Honourable President of the Riigikogu, Honourable members of the Riigikogu,
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share with you the most essential topics of this heated political summer. Before concentrating on domestic and current affairs, let’s take a quick look at the bigger picture. Let’s see Europe around us with its strengths and weaknesses and how this all affects Estonia.
A strong disagreement between coalition and opposition on the touchiest topics of the day in our home country shows everyone where the biggest discrepancy is in Estonia’s current policy. This is a clear indication why the responsibility to serve the best interests of Estonia in the Union lies with certain political parties.
The reason behind this is understanding primary security interests and geopolitical location of Estonia - whether we want a strong and united Europe instead of weak and fragmented Union. This is also a question of sharing common European values, a question of openness and tolerance. A question of self-confidence and believing in the ability of Estonia to be successful in today’s globalised world as a society sharing European values.
Following the Eurozone summit which lasted until Monday morning and resulted in a compromise, some commentators have posed a question whether Greece has lost its independence now? As if independence means that you can do only pleasant and popular things and excludes any responsibility.
On the contrary, independence means an opportunity, ability and above all a responsibility to do everything that needs to be done. It means an ability to decide first and foremost whether to be or not to be. You still have such choice when standing on the brink of the abyss, but after that there will be only forces of nature. Real choice of the Prime Minister of Greece was whether to be and do these things inside or outside the Eurozone.
Greek government had and still has this ability to decide, despite the fact that playing with the people and future of a country is extremely irresponsible. Disregard of economic logic cannot be successful for a long-term perspective, you cannot escape real life. I would like to remind that at the end of last year, as a result of the reforms led by the previous Greek government, the national budget reached a primary surplus and the Greeks were able to return to the market. A growth rate of 0.5% was forecasted for the current year and everything indicated that there is a solution, although not an easy one. However, by now the situation has reversed to such an extent that Greek economy is expected to shrink by 2-4% in the nearest future.
At the same time, the situation in the banking sector has deteriorated as well – there are capital controls in Greece, banks are closed and removal of refinancing from the market has made the banks completely dependent on the emergency liquidity assistance of the European Central Bank. It is quite obvious that the banks need a supplementary recapitalisation. In medical terms, Greek economy has been connected to an artificial circulation.
Populist experiments and delays by the political parties that won the elections have resulted in the situation where Greece has taken a long step backwards instead of taking the last security loan. Six months ago, Greek government managed to submit to its people an invoice which is equal to or even bigger than the estimated volume of a possible aid package (86 billion).
Considering the aforementioned, you might ask how certain can we be that Greeks will be able to bring this to an end and get rid of their debts at the same time? Without a doubt, Greece must start all over again the difficult path of reforms and cutbacks and this time the journey will be even more tortuous than before. The only reason why we are now discussing the prospect of a new reform programme and aid package lies in the fact that Greek government decided to turn back from the brink of the abyss and expressed a clear desire to continue in the Eurozone and promised to apply all possible measures for the achievement of this goal. Yesterday, Greece was able to reach the first milestone when its Parliament approved the first laws with the support of three-quarter of its members, in order to initiate the negotiations, and the Parliament should also be able to reach the next milestones in the coming days.
This is the first necessary step made by Greece to restore trust. The ability to join the forces of the government and opposition in a critical moment is of vital importance. You may now ask what will we gain from this? Wouldn’t it be more simple and beneficial for us if the Greek economy would collapse and the country would leave the Eurozone? It would be very easy to say that the Greeks should go, that we do not need them. After all, we manage with our financial matters!
Such opinion might be popular, but it is very short-sighted. Even the initial financial damage brought along by Greece’s withdrawal from the Eurozone could be measured in hundreds of millions of Euros. And this would be just the tip of the iceberg. More serious danger lies in damaging Europe’s unity, losing European ideals. The European Union could have never been created and maintained by populists. It is much easier to burn bridges than to build them.
Such decision would have a direct adverse impact on our security. A country which is insolvent and behaves unexpectedly would be very susceptible to any external influence, including a direct danger to the security of Estonia and other allies. None of us want to share the table of the European Union and NATO with a member that is dependent on some hostile country. But this will happen, if we will turn our backs to Greece.
We must never forget that when European countries turn their back to each other’s problems, turn against each other, then the independence of Estonia - here at the edge of the Western world - will be among the first victims.
I consider it very important that we will remain closely connected to our allies and we will not reverse European political development. However, I would like to repeat for those who do not want to or cannot see the bigger picture that even from a cynical and pragmatic viewpoint, Greece’s withdrawal from the Eurozone would be a great loss for Estonia. A loss that is measured in hundreds of millions of Euros.
