Honourable members of the Riigikogu and ambassadors,
The years ending with number nine in Europe always mark the decennial anniversaries of the events of the last century which were of great significance. This includes the anniversary of the fatal criminal secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the ensuing loss of freedom and World War II. But it also marks the end of an era of undemocratic regimes in Europe, as the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 ended World War I and 1989 saw the end of World War II in Eastern Europe, meaning that totalitarian regimes fell like dominoes. The Baltic Way was organised in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Velvet Revolution took place in former Czechoslovakia, and Poland held its first partly free elections under the leadership of Solidarity. The icing on the cake was the fall of the Berlin Wall, which, with the reunification of Germany, laid the foundation for the reunification of Europe. However, the unification of Europe has not been completed even three decades later. I reminded the President of Ukraine, who recently visited Tallinn, that in the opening speech of our EU Presidency to the European Parliament in July 2017, I expressed my hope of seeing the President of Ukraine in the same role one day. This dream is still alive.
Next year, both the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership Summits will be the litmus test of a new geopolitical Europe for these European countries. Will Europe be able to succeed? 2019 should not be a year in history when metallic curtain started to emerge in front of Europe’s windows. To use the words of the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev, Europe should not become a monastery that jealously guards its heritage. It should also not become a mirage of a monastery. History is not over in Europe and the countries and peoples who strive for democratic ideals, human rights, and social reforms must be given the opportunity to be part of a European family that shares common values. North Macedonia and Albania deserve a new chance.
Europe is a unique continent because it is built on freedoms, human rights, and solidarity, and is democratically governed. The European Union has been an obvious political guarantee for this. But if we think about security, there is no alternative to NATO. I attended the summit dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the alliance a week ago, and I am pleased to announce that the alliance is in a very good shape – its mission is still the protection of allies and it has the necessary plans and capabilities to do so. President Trump has also not remained a voice of one crying in the wilderness: European allies and Canada have increased defence spending for five consecutive years, with 130 billion additional dollars by 2020. There are 9 members in the 2% club this year.
There is no need to panic – Europe is well defended with its allies. The solution is cooperation, not building walls. Therefore, I find it regrettable that the Finnish Presidency’s attempt to find a solution to the involvement of third country allies in the EU’s permanent structured defence cooperation has not yet received the support of everyone. However, considering what can be done in the field of security at the European Union level, this could be a broad-based approach to security that has a clear meaning that is specific to Estonia. A comprehensive approach to security enables the European Union to contribute increasingly to the defence and security of Europe and its Member States. It is important for us that the solidarity clause in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Art. 222 of the TFEU) has an unequivocal meaning, especially when dealing with crises. It is important for us to ensure security of supply and rules for functioning of vital services as well as other essential cross-border services.
We must work together to assess technology risks, prevent hybrid threats, and deal with cyber risks, and make investments that strengthen security.
Honourable members of the Riigikogu,
I have been repeatedly told that Estonia was against the goal of climate neutrality – also in this hall. I confirm that in June, we were not ready to set a binding target yet. At this point, it was not known whether we would be technologically or economically capable of it while living in a low-density area on Latitude 59 degrees North. Today, however, we know that we are capable and what we need to do. I would like to thank the good people of the Tallinn office of the Stockholm Environment Institute, who, at the outset of their exploration of our options and choices, did not know how significant and time-critical this analysis would become. I am pleased that this study has confirmed my belief that climate neutrality is achievable in Estonia. Thanks to this analysis, we were able to send a joint appeal of Baltic States leaders to our colleagues in the European Council. A joint appeal with a message that due to the volume of climate investment needed, it is not right to reduce the overall long-term budget of the European Union or to reduce the resources that enable the Baltic States to achieve these goals.
The European Union’s impact assessment of the next steps will be ready by the same time next year. I am very pleased that it will be completed, because important decisions must be based on the best possible knowledge. This will be followed by concrete proposals that must be realistic and executable, so that we can truly achieve climate neutrality in Europe. It shows that not only do the right things have to be done, but things must also be done in the right way. I would like to thank the Estonian scientists and especially the President of the Academy of Sciences Tarmo Soomere for their active involvement in organising the climate conference in cooperation with the Government Office. I am pleased that Estonia has not only problems or responsibilities, but that Estonian science also has the knowledge and solutions of the new generation. The challenge to go green could inspire the young Estonian startuppers with the best education in Europe as much as digital technology has done so far. You have brought the right problem into our consciousness, now help to bring as many solutions as possible, because tomorrow’s world is yours to build!
