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.