Will the EU defend democracy?

The future of the ENP and fur­ther enlarge­ment of the EU and NATO are high-salience issues in Esto­nia. The con­flict in Geor­gia is seen as mark­ing a shift of par­a­digm in post-Cold War inter­na­tion­al rela­tions in Europe. In the words of Pres­i­dent Ilves: “It is now quite clear that the assump­tion that the bor­ders of Europe are fixed and that no one will invade any­one are gone”.[1] Estonia’s lead­ers believe the EU has done too lit­tle to help its East­ern neigh­bours: “Europe has not giv­en its neigh­bours the same priv­i­leges as have been giv­en to Rus­sia […] rather than assist­ing those democ­ra­cies with visa poli­cies or with hav­ing an effec­tive Euro­pean neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy, we have decid­ed not to deal with them lest they think they might become part of the EU. I think that ulti­mate­ly it is about whether Europe will defend democ­ra­cies and demo­c­ra­t­ic choice or not. We do not know the answer to that question”.[2]

Increased atten­tion to the East­ern neigh­bours and a deci­sive upgrad­ing of the ENP are seen as an appro­pri­ate response to the Geor­gian cri­sis. The Eston­ian gov­ern­ment wel­comed the Euro­pean Commission’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tion on East­ern Part­ner­ship, released on 3 Decem­ber 2008“The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion on East­ern Part­ner­ship offers the Euro­pean Union’s east­ern neigh­bours con­crete aid and co-oper­a­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties in addi­tion to polit­i­cal sol­i­dar­i­ty, which help to increase sta­bil­i­ty, secu­ri­ty, and eco­nom­ic well-being in the EU neigh­bour­hood”, said For­eign Min­is­ter Paet.[3] Visa facil­i­ta­tion, ener­gy coop­er­a­tion, dis­man­tling of trade bar­ri­ers and active EU involve­ment in solv­ing the frozen con­flicts are regard­ed as par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant pri­or­i­ties for the East­ern Part­ner­ship. In the past, Pres­i­dent Ilves has com­plained that the fact that it is eas­i­er to get an EU-visa in Rus­sia than in Ukraine, Moldo­va and Geor­gia makes “the EU vir­tu­al­ly com­plic­it when it comes to Moscow’s sphere of influence”.[4]

Esto­nia remains a staunch sup­port­er of fur­ther enlarge­ment of the EU and insists that enlarge­ment must pro­ceed despite the EU’s pro­longed con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis. Accord­ing to For­eign Min­is­ter Paet, “it is impor­tant to con­tin­ue the enlarge­ment process in accor­dance with the bases agreed upon in 2006”.[5] The Eston­ian gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to express sup­port to Turkey and Croatia’s reform process­es and the advance­ment of their acces­sion negotiations.

Bucharest Summit ‘No’ to Georgia’s NATO aspirations was a grave mistake

The gov­ern­ment, for­eign pol­i­cy experts and opin­ion lead­ers all share the view that West­ern lead­ers made a major mis­take at the NATO Bucharest Sum­mit when they refused to offer a Mem­ber­ship Action Plan to Geor­gia and Ukraine. It is believed that this was inter­pret­ed by Rus­sia as a green light to do what­ev­er it wants in Geor­gia. Pres­i­dent Ilves said he is con­cerned about the for­ma­tion of a pro-Russ­ian coali­tion in the EU that puts eco­nom­ic inter­ests above the fun­da­men­tal val­ues of Europe.[6]

It is inter­est­ing to note the inter­nal divi­sions with­in the Eston­ian soci­ety with regard to the assess­ment of the Geor­gian cri­sis and per­cep­tions of exter­nal threats more broad­ly. While 79 per­cent of eth­nic Esto­ni­ans sup­port­ed the government’s pro-Geor­gian line, 80 per­cent of the country’s Russ­ian-speak­ers believed that Esto­nia should have remained neu­tral in this con­flict. Two-thirds of eth­nic Esto­ni­ans con­sid­er it like­ly that Rus­sia might attack Esto­nia under the pre­text of defend­ing Russ­ian cit­i­zens resid­ing in Esto­nia. An over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Russ­ian-speak­ers (81 per­cent) con­sid­er such a sce­nario unlikely.[7]

 

 

 

[1] Remarks by Toomas Hen­drik Ilves at the Open Soci­ety Forum held in Tallinn on 6 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at:http://www.president.ee/img/pilt.php?gid=122770.
[2] Ibid. The view that the EU needs to take stronger stance towards Rus­sia after the Geor­gian cri­sis was shared by all major polit­i­cal actors in Esto­nia. For instance, the Euro­pean Affairs Com­mit­tee of the Eston­ian Par­lia­ment pre­pared a joint posi­tion for the Novem­ber 2008 COSAC meet­ing, with the respec­tive com­mit­tees in Latvia, Lithua­nia, and Poland, call­ing for a uni­fied EU stance on Rus­sia and exten­sive assis­tance to Georgia.
[3] Min­istry of For­eign Affairs Press Release, „Paet: Euro­pean Union Plays Strong Role in Sta­bil­is­ing Union’s Neigh­bour­hood,“ 5 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_138/10436.html?arhiiv_kuup=kuup_2008.
[4] “The EU Is Vir­tu­al­ly an Accom­plice of Moscow”, Spiegel Online Inter­na­tion­al, 3 Novem­ber 2008,available at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,588047,00.html.
[5] Min­istry of For­eign Affairs Press Release, „Paet: Euro­pean Union Enlarge­ment Must Con­tin­ue in Accor­dance with Ear­li­er Agree­ments,“ 8 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.vm.ee/eng/kat_138/10446.html?arhiiv_kuup=kuup_2008.
[6] Olivi­er Truc, “Pour le prési­dent estonien, « il faut repenser l’idée même de sécu­rité en Europe,” Le Monde, 28 August 2008.
[7] Tõnis Ormis­sion, „Ava­lik arva­mus ja riigikaitse,” August 2008, avail­able at: http://www.mod.gov.ee/static/sisu/files/NATO_aruanne_2008_08.pdf.