More Europe is fine but keep our interests in mind

The Estonian government’s priorities for the French Presidency are stipulated in a document approved on July 10th 2008.[1] In general, these priorities are in favour of ‘more Europe’, aligning quite well with the objectives of the French government. However, Estonia has specific concerns in a number of areas.
In general affairs, the most important objectives of the Estonian government for the French Presidency are to “find a constructive and satisfying solution on how to proceed with the Lisbon Treaty” and to ensure the “active continuation of the EU enlargement process according to previously agreed principles.”[2] The Estonian government continues to hope that the Lisbon Treaty will take effect on January 1st 2009. With regard to enlargement, Estonia continues to actively support Croatia’s, Turkey’s and Macedonia’s membership aspirations.

Holding the Balkans on the Euro-Atlantic course

The Estonian government’s firm support to enlargement remains unchanged. Estonian officials insist that enlargement should continue according to the principles agreed to in December 2006.[1] A clear accession prospect should be given to candidates and potential candidate countries in order to retain their motivation to carry out political and economic reforms, while also retaining stringent conditionality.[2] Internal reforms, however, are only part of the rationale. The government also argues that „a larger Union of like-minded states will have more influence in the globalizing world and will be in a better position to benefit from globalization.”[3] Assuming a somewhat didactic position in relation to the candidate countries, and emphasizing its own success in carrying out painful reforms, Estonia calls on the candidates to do their homework.

Proceed with ratification, continue enlargement

The Estonian government regards the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as regrettable. The Irish ‘No’ is seen as prolonging the period of confusion and uncertainty, and having potentially negative implications for the European Union’s competitiveness, further enlargement as well as the EU’s credibility in the international arena. The Estonian government has been a strong proponent of both the Constitutional Treaty and the Reform Treaty throughout the drawn-out process of treaty reform. The government regards finding a solution to the constitutional impasse as the most important task for the French Presidency, while recognizing that the Irish government has a special responsibility for proposing possible solutions. Government officials have, as a rule, avoided taking clear positions on what constitutes the best way out, recognizing that there are no simple solutions. In any case, Estonia supports the continuation of the ratification process by the member states that have not yet ratified the treaty.[1] The government also urges the EU to continue the enlargement process “with the same pace as previously outlined.”[2]
“Riigikogu”, the Estonian parliament, ratified the Lisbon Treaty on June 11th 2008 with 91 votes in favour and one against (previously, it had ratified the Constitutional Treaty on May 9th 2006).

Smooth ratification of the Reform Treaty expected

Estonia regards the ratification of the Reform Treaty as the most important priority for the Slovenian presidency.[1] Although the government had been strongly in favour of the Constitutional Treaty and continued to defend it throughout the reflection period, it now regards the quick ratification of the Reform Treaty by all member states as the best solution. Agreement on the treaty, Prime Minister Ansip argues, allows the EU to „conclude disputes over the procedural rules and concentrate on solving real problems.”[2] Considering that member state governments have worked on amending the treaty already for six years, it is „time to finish this process now, ratify the treaty and move on.”[3] The Estonian government has repeatedly expressed hopes that all member states will manage to approve the treaty in 2008 and that the new agreement will enter into force on 1 January 2009.

Estonian economy beyond the Euro: questions abound

Piret Ehin

Qualifying for the Euro amidst the economic tumult[1] is an extraordinary achievement, and in the overall European context, Estonian budget and public debt figures are indeed “sheer magic.”[2] As a “poster child for austerity,” Estonia could pay all its public debts and still have reserves left over. Equally notable is the stoicism of the Estonian people in enduring the government’s drastic spending cuts and falling real wages. There have been no major protests or riots – in fact, the government’s popularity has been on the rise since summer 2009. The Commission’s positive decision on Estonia’s Euro-eligibility lends additional “post hoc” legitimacy to the government’s austerity measures, and is likely to boost support for government parties in the March 2011 general elections.

In favour of an open-door policy and an ambitious Eastern Partnership

Piret Ehin

The Estonian government continues to support further enlargement, while emphasising that the process is dependent on progress made by each candidate state. According to Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, “Estonia is a supporter of the European Union’s open-door policy so that nations that share common values and principles with our member states can be included in the Union.”[1] The government faces no significant domestic constraints in pursuing this policy: according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, conducted in autumn 2009, 57 percent of Estonian respondents supported enlargement, compared to the EU average of 46 percent.[2]