Honourable members of parliament,
Solving the Mediterranean refugee crisis requires a serious dedication by all of us.
Article 14 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved in 1945, says that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In Estonia we probably do not have to explain to anybody how important this right was and is for the Estonians who were deprived of their homes, lands and country several generations ago because of war and occupation. Mentally speaking, it was not easier for them to cope with their lives than the people who stayed in Estonia and it is very likely that most of these refugees would have exchanged life in a foreign country for a ticket back home. Karl Ristikivi has expressed this emotion very well in his poem “'I too was on the road to Arcadia once.”
The right that is secured by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has also been confirmed by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 18). A right for asylum on equal grounds is of vital importance for exercising the fundamental freedoms of Schengen area and Europe. So that people can move and work freely inside Europe without internal border controls. Current European legislation imposes liability primarily on the countries linked to the people. It means that the biggest responsibility lies with the border states.
This requirement might be reasonable up to a certain limit, but in a serious crisis situation the burden is too heavy for the countries at the forefront. It is not enough to send more border guards, when we cannot send back the people.
For that reason, the European Commission proposed that all the European countries should take a fraction of these people under their wings. This helps also to avoid demands to restore border controls and reverse freedoms in Europe. It is also an expression of solidarity to the countries which have direct borders with the Mediterranean Sea.
However, I have repeatedly stressed that the mechanical quota offered by the Commission is disproportionate for Estonia. The basis for the solution that is currently lying on the table of the Ministers of Interior is a model proposed by Estonia and unanimously approved by all the fractions of the Riigikogu at the European Union Affairs Committee, i.e. a proportional division according to the sizes of countries. I believe that Estonia is able to receive these couple of hundred people within a year without any kind of hysteria and panic.
The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Social Affairs are preparing a plan, in order to be prepared for the integration of the people coming to Estonia and helping them to find a work. So that in addition to the financial resources of the European Union, we would be substantially ready in terms of specialists and well-prepared agenda.
Besides human compassion, general human values and solidarity towards the allies which are most important leitmotifs of the refugee topics, I would like to end with the words of Sten Tamkivi: “A vital prerequisite for innovation is tolerance towards others.” If we want to be a modern and developing country, it is inevitable that we will not limit ourselves just to a quick acceptance of new global technologies. Our curiosity and vision of the world should be enriched by open attitude towards different ideas and viewpoints. This is why we must try to treat other people with respect, if this does not deviate from the rules of our communal life. There is no justification or excuse for racism or any kind of hatred in our daily life. After all, a man is the measure of all things.
Entering into the criticism-rich period from the post-election “criticism-free 100 days” era I have another great worry in my heart. It is a worry over the Estonian political culture. If so far Estonia has had a tradition of usually holding a larger and broader consensus in the field of foreign policy, where the uniform foreign representation of the country is a priority, then now it has at times been substituted with inciting, provoking and scoring a cheap domestic political point or rating.
I very much hope that the fundamental principle of our foreign policy – never alone again – will not sink into the black and white threat of populism as well. A Europe operating on the principles of the Hammurabi code – eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth – would not be understandable for its citizens or its member states either. Responding to populism with populism equals the same. Running a country on the basis of opinion polls and Internet comments will lead us to a dead-end very quickly.
Estonia should never allow itself governing in the heat of the moment, on the basis of the illusory expression of the people’s will and political magic. A state based on appearance may however also easily become just an illusion itself and in the end even so independent, that nothing will depend on it anymore. If Europe loses the ability to make compromises, then Europe itself will disappear as well.
This is I am making a call here today to all political forces - to make Estonian foreign policy culture more responsible and statesman-like. Trust me, the voters will value it significantly more than swaying with each breeze like a weather vane.
Honourable members of parliament,
We also need responsibility and a long-term view to tackle a security situation, which has significantly changed.
Because even though in the past months Europe’s main focus has been turned towards Greece and the European migration problems, we must not and cannot forget, that right here in Europe, in the immediate vicinity of our borders, there is still war going on. For over a year and a half already the war in Eastern Ukraine continues, it is not slowing down or ending.
We have to continue the policy, which has so far convinced Russia well, that the West does not forget what has been done. Even though it may seem to some that Russia’s behaviour is the new normality, it is Estonia’s moral duty to stand for Europe continuing sanctions for as long as Russia has complied with all international agreements. I.e. as long as Crimea has not been returned to Ukraine. Europe must use the means that we have to continue raising the price of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine to convince Russia that its activities in Ukraine are detrimental to Russia itself.