The upcoming 2030 National Climate and Energy Plan is a step in the right direction, leaving it up to the Member States to make their own choices. However, I would like to emphasise that unlike many, Estonia is on track to meet its 2020 targets and, due to developments, will probably do even better than the targets. We have already set one of the highest emission reduction targets in the European Union by 2030 compared to 1990 – minus 70 per cent. Additionally, for example, in the field of renewable energy, we are among the five most ambitious countries when we also consider our potential.
I am convinced that the transition to climate neutrality should be technology-neutral and as market-based as possible, as this is the only way to increase opportunities, choices, and freedoms. As we do not have a silver bullet of the right sources of energy, we should not begin to throw aside opportunities that provide energy security to countries from a choice of clean technologies. We also need to continue to strengthen our energy security and security of supply through external connections. This week, the Estonian–Finnish gas connection BalticConnector will be opened in Paldiski, thanks to which we will have a common market of three countries. Last week, the construction of the Lithuanian–Polish power line connection, Harmony Link, began, which is a major project to synchronise the Baltic power systems with Europe. We hope to join the Central European Synchronisation Area in the middle of the decade and are working hard to overcome the last obstacles and ensure the funding of the project next spring. However, due to the goal of climate neutrality, internal and external connections may need to be further strengthened, especially if energy sources are to be located on the west coast of Estonia in the future.
Discussions on climate neutrality, energy transition, and security of supply will surely play a very large part here in the Riigikogu in the coming years. By then, it will become clear what each Estonian person can do for the well-being of the planet and what they can expect from the state. There is probably no walk of life that is not affected by this goal. But our goal is firm: to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 – that is, by 2050, our carbon emissions must be equal to carbon removal. We must also see our great opportunity in this endeavour. This offers us the opportunity to save natural resources, to create jobs and new technologies, but also to reduce dependence on certain energy carriers and their suppliers.
By creating clean alternatives, we want to use our current comforts and not lose opportunities to discover the world. If we previously thought of Rail Baltic as a predominantly strategic connection with European centres, we are now aware of the rail link as an indispensable environmentally-friendly alternative to today’s more polluting modes of transportation. The railway will make an important contribution to the achievement of climate objectives by significantly reducing the traffic load and pollution caused by international freight transport on the highways. I assure you that Rail Baltic continues to be an important strategic goal for the government and we will do our utmost to stay on track and secure the European means to build it. I dedicated more than half of last week’s meeting in Riga with my Baltic colleagues to Rail Baltic. Representatives from Poland, Finland, the European Commission, and the joint undertaking also attended and everyone expressed their commitment. I also met the temporary manager of the joint undertaking to improve communication with each other and speed up the construction of Estonian facilities. I believe we have also found a way to solve the problem around the joint undertaking, which we will discuss again in Tallinn in early February.
As a conclusion to this topic, I also want to say that I and the whole of Estonia continue to be grateful to the people who have worked and are working in the oil shale industry in Ida-Viru County. Our economic development has largely been achieved thanks to their contribution. We will not forget this during the green transition. Europe will not forget it, either, and will help to create new opportunities, investments, and fresh prospects. The government has been working to ensure that oil shale and Ida-Viru County have a place in the new European Commission fund for a fair transition from fossil fuels to clean fuels.
What would Estonia’s European Union policy be without a Digital Single Market? You would probably ask if the Single Market was completed. Progress in this direction does not mean that we can rest on our laurels, because the benefits of the digital market do not create themselves as goods and services on their own. Above all, Europe’s technological capability and a smooth digital transition in the society will be ensured by greater investments in the development of technological capabilities of the next generation. We need to do this together to compete globally. Over the last year, we saw with 5G what lagging behind in terms of development speed, security risk assessment, or price could mean – compared to something that may not have developed in accordance with the market rules. We must ensure that the Single Market develops and functions smoothly and extends choices. We must have the courage to create opportunities for innovation-driven data management in key sectors (such as energy, transport, and health). Europe must also find a solution to the data economy issues in its external trade relations and create legal clarity for the development of artificial intelligence. Future regulation must be such that it accelerates technological progress through smart regulation, making data securely available, and providing legal clarity for consumers and legal certainty for businesses. The draft of the so-called Estonian “kratt” law (AI) will be discussed here next year. I believe that no one wants to live by the “Terms and Conditions” created by the business development departments of remote large companies and exchange uncontrolled personal data for services based on them. You definitely remember the saying “If you are not paying for online service, you are the product”. For the sake of legal certainty and technological development, there is also a need for clarity regarding liability. At the same time, we do not want a legal environment where we have gone too far and not left enough room for technology, creativity, and developers. I hope that by the end of term of the new European Commission, we will have a clear idea of the European data space and the potential of the real-time economy across borders.
