

Maintaining an open economic space

In line with its long-term lib­er­al mar­ket poli­cies, the Eston­ian gov­ern­ment rejects pro­tec­tion­ist solu­tions to the glob­al cri­sis, argu­ing that “calls to pro­tect mar­kets, for increased state inter­ven­tion into the econ­o­my and the need to pro­tect so-called ‘key sec­tors’” do not con­sti­tute the cor­rect response to the cri­sis. An open eco­nom­ic space based on even com­pe­ti­tion rules should be main­tained, expand­ed and strength­ened. Accord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Ansip, “eco­nom­ic inter­de­pen­dence that goes along with open­ness helps alle­vi­ate the effects of the eco­nom­ic down­turn and cre­ates oppor­tu­ni­ties for new growth”.[19] The free­doms of the inter­nal mar­ket should be extend­ed and deep­ened, and reform of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy should be sped up. The EU bud­get must give greater pri­or­i­ty to inno­va­tion and devel­op­ment, both of which are the basis for the growth of eco­nom­ic com­pet­i­tive­ness. The EU must “stand firm against attempts to build bar­ri­ers in inter­na­tion­al trade” and the cri­sis should not be used as “an excuse to back­track on attempts to lib­er­alise the world economy”.[20] In par­tic­u­lar, trade between the USA and the EU should be devel­oped fur­ther. While par­tial “strength­en­ing of mar­ket rules” (includ­ing reg­u­la­tion and con­trol of finan­cial insti­tu­tions) might be nec­es­sary, such rules should not “crip­ple the market’s abil­i­ty for self-reg­u­la­tion” or “cre­ate an envi­ron­ment in which mar­ket play­ers do not feel their own responsibility”.[21]




[1] Speech by Prime Min­is­ter Andrus Ansip on the Government’s Euro­pean Union pol­i­cy in the Riigikogu, 9 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.valitsus.ee/?id=8809.
[2] Eve­lyn Kaldo­ja, ”Eest­lased peavad ELi oma riig­ile kõige kasu­liku­maks,” Pos­timees, 28 Jan­u­ary 2008, avail­able at: http://www.postimees.ee/?id=74824.
[3] Gov­ern­ment Press Release, ”Peamin­is­ter tutvus­tas Riigiko­gus Eesti seisuko­hti Euroopa Ülemkogul,” 16 June 2008, avail­able at: http://www.valitsus.ee/?id=8314.
[4] “Eston­ian pres­i­dent rat­i­fies Lis­bon Treaty,” 19 June 2008, avail­able at: http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/1213886834.3/ .
[5] Ibid.
[6] Min­istry of For­eign Affairs Press Release, „Delays in Imple­men­ta­tion of Lis­bon Treaty Should Not Inter­fere with Expan­sion of Euro­pean Union,“ 13 July 2008, avail­able at: http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_138/9902.html?arhiiv_kuup=kuup_2008.
[7] „Urmas Paet: Riikide vahel on alati parem rääki­da kui mitte rääki­da,” Pär­nu Pos­timees, 9 May 2008, avail­able at: http://www.vm.ee/est/kat_45/9688.html?arhiiv_kuup=kuup_2008
[8] Speech by Prime Min­is­ter Andrus Ansip on the Government’s Euro­pean Union pol­i­cy in the Riigikogu, 9 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.valitsus.ee/?id=8809.
[9] Eve­lyn Kaldo­ja, ”Eest­lased peavad ELi oma riig­ile kõige kasu­liku­maks,” Pos­timees, 28 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.postimees.ee/?id=74824.
[10] Tran­script of the IV ses­sion of the XI Riigikogu, „VV tege­vus EL poli­iti­ka teostamisel,” 9 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.riigikogu.ee/?op=steno&stcommand=stenogramm&date=1228814686&toimetatud=0&toimetamata=1&paevakord=3238#pk3233.
[11] Eri­ka Kal­da and Erik Gamze­jev, „Pres­i­dent Ilves: “Surutise­le vaata­ma­ta pole töö Eestis otsa lõp­penud”, Põh­jaran­nik, 19 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.president.ee/et/ametitegevus/intervjuud.php?gid=122096.
[12] Pres­i­dent of Esto­nia Toomas Hen­drik Ilves, “The Chal­lenge in Europe: Only uni­fied can the West defend itself. But first it must heal the transat­lantic rift.” Newsweek, 31 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.newsweek.com/id/177415.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Min­istry of For­eign Affairs Press Release, „Eesti peab väga oluliseks ELi ja USA koost­ööd ener­gia­jul­ge­oleku suuren­damisel,“ 9 Jan­u­ary 2008, avail­able at: http://www.vm.ee/est/kat_42/10518.html?arhiiv_kuup=kuup_2009_01.
[16] Speech by Prime Min­is­ter Andrus Ansip on the Government’s Euro­pean Union pol­i­cy in the Riigikogu, 9 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.valitsus.ee/?id=8809.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Gov­ern­ment Press Release, „Eestis toetab eurole ülem­inekut pool elanikkon­nast,” 18 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.valitsus.ee/?id=8854.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.