Zürich, Switzerland, on 7 April 2008
The EU and Its Neighbours: Common Values Unite Us All
Ladies and gentlemen!
I am very glad for the opportunity to be here this night and deliver some ideas from Estonia’s point of view. The headline of this speech, which I hope will be followed by many questions, is the European Union and its neighbours, but also something about our common values, which should unite us all.
I am delighted to be together with you in the heart of Europe. As we all know, Switzerland is in many ways one of the countries most typifying the essence of being European. I am thinking, foremost, about the various diversities involved. Switzerland is made up of endless distinct qualities. Along with its variety of names – Schweiz, Svizzera, Suisse, Svizra and Helvetica – a whole list of Switzerland’s diversities could be compiled, which would be as endless as the registry of the local mountains and valleys.
Our common desire to be distinctive makes all of us in Europe actually, remarkably similar!
Throughout the ages, attempts have been made to define Europe on the basis of religious and philosophical principles, or on the other hand geographical borders. However intellectually interesting, these attempts have nevertheless been rather one-sided and limited. Just as unfair, for instance, is the view that the European Union equals Europe. A true Europe exists in all of our common convictions. It may be difficult to agree on its definition, but it is present in our common values.
Estonia resumed its course towards these common values two decades ago. Although we belong in Europe, we have not always had the good fortune to be able to enact the values of a free Europe: self-determination, human rights, and the rule of law. Prior to the Second World War, we tried to maintain neutrality, but Estonia was nevertheless dragged into that worldwide conflagration. We were unable to preserve our independence, which Switzerland, fortunately, managed to do.
When it comes to constitutional law, we are very thankful to Switzerland for not recognising Estonia’s illegal annexation by the Soviet Union, and for giving our ambassador, Karl Selter, the opportunity to continue to fulfil his duties in Geneva until his death in 1958. Mr Selter was also Estonia’s unofficial representative to the West German government in Bonn.
One of the most important historical lessons we learned after regaining independence was the realisation that we must integrate into the international worldwide system, as well as into Europe. We simply did not have an alternative to this route. Europe is deep in our hearts. We realised that if we wish to preserve our independence, we must be able to sit at those negotiation tables, where the decisions essential for us are made, and that we must have the right to have our say at these discussions and debates.
But the European Union is not, for Estonia, an objective in and of itself. Rather, it is one essential step in our continuous development process.
Today, in our fifth year of European Union membership, we are no longer newcomers in the EU. According to the report recently issued by the Centre for European Reform, in regards to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, Estonia is, along with Austria and the Netherlands, one of the European Union's "heroes" of economic development.
Also, many of the former fears concerning EU membership have proven to be groundless. If, during the accession referendum of 2003, one of the basic questions for Estonians was the fear, that Estonia could lose part of its identity, as well as sovereignty, then after accession, the people’s support for the European Union has not dwindled. Quite the opposite – as opinion polls have shown, we have proven to be one of the most optimistic nations in the EU. As many as 80% of our citizens believe that membership in the European Union has been beneficial for our country. And this support has, in the course of the last few years, clearly grown.
But what is the reason for this great enthusiasm, you may ask.
I would say that there are two main factors supporting this enthusiasm. The first one is our unprecedented economic development. In the course of the last ten years, the Estonian gross domestic product, per capita, has tripled. Estonia has become the 12th most economically free state in the world. In the World Competitiveness Scoreboard, compiled by the Swiss International Institute for Management Development, Estonia ranks 22nd, thereby being among the European countries with the most dynamically developing competitiveness capability. And in this success story, the stability and openness provided by the European Union have, without a doubt, played a positive role.
But the strong support for the EU is not the result of economic growth and the increase of the nation's material welfare only. As Romain Rolland has said: so that "dimensionless materialism won’t dominate our thoughts, and we won't suffocate in our own intelligence and arrogance, we must open our windows!"
So, the second factor is the very fact that Estonia needs to be an active part of both Europe and the whole worldwide community. In this age of globalisation, we need not only a collective approach to worldwide threats to security, as well as a pooling and sharing of capabilities, but also solidarity. We cannot allow ourselves to become part of the outer fringe.
