chapter  7
Estonia: Eager to set an example in Europe
Pages 13

Institutions and procedures Estonia applied for EU membership in November 1995, just after its neighbors and major trade partners Finland and Sweden had become members. Earlier that year Estonia signed an EU Association Agreement and created a minister without portfolio responsible for EU affairs. A European Integration Office (EIO) was set up in the State Chancellery in early 1996 to coordinate domestic preparations for EU membership (Hololei 2009: 92). It was soon realized that it would be more effective to move EU coordination under the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister, thus the EIO became part of the State Chancellery and its director regularly participated in government cabinet meetings. The redundant and ineffective position of Minister for EU affairs was eliminated shortly thereafter in 1997, and that year an EU Affairs Committee was created in the Parliament. After accession, the EIO became the EU Secretariat, still part of the State Chancellery. Unlike the former Warsaw Pact countries, the Baltic States had to establish many new institutions from scratch after the restoration of their independence in 1991. These included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which had already begun functioning in 1990). In 1996, the European Commission established a Delegation in Tallinn and Estonia established its Mission to the EU in Brussels. Following the granting of the status of candidate country, the Estonian Ministry of

Foreign Affairs (MFA) upgraded its existing tiny bureau for EU affairs to a fullblown Department for European Integration, which was made responsible to the newly created post of Undersecretary for European Union Affairs at the MFA (Saarsalu-Layachi 2009: 84). The position of Political Director was created in the MFA to bring it into line with EU practice. During the course of the accession process, Estonia became a donor of development assistance, and thus a small new bureau of Development Cooperation was set up in the MFA. As Estonia’s development cooperation increased significantly after accession, the bureau expanded and is now the External Economic and Development Cooperation Department. To everyone’s surprise, Estonia was the one of the six candidate countries chosen to begin accession negotiations in 1997. Estonia had distinguished itself by its rapid free-market reforms (Van Elsuwege 2008). This was a tremendous breakthrough because at this point Estonia was a little-known “post-Soviet” country, and it was still widely perceived geopolitically that Western organizations should not be crossing the “red line” of the border of the former Soviet Union. This accomplishment also made the European Commission change its nomenclature by including the Baltic States among the Central and Eastern European Countries and no longer treating them as a separate category. In its accession strategy, Estonia strove to be the “best pupil in the class,” raising few awkward issues and demanding few derogations in order to close negotiating chapters as rapidly as possible. Estonia was acutely aware that as the only post-Soviet state and the poorest country of the “Luxembourg group” of candidate countries, it had to strive harder to prove itself and was at greater risk of being left behind the door. Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was one of the easiest chapters to conclude. Estonia began to align itself with CFSP positions prior to accession. Accession negotiations, which began in March 1998, were led by the MFA with the Foreign Minister as the formal head of the Estonian delegation and the MFA’s Undersecretary for EU Affairs as the chief negotiator. The Estonian Mission to the European Union, now Permanent Representation, in Brussels rapidly became the largest and most important Estonian diplomatic mission, including the representatives of many line ministries in addition to the MFA. To make its case heard, Estonia established embassies during 1996-7 in all the remaining EU member states where it had not been represented, even if in many cases these were only “one-man” missions. At present Estonia has just over 30 embassies worldwide, of which the overwhelming majority are located in EU and NATO countries. In joining the EU, there was debate about how EU membership fits with the Estonian Constitution. The “no” campaign in Estonia’s 2003 EU membership referendum used Article One of the Constitution, which states that “The independence and sovereignty of Estonia are timeless and inalienable,” as its main argument. The focus on an abstract principle turned out to be a miscalculation, however, since the general desire for a higher standard of living and security soundly trumped the Euroskeptics’ arguments (Pettai and Ehin 2005). The EU