We must continue convincing Russia that the future chosen by the Ukrainian people, based on democracy, justice and free trade, is right. We must foremost support economy, social stability, and normalisation of the quality of life. We must politically and practically support Ukraine’s Western integration, be it visa waiver, access to education or training of the medics of the Ukrainian defence forces. We have to continue the strengthening of the deterrent position of ourselves and our region. The government has done this during its first one hundred days in office.
Almost a year ago when going to the NATO Wales summit, I stressed, that three elements are of a fundamental importance for Estonian security: presence of allies, prepositioning of equipment and defence planning. I am grateful to our North American and European allies for their solidarity and military presence. I am glad that this year more allied forces soldiers have carried out training in Estonia and the nearby regions – on land, sea, in the air, in cyberspace – than ever before in history.
A month ago we launched a NATO control element on the territory of the headquarter of the Defence Forces, where allies from the USA, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Poland, France, Germany, the UK and Hungary will begin to engage in receiving the NATO rapid response forces hand-in-hand with Estonian servicemen. The United States Secretary of Defence, who visited Estonia on Victory Day, confirmed the prepositioning of US technology and equipment into NATO’s border countries and we have made important progress towards a proactive defence planning in NATO. Such solidarity and standing for shared values has made NATO the most powerful military alliance today, no member of which has become a victim of military aggression in 66 years.
We are moving in the right direction. A lot has been done but a lot is still ahead, because Estonian security is something, which is never perfect. Our national defence will never be finished - we will continue strengthening it domestically and in cooperation with allies.
You probably know well, that when the topic is security and protection of Estonian independence, I tend to get carried away. I admit that I am very passionate about these issues and I reaffirm that Estonian security continues to be a firm priority of the government I lead.
Of course important aims of this government are also boosting economic growth and income and supporting families with children, but here the division between the Estonian parties does not run between the aims but only the means. Some policies just work and spend less of the taxpayer’s money and others at the same time spend a lot but do not work at all, whatever you do. Some policies are so expensive that they may bankrupt the entire state.
Greece has probably made distinguishing between these policies easier for many. In the end, benefits paid by the state and the tax revenue collected by the state must be balanced.
Would the proponents of imbalance, living beyond means and spending at the expense of future generations want to stand in an ATM queue in Athens together with the Greeks today? Which ones of you, dear fellow countrymen, would want to do that in Tallinn? Would you want to live in a country, where your pension is high on paper but which cannot be paid out to you for months? I doubt it.
As a government we have been heavily criticised for the fact that we continued the policy that has brought growth so far or the fact that we took our 100-day programme seriously. But pensions and well as child and subsistence benefits will rise in Estonia next year and this money exists in the state budget 100% and will reach accounts without fail.
With the first one hundred days the government has taken – and shaped into law with your help – decisions, which lower the tax burden of workers as well as pensioners; which raise the already mentioned benefits and ensure a sense of security, that Estonia is well protected. In addition we have set out plans for the creation of a support scheme for pensioners living alone as well as a maintenance assistance fund for single parents.
We have rolled up our sleeves and also made preparations for a reform, which has been tried to be implemented for 20 years, but so far without results. The first one hundred days have only increased our belief that a local administration reform is possible. We have also taken a step forward with the work capacity reform and I continue to consider it very important, that all Estonian people, who want to work, are actually welcome to the labour market as well.
The coalition agreement contains smaller and larger reforms and mini-reforms of the Estonian state for the entire coming four years. Three credible parties have formed the coalition government and the chairmen of the partner-parties with fresh mandates have confirmed to me, that they too take the fulfilling of the rest of the programme as seriously as we took the fulfilling of the 100-day programme so far.
I am certain, that therefore good news will be available to enterprises and employees as well as pensioners, parents of today and of the future, liberals dreaming of an administrative reform as well as privatisation.
The government coalition continues to be ready to however also discuss additional ideas, which help protect Estonia better, Estonian families to grow, and Estonian enterprises and workers to earn more in the tough international competition. We have stated clearly what the large goals of the coalition government are and all ideas for fulfilling these aims are welcome.
They will only however become a part of the government’s programme of action on three conditions:
first - that these policies work. This means that they do not only just sound nice, but considering known patterns of human behaviour, will also lead to the aim set in practice. In this respect Estonia is definitely interested in involving the international knowledge of Estonia’s best social scientists in assessing the potential performance of the proposed policies;
second - that they do not bankrupt Estonia in the years ahead. This means that these policies are affordable in the economic sense to the reducing community of Estonian working taxpayers in the years ahead as well;
and third - that when assessing the fulfilment of the previous two points, there is consensus between the three coalition parties.
To all those for whom the future of Estonia and Europe is important, a work-filled summer can be predicted to be followed by a work-filled autumn.