We are at the focal point of change, in the sense that the European Union, as the most active participant in the formulating of climate and energy policies, is taking responsibility for reducing the impact of climate changes, and for utilising our natural resources in a more sustainable manner. The European Union also plays a leading role in, for instance, matters of the preservation of nature. The economic development of poorer states, crisis management, and other urgent concerns are constant international problems that have to be dealt with. And all these issues are also important for Estonia.
Among other things, we are also interested in the growth of freedom, of which one of the latest tangible results has been the enlargement of the Schengen visa space to include Estonia three months ago. This region, named after the small Luxemburg town, and now encompassing 24 states, has in addition to its practical benefits also a great symbolic meaning for us, Estonians. We are open to Europe, and Europe is open to us more than ever. And I'm pleased that Switzerland will also be joining the Schengen visa space, hopefully this year already.
Estonia is always keeping in mind the fact that one of the best guarantees for ensuring our success is a strong Europe. So, the question is, what can we do for the benefit of Europe?
Let us, first of all, take a glimpse at what the future may have to offer Europe. Firstly, the security aspect. It is quite obvious that global trends – global warming, the worsening of the conditions of the environment, the deepening of the gap between developed and poorer states and immigration – are forcing the European Union as well as every individual state to think about how to cope with these challenges.
The other inescapable factor is that, in a worldwide sense, all European states, individually taken, are small states, as far as their population is concerned. As Europeans, we are accustomed to the fact that, in the course of the last 500 years, the world, as we know it, has been greatly formed by the Western civilisation. But Europe's relative influence over the rest of the world could dwindle during the coming decades, especially keeping in mind the rise of China, India, Brazil, and other power centres.
We must also take into consideration the fact that not all new power centres are democratic. Do we want the world of the 21st century to remind us of 19th century, where the Great Powers were constantly rivalling with each other? I think not.
And the third aspect is economic. There is an ever-greater demand for the energy resources, and energy prices are constantly on the rise. To remain internationally competitive, the European Union must, first of all, be successful at home. To achieve this, it is necessary to systematically promote an innovative and knowledge-based economy; to open up the electricity and energy market; to make sure that in addition to the free movement of persons, goods, and capital, the free movement of services would also be ensured. And much more, which would warrant another separate presentation.
But what can the European Union, Switzerland, Estonia, and all the European states do to further the general welfare of Europe, as well as to ensure the continent's security?
I would like to start by stressing the necessity of supporting international law and of promoting the endeavours of international organisations. Verba volant, scripta manent (words fly away, letters remain), as the ancient Romans would say apprehensively. We must be very careful that, for instance, the treaties preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or the Treaty on Conventional Forces of Europe, or the work of the OSCE, and other international institutions would not be placed under doubt.
The next major project to be carried out should be the increasing of the effectiveness of the European Union's foreign and security policy. One of the architects of the European Union's foreign policy, Robert Cooper, has noted, that "realpolitik is still necessary in a world of power, but is increasingly unworkable in a world of democracy."
I would add that the relations between democratic states are increasingly characterised by rule of law politics.
In the international sphere, this calls for safeguarding the multilateral rules and regulations that are based upon the rule of law. And the Swiss contribution to this field of expertise has been invaluable. After all, Switzerland has been one of the creators of modern international law; being the birthplace of not only Henri Dunant, but also of the Geneva Conventions, as well as of the high standards of international humanitarian law. Switzerland is one of the European Union's best partners in the organising of the international multilateral sphere of activities.
When it comes to the European Union's relations with the world’s other power centres, I find that the European Union, as well as other democratic states, must strive for a sense of concord, not rivalry, to dominate the relations between the various power centres. In a situation in which Russia and China are ever more strongly promoting their interests, the European Union's cooperation with other states that share equal values is becoming more and more important. Above all else, I'm referring to trans-Atlantic cooperation, as well as to cooperation with all partners who treasure the same values, including Switzerland.
In the second half of the year, we can expect that there will be substantial discussions concerning the renewing of the European Union's security strategy. To this day, we still have not practically made it clear for ourselves where the advancement of democracy, as a security policy issue, should fall in the hierarchy of Europe's other security questions like terrorism and illegal immigration. Since one of the EU's biggest challenges is strengthening democracy in its neighbourhood, we need to define the importance of promoting democracy as a security policy issue.