Constitutional Treaty was ratified without much discussion by the Estonian Parliament in 2005, after it had been rejected in the French and Dutch referendums. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Parliament in 2008 was even smoother and quicker, because Estonia was eager to demonstrate its commitment to European integration. One of the main selling points of the Lisbon Treaty in the Estonian public discourse was that it would enable Europe to “speak with one voice” in its external relations – for Estonians this meant first and foremost toward Russia. Once in the EU and NATO, Estonia continued on its trajectory of embedding itself as quickly and firmly as possible into European and international organizations. Estonia became a member of the OECD in November 2010 and the European single currency on 1 January 2011. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was probably the only EU leader who has claimed that joining the eurozone was a matter of “security” for his nation. Ironically, Estonia joined just as the eurozone was plunged into its debilitating debt crisis and question marks were raised regarding its very future. In this new context, Estonia’s move could also be viewed as a contribution to the integration of Europe. Indeed, European Commission President Barroso stated that Estonia’s membership showed that the euro was still attractive: “The willingness of Estonia to join the Euro is a real and concrete demonstration of the importance that the Euro has for all us in the European Union” (European Commission 2010). The question of Estonia’s contribution to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF ) and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is understandably unpopular with the public because Estonia is poorer than those countries which need assistance, and supporting those states which have flouted the rules goes against commonsense principles. Nevertheless, the government has not hesitated or flinched at backing ever-greater obligations. There has not been the reluctance shown by fellow poor new member state Slovakia or wealthier neighbor Finland, often the example that Estonia follows. There seems to be a prevailing sense that as the newest member of the eurozone club, it would be entirely inappropriate for Estonia to be making its own demands. Nevertheless, in spring 2012 the ESM was referred to Estonia’s Supreme Court by the State Ombudsman, who asserted that it violates the Estonian Constitution. Rait Maruste, the Chairman of the Parliament’s Constitutional Committee, countered with the argument that “for us the European Union is a question of strategic security . . . this is a circumstance where the general national interest outweighs the specific functioning principles of the sovereign state” (Maruste 2012), a statement which reveals the thinking behind the Estonian government’s and elites’ approach to the EU. The new European External Action Service (EEAS) was welcomed by Estonia in the expectation that it would strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of European foreign policy as well as provide practical added value, especially expanding Estonia’s diplomatic reach in countries where it does not have its own representations (Viilup 2012). The major benefit would be for consular services, since Estonia has only a handful of embassies outside of Europe (Estonian Government 2011: 55). Initially, the prospects for small, new member states in staffing the EEAS were poor. However, recently Estonia finally managed to

secure one Head of Delegation posting (Macedonia). Though the Estonian MFA considers the EEAS an important partner, it has been disappointed by its performance to date, and in the MFA’s current strategic planning the EEAS is not viewed as a significant factor and is hardly mentioned. In December 2011 Estonia joined 11 other member states in sending a letter to Baroness Catherine Ashton demanding more effective coordination of the EEAS (Vogel 2012). With EU membership, Estonia has tried to maximize its limited resources for diplomatic representation in third countries by cooperating with other EU members, first and foremost its close neighbors, in manning stations (Välisministeerium 2011). Estonia and Latvia share diplomatic premises in Cairo, an Estonian diplomat was placed in the Finnish Embassy in New Delhi, and Finland will place one of its diplomats in the Estonian Embassy in Georgia. In 2012, a major structural reform within the MFA was launched. Its main goal was to create larger (and hopefully more efficient) departments and reduce the number of directors, which had proliferated as the Estonian diplomatic service matured and expanded and an increasing number of diplomats with ambassadorial rank returned to headquarters with the expectation of filling a position worthy of their status. The reform also included a rationalization of the EU Department. Desk officers covering individual EU member states were shifted from the Political Department to the EU Department. The second Political Department, covering North America, Western Europe, and all the current EU member states, was merged with the EU Department, which itself has been renamed the Department of Europe and Transatlantic Cooperation. The desk officers covering individual EU member states are now part of the department dealing with the EU generally and with horizontal issues such as energy and climate. Estonia’s turn at the Presidency of the EU Council will only be at the very end of the current cycle, in 2018. This was a conscious choice because there was a fear that such a small national administration was simply not prepared to cope with the demands of the EU Presidency, nor did the capital have enough large facilities to host meetings. Nevertheless, Estonian officials have already begun initial preparations for taking on the burden of the EU Presidency, well in advance. The relatively successful Estonian experience in the EU has been aided by a stable domestic political and institutional framework. The foreign minister’s position has been the most stable in the Estonian government during the past decade. Urmas Paet has served as Estonia’s foreign minister since 2005, making him currently the longest-serving foreign minister in the EU (despite his relative youth, being born only in 1974). Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is currently the longest-serving prime minister in the EU after Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker. Though constitutionally possessing only symbolic power, the President since 2006, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was the foreign minister who successfully led Estonia into the EU and remains very active and vocal in EU and foreign policy matters, especially at think-tank conferences, and thus contributes to Estonia “punching above its weight.”