Honoured Chairman of the parliament!
Members of the parliament!
I am honoured to present to the parliament this yearly summary of the implementation of Estonia’s European Union Policy. The parliament has received a written framework document for 2015–2019, which will complete the presentation.
The last five years have presented Europe with a number of serious challenges: an aftermath of the economic and debt crisis, acts of aggression in Europe, the migration crisis, a political crisis of the United Kingdom exiting the Union, accompanied and amplified by a crisis of our values.
Thus, the Western unity, which is so important to us, was repeatedly challenged in attitudes and actions, and I feel that it is safe to say that we were constantly under the risk of losing ourselves among those crises. There have certainly been moments when nothing seemed sacred anymore, and the risk of being sundered, encased, and deprived of our ability to take action is by all means still actual. This period may thus be epitomised with words by the famous Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “Who speaks of victory? To endure is all.”
As political scientist Ivan Krastev says, the crises have made clearer than any policy ever could that Europeans are all part of the same political union and depend on each other. We have all striven to find common ground, even on the most complicated subjects, to maintain the unity of the European Union.
The main constructive conclusion is not that we have cooperated sufficiently, but that we have not cooperated enough. Selfishness, whipping, unwillingness to compromise, and escaping to the past would only be – as Polish Nobel-winning poet Czesław Miłosz said – “an appropriation of the past to make it more pleasant.” At the same time, we all know that the sky of the past was not bluer and the grass not greener.
A successful cooperation can only be measured by maintaining unity, willingness to compromise, and staying true to one’s own convictions. We must evolve, learn, and adapt, but also be determined to prepare for the next crisis, not the previous one.
Thus, allow me to proclaim the first framework principle of the basis of our EU policy, which is as actual today as it was four years ago: “The cornerstones of the European Union’s common values and cooperation are trust and solidarity, and Estonia is ready to contribute to their promotion. In planning and implementing its European Union policies for the period 2015–2019, Estonia abides by the principle that the EU must be strong, open, unified, and capable to evolve. Estonia sees the EU as a solution to a number of challenges facing us, and in developing its policies, Estonia prefers to proceed within the framework of the Treaties, including in the process as many Member States as possible.”
Honoured members of the parliament!
The European Union is and will always remain a unique alliance of peace and security in the history of humankind, a political initiative from the beginning. This year, we celebrated a centenary of the First World War, a bloody time when empires were destroyed, but small countries, including Estonia, were born – and then swept away by hostile totalitarian regimes with the cost of even greater suffering.
We are reminded of this period by a Memorial to the victims of Communism, opened in Maarjamäe this year, with words by Paul-Erik Rummo engraved to the entrance, “hold fast to each other, a clan of wild bees swarming free.” I still remember when Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, declared this poem in fluent Estonian on the Freedom Square in July 2017, the beginning of the Estonian Presidency of the European Union. The Polish are as familiar as we are with the consequences of losing common ground and cooperation.
I agree with the statement by Emmanuel Macron, President of France, as well as Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, that protecting the citizens is the first and one of the main objectives of every political union, and Europe deserves to be protected. We should address the issue of protecting Europe and the importance of contribution by the Member States. I am extremely proud that during our Presidency, Estonia saw it as a priority, while also significantly improving the defence cooperation with France and Germany. Still, Europe must first take on its own obligations and fulfil the commitment they took on as an ally.
The steps that the European Union has taken to support the defence cooperation in the fields of operational capabilities, common projects, research cooperation, military mobility, hybrid threats, strategic communication, and many more, have encouraged us greatly, but they must also be concluded. The constantly tightening cooperation between the European Union and NATO helps to create a synergy through common efforts of the members and increase societal resilience in the face of fresh threats. The European Union can certainly shed more light on the comprehensive concept of security and thus contribute even more to the security and well-being of European citizens.
The action plan to tackle the spread of false information, which was recently presented by the European Commission and will hopefully receive great support by the European Council, is an important step in defending the European values and our citizens, because free media is one of the main cornerstones of a democratic society. The campaigns that promote lying, hatred, and fear that we have witnessed in the previous years are constantly destroying a free and open society that we all rely on.
The European Commission that will assume office after the 2019 elections must certainly pay even more attention to security, which also includes creating the tightest possible security relations with the United Kingdom. The actions of the European Union can only complement the efforts of our allies in the coming years. The security of Europe continuously relies on strong transatlantic alliances and the defence capabilities of our allies, which is why we must constantly contribute to maintaining and developing them.
The Treaties of Rome that created the Single Market entered into force 60 years ago, on 1 January 1958. The Single Market that has evolved from the Treaties of Rome relies on the four freedoms and has been the most efficient support for political and economic integration and human relations since the beginning.