I also find that the EU must, to a greater extent, support democratic movements in neighbouring countries; as well as help to solve so-called frozen conflicts that are a constant threat to peace.
Preparations are also being made in the European Union for the step-by-step creation of an external action service for the EU, which would promote the European Union’s common interests. The future service that will begin to function in cooperation with the diplomatic representations of the member states will increase the feeling of unity among the EU countries, as well as consolidate the common foreign policy.
In the future, the high representative of European foreign affairs and security policy will definitely have a very essential role to play. Being, at the same time, the vice president of the European Commission, the high representative will be better able to coordinate the Common Foreign and Security Policy and other closely connected matters, such as development aid and enlargement. We wish that the high representative will become one of the world's leading spokespersons for democratic values.
A central question is, of course, the enlargement of the European Union that has made it possible to expand the EU's market and to promote economic development. But it also influences the security of Europe and stability in general.
First of all, enlargement increases the sphere of influence of European culture and the space of democratic values. It creates a new sense of values. The development of the European Union can, in essence, be compared to Switzerland – if Switzerland has in the course of 500 years grown from 3 united cantons to 26 cantons, then the European Union, which was launched by 6 states, has in 50 years been enlarged to encompass 27 states.
Secondly, keeping the European Union's door open motivates candidate states and provides them with a framework for development. Reforms carried out during the accession process help to develop and improve their societies. We can attest to this from personal experience.
Thirdly, enlargement increases Europe's security and stability. Croatia’s accession and the other Western Balkan states’ movement towards the European Union should promote a sense of cooperation in that part of Europe, and help to free the region of the curse of constant conflicts. Turkey’s accession to the European Union would be in the interest of promoting peace between Europe and its neighbours. Turkey could be in its own way a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world. Of course, as much as it is possible to be a "bridge" in today's globalising world. If we take into consideration the fact that Europe's security is directly affected by the modernisation of the Middle East, then the success that Turkey has with its development of the rule of law, has major significance for Europe's security.
EU enlargement can, of course, proceed only if potential joiners are prepared to adopt European values, which is one of the enlargement criteria. Estonia supports the further enlargement of the European Union on the basis of the principles that have been followed up until now. This is reinforced by the fact that all the states, old and new, have gained from enlargement. Although it is now difficult to predict how large the European Union will be, say in, 10-20 years, it is clear that the quintessence of the European Union must remain the same.
My dear listeners, you have probably been asked from time to time: when will Switzerland become a European Union member? After all, you are located in the heart of Europe, and Switzerland is in many ways even more integrated with the European Union than is, for instance, Estonia. I would like to bring forth just one example – in Switzerland there are nearly 900,000 registered residents from various EU countries, which is about 12% of Switzerland’s population. At the same time, in Estonia, there are approximately 20,000 residents from other EU states, which is about 1.5% of our population. You are an important trading partner for the European Union and the Swiss people have, by approving at a referendum the financial contribution to the enlarged European Union, given their approval to the enlargement, as well as the giving of aid to the new EU member states. I probably need not even point out that these were very remarkable steps that you took.
If you ask me what Estonia thinks of the possibility of Switzerland becoming member of the European Union, then I would stress that every state, naturally, has the sovereign right to decide when, and which international organisation it wishes to join. For us this is a universal truth. And I would confess, just as sincerely, that you have set an example for us with your energetic vigour, belief in the principles of sovereignty, and sense of responsibility.
But coming back to the means for promoting democratic values, I would like to point out that the European Union has for this purpose initiated its Neighbourhood Policy. Everyone involved gains from this – the 27 European Union Member States, as well as the 16 Neighbour States. The European Union's interests are quite varied – starting with migration problems, and ending with the enlargement of stability in Europe. The neighbourhood, on the other hand, is able, with the help of the European Union, to promote reforms and the rule of law. Since the corresponding action plans contain, in addition to economic measures, steps for the development of democracy as well.
It must be noted that neighbourhood cooperation has been practiced for some time now on the basis of action plans that span several years. But this cooperation with the European Union is very varied – for instance, the first action plans with Moldova, Ukraine, and Israel are already coming to an end. There are plans for concluding new framework agreements with some countries. Others, for instance Morocco, are interested in having tighter relations with the European Union. Therefore, Estonia favours a differentiated approach towards partner states.