Honourable members of the Riigikogu,
I also owe you an explanation as to why this time, the Government’s document on European Union priorities is shorter and more specific. The reason lies in the strategic planning reform carried out by the Government Office, which will result in the umbrella strategy “Estonia 2035” next year. In the future, sectoral development plans and state budget-related programmes will be based on the strategy. The sectoral EU policy will also be an integral part of a comprehensive national process of strategic planning and development plan preparation in the future. This way, it is more closely linked to the state’s larger goals and resources from the start, as European policy-making and cooperation are part of Estonia’s daily life. The plenary assembly of the Riigikogu as well as the committees of the Riigikogu will be actively involved in this work. The day-to-day work on the preparation of positions on European Union issues will, of course, be based on these documents to further protect Estonia’s interests. The two-year cycle of the EU’s document of political priorities allows for more flexible planning of the objectives to be included in the state’s strategies and sectoral development plans. It also allows the state to respond more quickly and flexibly to changes. It is also important for us that the renewed European Semester process and Europe’s long-term budget support the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Estonia’s goals for 2035.
The Government, under the leadership of the Government Office, is currently updating and reorganising the strategic planning of the entire Government. The strategic planning reform will also involve close coordination with the Riigikogu, including the important role of the Riigikogu in this process. I hope that in the future, this will lead to more meaningful and lively discussions with ministers here in front of the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu, including on sectoral European Union policies. I thank the European Union Affairs Committee for its cooperation and very thorough discussions.
It is in Estonia’s interests that there is an influential, united and value-based, solidarity-based, and internally effective European Union in the world. Unfortunately, not all signs in the world are encouraging – according to the think tank Freedom House, the degree of freedom in the world has been falling for 13 consecutive years. Next year, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Estonian constitution. We will do so not only to commemorate the beginning of statehood, the state based on the rule of law, and hard-won freedom, but also the fundamental European rights and freedoms in Estonia. The wave of freedom that swept over Eastern Europe three decades ago came out of the desire and wish to enjoy the human rights and democratic freedoms of the free world.
From a distance, Europe still looks like an oasis of freedoms, with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is probably the most modern human rights treaty in the world, recently turning 10 with the Treaty of Lisbon. Its first sentence states that “The peoples of Europe, in creating an ever closer union among them, are resolved to share a peaceful future based on common values.” The first article of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides for the inviolability, respect, and protection of human dignity, because without it, there will be no peace, no freedoms, and no Europe as we know it. Our geopolitical, ecological, and technological challenges today are also issues of freedoms, opportunities, and rights. Working together in Europe, we are addressing these challenges in a way that creates opportunities, increases freedoms, and respects human dignity. These standards are what others want too, and companies need.
The recent President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, quoted Vaclav Havel in her speech, saying that she was going to “work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed”. The Conference on the Future of Europe must give citizens the opportunity to address and provide decent solutions to key issues, because no one else in the world will do it for us. Solutions based on human dignity are also good solutions. This dialogue with citizens must certainly not become Vaclav Havel’s “Ptydepe” – a bureaucratic newspeak, doublethink, or even a Kafkaesque process. Europe is not a political project for the elite, but for the people of Europe, and therefore I am particularly pleased that, at the end of 2019, support among native speakers of both Estonian and Russian is very high – 81% and 79%, respectively. Europe must show hope for the future, be the solution, and inspire the next generations. Just as when we hear the word ‘Estonia’, the word ‘Europe’ must speak to our souls. And I think that the Riigikogu, as the people’s representation, should be involved as closely as possible in this work in the future.
I wish President Charles Michel, President Ursula von der Leyen, and the European Commission good luck! I also thank President Tusk and President Juncker for leading Europe, the European Council, and the European Commission at a critical time.