Estonians, too, sense these positive changes, mainly for the opportunity to travel in the world without borders, but also in daily financial matters. Estonian level of prosperity is approaching 80% of the European Union’s average and Member States of the European Union are Estonia’s main trading partners – nearly three quarters of our goods and services are exported to the European internal market. In the first nine months of the current year, Estonian export to the European Union increased by 7.3%.
The European common external trade policies have also supported Estonian entrepreneurs in increasing the market share outside of the economic union. As of 2004, the Estonian export of goods to third countries has increased from a billion euros to nearly 3.5 billion. According to the latest assessment by the European Commission, 22% of Estonian job positions are directly related to opportunities created by the European Union trade policy. I am glad that this year, Estonia has significantly increased our export to the U.S., and that Singapore has become an important trading partner, for they just entered into a trade and investment agreement with the European Union.
These numbers are, above all, the result of the great efforts of our entrepreneurs, investors, and employees, who have created goods and services based on global demand. The European Union common internal market and trade policy has given us opportunities to enter new markets and achieve a sense of security. For those reasons, the regulated and open world economy is of vital importance to the well-being of Estonian people.
The European Union’s common external trade policy must stand for its maintenance and creating new opportunities. Free trade agreements of the new generation must create non-discriminating access for European enterprises to both personal and non-personal data of third countries while maintaining individual rights to control data usage and the protection of privacy.
A stronger and more thorough internal market is in Estonia’s best interests, but it will also create opportunities to all European enterprises to compete globally and on equal basis. For that reason, Estonia along with other countries who are strong believers in internal markets has invested a significant amount of political energy in an internal market that operates with as few obstacles as possible, excluding all unnecessary bureaucracy for citizens as well as enterprises.
Estonia has certainly left a great mark in the creation on the European Union digital internal market, which affects the lives and convenience of enterprises and citizens on the most primary level: the fastest and most visible change is a decrease in the prices of communication and roaming.
A large proportion of our people and entrepreneurs are also affected by the termination of geo-blocking and mobility of information content, the validity of digital signatures in the whole European Union, establishment of companies, global possibilities for concluding transactions and solving disputes, and a common digital gate to gain access to services in other Member States.
Hopefully by spring, most of the 29 initiatives will be filed and we could make a generalised statement that the market has entered the digital era at least in a legislative sense. If you multiply the number of regulations and markets by 28, you get the so-called digital Galapágos effect, which could have devastated the European digitalised economy and the potential for a developed society.
In addition to the creative initiatives, the European Commission has given digital development a recurring and important position in the new budget proposal. This does not only concern the new Digital Europe programme of 9.2 billion euros, but the whole budget, including the separation of 1.5 billion euros to implement the common artificial intelligence action plan. Heads of states and governments who gathered in Tallinn in September 2017 where the ones who pointed digital development in that direction.
I believe that we have developed to a point where as of 2019, at least in Europe, we do not have to separate the internal market from the digital internal market. They are synonyms: creating a common European data space for every field of operation from space and transport data to health data is a crucial prerequisite for a services market with significantly improved quality.
For me, the most important achievement during this period has been a change in the perspective that the concept of digital is not a separate unit, but a means for improving societal welfare created by the civil society in cooperation with the private and public sectors. If we were to be technologically left behind from the rest of the world, it would not only jeopardise our welfare, but also quickly turn out to be a vital security issue. My gratitude goes to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission, and all officials in Estonia as well as Europe who have contributed to the digital development of the European Union.
The internal market is inseparable from the welfare of our people as well as social and environmental policies that are in direct correlation with our values, whereas data, knowledge, innovation, banking, the capital market, energetics, and connections have also been important factors. Previous governments have continuously improved Estonian connection to Europe through infrastructure. I am very glad that, metaphorically, the proverbial cornerstone has been laid to integrate the gas and electricity market, legally as well as physically.
Not long ago, I addressed the President of the European Commission on the issue of allowing market forces and the private sector to collect their share on the gas market as they already have on the electricity market. Leaders of the European Commission and the Baltic States as well as system operators have created all prospects to bring us to the next level on the field of energy by the middle of the following decade.
As for transport connections, I will first remind you the statement by the three Baltic States, groundlessly unnoticed in the fall, to turn Via Baltica into a highway that is suited for self-driving technologies and connected to the 5G network. Self-driving and electrically mobile machines are quite definitely the issue of the near future, for they gain ground by the digital as well as the green revolution. All three Baltic States are actively working towards ensuring a sufficient financing from new long-term budgets to establish the Rail Baltica railway infrastructure. As for the principal basis of the funding, I tend to be cautiously optimistic due to the proposal by the European Commission, but the financing obviously depends on the quality and pace of the development of this project.
We must certainly continue to make efforts both locally and on the level of joint ventures to stay on schedule with the project and procurements. I am very glad that the Finnish active participation in the Rail Baltica project – sought after for years and very significant – has now become tangible. This has also vivified discussions on transferring the Finnish Northern railway connection to our common TEN-T network corridor, as well as on the idea of the Helsinki-Tallinn railway tunnel.