The depth of the EU's cooperation with a partner state is dependent upon each individual state's progress in implementing the cooperation agreements concluded with the EU. It is natural that with the intensification of progress, cooperation between the EU and the neighbouring state will, in turn, also intensify.
But ladies and gentlemen, we know, that money and aid do not make any country truly wealthy or into a developed nation. And the Neighbourhood Policy is not a charity. I think that the Neighbourhood Policy must be markedly more concrete. In the neighbouring regions, much more must be done for the strengthening of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We must provide not only financial aid, but also advice concerning matters pertaining to reforms and the rule of law.
The supporting of democracy in the EU's Neighbourhood does not just entail the supporting of the government of a particular country, but also seeing to it, that the base for democracy in that country is as extensive as possible. I find that the EU must provide more concrete and more explicit support for democratic movements in authoritarian states in the European Union's Neighbourhood, for instance, in Belarus.
Estonia has extensive relations with three Neighbourhood Policy states: Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. We have diplomatic representatives in five neighbourhood states: in Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, and Ukraine; we are also implementing cooperation programmes in the Palestinian territories, as well as in several other regions. We also strongly support the further development of the Neighbourhood Policy towards both the east and the south. Estonia would very much like to pay more attention to cross-border cooperation with Russia's Leningrad and Pskov regions, since the residents of these border areas are very interested in this cooperation.
Cooperation with Russia is for the European Union and Estonia a matter of strategic importance. When excellent Russian political analysts who visit Estonia are asked what developments they would like to see take place in their country, they invariably respond: "We wish that our opinions, and those of others, could make a difference in our homeland!"
Sometimes it is said that Russia is retreating from democracy, but we have to keep in mind that Russia actually lacks a democratic tradition. Thus, reaching the level of so-called "political maturity" takes time and requires an appropriate attitude. But I sincerely wish that we will very soon witness an intellectual awakening in Russia, and that the aforementioned academics and analysts, as well as the average citizen on the street, can truly begin to influence developments in that country. When conducting new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement negotiations with Russia, the European Union should adhere more distinctly to the principles of promoting democracy and the rule of law, just as in the Neighbourhood Policy States. After all, the Russian people also value democratic principles.
And now, taking a look at the Western Balkans, I think that true partnership with Europe is what guarantees progress of the whole Western Balkan. Estonia has recognised Kosovo's independence, and we are supporting the European Security and Defence Policy civilian mission in Kosovo, to which we are contributing with our experts. It is strategically essential that Serbia's participation be ensured in the region's long-term development solutions. As we know, 70% of Serbians would like to integrate with Europe. There is no doubt that Serbia needs Europe's, and thus also Estonia’s, attention.
Very praiseworthy is Switzerland's responsible contribution to the Balkans. You have granted asylum to thousands of refugees, many of them from Kosovo. You have opened an embassy in Kosovo. Estonians can especially appreciate all of this, since more than 60 years ago many thousands of our compatriots were also forced to flee the horrors of war. Sweden, as well as many other countries, gave then sanctuary to these Estonians, without asking if this would be beneficial for Sweden. This was a policy based upon human values, not upon self-interest.
Touching briefly upon so-called frozen conflicts, the hot-beds of tension in Europe, I must regretfully note that after 15 years of efforts to find a solution to the issues of Trans-Dniestria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, have not advanced beyond calls for action and declarations of good will.
But even here we can see the positive influences of the European Union's Neighbourhood Policy. For instance, hundreds of Trans-Dniestria companies have registered themselves in Moldova, thereby choosing to get closer to the European Union market, which is provided by Moldova's European Union Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan.
Our strength does not just come from within ourselves, but is rather derived from the purity of our value judgements. The victorious development of democratic values, or, in other words, mankind’s basic values – freedom and the rule of law – can be regarded as one of the most praiseworthy achievements of the contemporary era, or perhaps, of even throughout history.
We must admit that unfortunately the concepts of democracy are sometimes used as empty rhetoric. Just like many decades ago, when Estonian writer Karl Ristikivi remarked: "Today's propaganda machines have chopped up all concepts into words and flung them out into listeners' ears in the strangest combinations. Nothing has been flip-flopped more strangely than today's concepts of democracy and freedom. But, despite this, these values will still remain values, regardless of the flood of counterfeits."
