Toomas Hendrik Ilves
Minister of Foreign Affairs 1996-1998, 1999-2002
Few things takes as much time to develop as a sustained foreign policy, one that remains in place irrespective of government changes because it is based on a broad consensus among a country’s populace. A sustained foreign policy is a sign of maturity in a country, a sign that ministers can indeed come and go, but in broad outline the aspirations and strategic options chosen by a country remain.
I believe Estonia has, over the past decade, shown that it has a sustained and sustainable foreign policy. We have overcome the childish notion of foreign policy through "breakthroughs", the idea that leaders simply coming together can chart new directions. Rather, we know that only consistent and slow, painstaking diplomacy abroad and difficult, often unpopular work domestically can lead to the results we hope to achieve. The year 2001, my last year in this post, can be considered a year of major development in Estonia, but not because of anything the minister did that year, but rather as the result of a long process.
Of Estonia’s two long-term foreign policy goals, acceding to the European Union and NATO, it was indeed a year of dramatic change, especially with regard to NATO. At the close of 2000, an invitation to Estonia to join NATO seemed barely more likely than four years ago. Certainly some were more optimistic, but realists and realpolitik observers were far more sanguine. We were not sure of the new U.S. administrations views, we knew as well that many European alliance members were either sceptical or guarded. Yet some movement had begun, the ice was breaking up. Clearly the MAP cycles had showed that a country like Estonia was capable of meeting the standards required by NATO. It was a new process, not utilized in the many previous enlargements but it was precisely what was needed to demonstrate to the sceptics that a country like Estonia could meet the grade. The Vilnius 10 process, which had begun to demonstrate that aspirant countries in Eastern Europe could work together, also significantly gathered momentum in 2001. It was at one V10 meeting that President Havel gave his courageous and visionary speech calling on NATO to invite the Baltic countries. President Bush’s Warsaw speech was another landmark in the NATO enlargement process, giving a clear indication that NATO enlargement was in the interest of the U.S. Other major NATO powers, most notably France during the visit of President Chirac to the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania added their support. By the end of the summer of 2001, one could say that NATO enlargement to the Baltic countries had become an issue treated seriously by virtually all Alliance members. The autumn also saw President Putin’s visit to Germany and NATO, where it became clear that Russia had begun to see that NATO enlargement to the Baltic countries was not the threat that it for so long had been considered to be.
All of this, however, was overshadowed by the horrific attacks of September 11. Our understanding of security was completely changed by those events; our re-evaluation of what security means is only beginning. Clearly, the Cold War view of security involving a stand-off between two more or less symmetric blocs disappeared. Security was no longer an issue of armoured brigades facing armoured brigades. Security was asymmetric and the distinction between soft and hard security disappeared as well. The battle against terrorism does not involve discussions of "defense depth", firepower, or carrier battle groups. "Soft security" issues of porous borders, illegal movement of persons, money laundering, airport security etc… have taken on a new importance and will do so even more in the future. With September 11 NATO’s role changed as well and Estonia’s challenge is to find its place in a NATO that finds its own place in a dramatically altered security environment.
The EU. Estonia’s other primary foreign policy goal is of course, joining the European Union. It was a difficult year at home in terms of public support for the EU, which plunged dramatically in the first half of 2001. Some of this was to be expected, as the EU became less abstract an idea to people and some of the actual costs of joining became clear. But equally important was that Estonians began to see the cost of not joining the EU. This, and the new President’s public support for the EU helped public opinion to rebound, especially among the rural population, where paradoxically those who stand most to gain, were also the most sceptical about the EU.
Joining the EU is not, however, merely a matter of public opinion but rather of difficult and time-consuming negotiations. To be honest, Estonia hoped for greater progress in 2001. To be sure, some of the lack of progress was due to the greater difficulty of the negotiations last year: the initial chapters negotiated in 1998-2000 were much easier to conclude that the ones we faced in 2001. Nevertheless, I personally felt that the principle of catch-up sometimes preceded readiness. Leaving the Home and Justice Affairs chapter to be closed in 2002, for example, when Estonia had presented its positions and data at the same time as other countries sent the signal that a horisontal rather than an individual approach to negotiations had come to dominate. Estonia naturally has nothing against a Big-Bang to EU enlargement, but as I leave office, I remain hopeful that the EU timetables adopted in Gothenberg and Laeken be adhered to.
This is especially true as we tackle the truly difficult chapters on agriculture, finances and institutions. It is clear that income and cost differentials between candidate and member-states are great enough that current members want to differentiate aid and policies, whether it be in the case of free movement of labour, cabotage or agricultural support. Nonetheless a greater sensitivity to these differentiations is, I am convinced, necessary to prevent the appearance of second-class status for the new members. As I have repeatedly pointed out, it is understandable that the EU position on free movement of labour addresses serious domestic concerns among some member states. Yet no one has yet satisfactorily explained the paradox that for a number of years after the enlargement, non-EU citizens from Norway and Iceland, for example, will enjoy one of the fundamental freedoms denied to EU citizens from Estonia or Hungary. Each individual case can be rationally explained, but if in the aggregate it is seen that candidate countries have gotten a bad deal, there will be discontent. The enlargement of the EU is too important for the whole of Europe to have it stall on this perception.
While 2001 saw significant progress in a number of other areas, there simply isn’t enough room to go over each one. One event, or rather one process, did come to a conclusion in 2001: the decision to close after eight years, the OSCE Mission in Tallinn. This is neither the time nor the place to recount the ups and downs of Estonia’s experience with the OSCE, but on balance the experience must be counted as positive. There were times, naturally, when one could not escape the impression that the OSCE presence was founded on the principle of Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi. These impressions do not concern us now. On the positive side, I am convinced that after eight years of intense scrutiny undergone by few countries East or West, Estonia has some of the best civil, human and minority rights legislation anywhere. How successful the presence of a Mission was in deterring unjustified claims about Estonia is another matter. The successful closure of the Mission, predicated as it was on one final change in Estonian legislation, was of course the result of some extremely difficult debates in the country. The closure, however, was not the product of 2001, it was the culmination of a five year process of constant negotiation to concretise and make explicit what the role of OSCE Missions are and should be. I hope that this process in which Estonia played the key role, will be of use for the other OSCE Missions scattered around the former communist world. As I said five years ago in Vienna, without clearly defined mandates and without a system of genuine accountability and quality control for Mission reporting, it is difficult for the OSCE to maintain a position of objectivity. As experience has shown, one cannot always assume the high level of professionalism and objectivity we saw with the last OSCE Mission Head in Estonia, Doris Hertrampf.
As I leave office I would like to take this last opportunity to thank all of the diplomats and staff of the Estonian Foreign Ministry. They are the ones who have ensured the stability and continuity of Estonian foreign policy. They are the ones who deserve the thanks and praise for Estonia’s successes. I bear the blame for everything else.