Last year, parliaments of the three states conclusively approved the agreement on development of Rail Baltica, so in principle, it is already tangible and must be established in the following years. Rail Baltica is a never-before-seen opportunity for ensuring that the Nordic and Baltic states are better connected with the rest of Europe, but it also allows us to intensify national, economic, and human relations between Finland and the Baltic states, who all just celebrated their centenaries, and Poland.
Honoured members of the parliament!
Preserving a clean living environment is our obligation before future generations. One of the most important conceptual landmarks of the previous years was the conclusion of agreements to prevent climate changes by 2030. Let me remind you that one of our aims is to keep a global temperature rise below 2 degrees by 2050. Recent discussion in the national panel on climate changes revealed that humans are facing huge negative impacts even if average temperature should rise by 1.5 degrees.
We can take pride in many things in Estonia in terms of environment, such as the exceptional natural diversity, abundant forests, clean air and water, but also the system of reusable packaging.
Unfortunately, there are great “buts” that convince us that we must start operating in a more environment-friendly manner and take bold new steps in creating new possibilities. Estonian energy system and transportation are a regrettably red flag in comparison with the European indicators of carbon emission per person, while constantly increasing amounts of waste and their usage are also some of our larger concerns. We must take a serious look at ourselves in the mirror in the following decade and start organising our everyday lives in a more environment-friendly manner.
I am often asked whether the global efforts give results. I do believe in them and see no other way than for Europe to take a strong lead in solving this issue that affects the whole humanity. Let me remind you that the measures of control agreed in the Montreal Protocol in 1987 by 191 countries have brought about the steady recovery of the ozone layer above the Antarctic. It is esteemed that the average ozone concentration as well as that in the Arctic region should recover by 2050, and the ozone hole above the Antarctic should recover between 2060 and 2075. Humans must make some serious changes to bring the Paris Agreement to effect.
Whereas this year’s final Council meeting is not far, I wish to touch briefly on the topical subjects of migration and the United Kingdom exiting the European Union as well as the Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As for migration, I am glad that our determined efforts in the European Union and in cooperation with third countries have resulted in gaining control over mass migration. If we look at the negotiations on the so-called asylum package, it is evident that no agreements on steady and obligatory migration quota can be achieved without fracturing Europe.
I agree with the principle of the European Commission that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – meaning that we should first approve proposals that are essential and accomplishable in the present. Estonia continues to believe that all countries must contribute to helping those in need, but relocation must work on strictly voluntary basis and act as one of many measures applicable in a crisis.
Another important subject in the Council will probably be the agreement of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union, and our future relations. Today, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom will give an initial political evaluation on the previous two years’ work of the negotiators. As President of the Council Donald Tusk said, there are no winners in this process, and we can only take comfort in having an agreement of some sort at all. The current one is the best possible agreement, because it would allow us to remain close partners.
I sincerely hope that common sense will win, and I believe that we must create a basis for strong relations with the United Kingdom, our close ally, while hoping that Brexit will somehow be reversible.
I believe that many have struggled with the question of what will happen if all exiting agreements fail. I leave the task of explaining the internal affairs of the United Kingdom to British politicians, but I do wish to emphasise that the European Union, including Estonia, have also prepared for a conclusion without an agreement. Hopefully, these contingencies will remain untouched.
Unfortunately, we must now again address the issue of aggression towards Ukraine. The situation has not improved in occupied Ukrainian regions and sanctions against Russia must be expanded. I unequivocally condemn Russian military attack on the three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait that resulted in occupying the Ukrainian ships and sailors. This is a serious violation of international law and an aggression against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
I steadfastly support Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as future measures by the UN, the European Union, and NATO to support Ukraine. Estonia is prepared to support additional, extensive, or stricter restrictive measures against Russia.
As the current government is providing the overview for the last time, I hereby send my regards to the European Union Affairs Committee as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee and their team for a successful cooperation and common mindset. Estonian perspectives are formed in the cooperation and unity of the government and the parliament. I know that you have engaged in long-term analysis and preparations to bring the work of the parliament on European Union issues to the Estonian people, and I also thank you for including the Government Office. I hope that the new parliament with a fresh mandate can address those issues in depth.
I hereby declare that I myself am, as well as leaders of future governments and their members will hopefully be, always prepared to step in front of the commission or the parliament plenary to discuss the European Union policies or topical issues. I hope that Estonian politicians will continue to actively explain to our citizens the need for a unified European Union, mutual understanding, and compromises.
I will end my speech by quoting the beautiful statement by Bono, an Irish musician and lead singer of U2, “European values and aspirations make Europe so much more than just a geography. They go to the core of who we are as human beings, and who we want to be. That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about. To prevail in these troubled times, Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling.”
I wish us all the best for this emotional journey.
Stand strong, Europe!
Stand strong, Estonia!