We must not allow democracy to be disarmed internally. An ever-growing global economic dependency is forcing us to ask ourselves – how closely may we tie ourselves economically to states where human rights, the freedom of the media, and other basic democratic values are not observed? What can we do for the sake of those who cannot help themselves, or do not know how to do so? If the fate of a rare type of plant is in question, then everything is done to save it. But if freedom is threatened, or even whole cultures, as is the case with the Finno-Ugric peoples in the Siberian oil and gas fields, then, is it not an outright crime to give the utmost priority to political and business interests?
Estonia, in principle, has devoted itself to the enlargement of the democratic community. Just a mere ten years ago we ourselves were in a situation in which we needed the help and support of others. We were restoring our nation, basically, from its foundations on up. Switzerland has supported Estonia with high technology, training, and advisors within the framework of 18 different projects. You have offered us various courses at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, helping to increase the professionalism of our senior civil servants. The Defence and Foreign Ministry officials who have participated in these courses value the acquired knowledge very highly. And Switzerland has been one of the main benefactors of our defence college.
You have earmarked for Estonia, for the next five years, non-reimbursable contributions to the extent of 40 million francs. This is a noteworthy contribution towards the reduction of economic and social disparities within the enlarged EU.
Today, Estonia is one of the most open countries in the world. Our economy is in good shape, and we have acquired valuable experience and knowledge of transformation towards democracy. We are among the most highly developed nations in the field of adapting state-of-the-art information technology. Tallinn has become a centre of foreign and security policy discussions in the Nordic-Baltic region, where the International Centre for Defence Studies and the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute actively work. Every year, at the end of March, a foreign and security policy conference dedicated to the memory of President Lennart Meri and other international conferences bring numerous outstanding foreign policy experts and decision-makers together.
There are states for which our experiences would be of great value. Today, in this era of globalisation, investing in democratic development is one of the best means of ensuring your nation’s security. Not just economic aid, but a direct investment into democratic development. Estonia's development cooperation was created by our desire to help transition states by sharing our experiences with implementing reforms. Over the years, our investments into development and humanitarian aid have increased many times over to 240 million Estonian kroons a year, which is, approximately, 24 millions Swiss francs. This is 0.12% of Estonia's gross national product, and by the year 2015 we would like this amount to be 0.33% of our GNP.
In some spheres of activity, for instance, the implementation of information technology, Estonia has surpassed the European Union's median level. Already by the end of the 1990s, we had achieved such a high standard that very few in Europe were able to compete with our e-government and banking services.
Estonia's bilateral development cooperation is directed, primarily, at states that are ready to move towards a social structure based upon democracy and human rights, to which we can give added value thanks to our own experiences. Thus, the priority partners of Estonia's bilateral development cooperation are Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
The advantages that we have for functioning in these regions are our trustworthiness and our good contacts. Financial aid is always essential, but this will not buy knowledge and experience. For transition states, we are a primary example of how to build and develop a democratic society. The principle being: "if we can do it – you can do it." We, therefore, strongly support Switzerland’s activities in these countries and in other states that value democracy.
One of Estonia's best known engineers throughout history, Walter Zapp, the inventor of the world-famous Minox camera, settled in Switzerland in the 1950s. As a freelance designer, he worked here for 50 years, bringing fame to his adopted country as well. Among other things, he pointed out that: "To have just an idea is not enough by any means, since making it a reality requires a great deal of specific conditions, from the environment to one’s contemporaries."
The same is true of beliefs and principles. It is not sufficient that we recognise them and value them. They do unite us, as well as elevate us above circumstances. They serve as spiritual landmarks.
But they can only be implemented in the proper conditions and circumstances. The rule of law must be ensured, plus democracy and human rights need to be promoted. Also, it is necessary to strengthen solidarity between both states and people. Values are not words, they are actions.
Therefore, I call upon all the citizens of Europe to express our common values and bring them forth more stridently. And to do this not only in theory and in speeches, but also practically, keeping in mind the ancient Romans’ saying: Verba volant, scripta manent.