Since 1998, when development cooperation was first planned and initial projects were implemented, this sector has been an increasingly important foreign policy instrument for the Republic of Estonia. Estonia spends about 0.1% of its Gross National Income (GNI) annually (2010) on development cooperation and intends to steadily increase its share as well as to advance its status and role among other international donors.
Estonian objectives and priorities for development cooperation policy are outlined in the Principles of Estonian Development Cooperation approved by the Riigikogu (Parliament) in January 2003 as a successor of the previous policy document "Principles of Development Cooperation for the Years 1999-2000”. The updated Parliament-approved document states Estonia’s continuous support for countries and regions striving to achieve consistent economic and social development. Estonia strongly believes that responsibility for their development lies primarily on the developing countries themselves.
As stipulated by the Government of the Republic Act, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates Estonia’s development cooperation programmes. Other governmental agencies implement specific projects in the scope of their competence.
In January 2011, the Estonian Government approved the Strategy of Estonian Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid 2011-2015. This strategy formulates the objectives of Estonian development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the fields of activities and major partners among the countries and international organisations have been specified up to the year 2015. The priority partner countries of Estonian bilateral development cooperation are Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Afghanistan.
The strategic objectives of Estonian development cooperation are (1) to contribute to reducing global poverty and human development in developing countries, (2) to support peace and stability, the granting of human rights, the development of democracy as well as the promoting of good governance practices in developing countries, (3 promote economic development, including support for economic reform, integration into the global trade network and agriculture; fostering environmentally friendly and sustainable development and (4) to enhance development cooperation capacity of the Estonian public, private and third sectors and increasing the population’s awareness of development cooperation and introducing global education. Development of the ICT-sector and e-governance issues will be a horizontal field.
At the international level, Estonia was first mentioned as a donor country in the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) 1999 report. The report cited Estonia’s development cooperation efforts in 1998, and since then reporting to DAC has been an annual activity. Estonia is an active participant in global development processes, which include the Doha development agenda, the mobilizing of finances for development and the promoting of sustainability in development. Estonia strongly supports a holistic approach to global development, i.e. all policies potentially influencing developing countries should be considered together to ensure the strongest development impact.
As Estonia has been successful in rebuilding a democratic state and society, it is able and willing to share its reform experiences and practical knowledge with its partner countries.
So far, Estonia has shared reform experiences with countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Albania, Tajikistan, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Belarus and Azerbaijan in fields ranging from WTO accession negotiations and reforming the national health care system to the implementation of information technology in state administration. The aim of Estonian development cooperation is to ensure long-term stability and continuous development in recipient countries.
Besides bilateral cooperation, Estonia has become increasingly interested in trilateral cooperation projects. Such projects have already taken place in cooperation with Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Canada and with the United Kingdom (supporting Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia).
Through voluntary contributions, Estonia regularly supports the operations of several United Nations agencies, such as the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations and the UN Voluntary Fund for the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. A number of specific projects, like protecting children’s rights in the North Caucasus through UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) or OSCE Voluntary Fund for Activities Related to the Removal and Destruction of Russian Military Equipment and Ammunition from Moldova have also been supported.
Estonia is a member of and a donor to the International Red Cross Committee and several other internationally active organisations committed to promoting global peace and security.
The humanitarian aid Estonia has provided in the past few years has focused on providing relief to war refugees and emergency assistance after natural disasters. Estonia has supported war refugees in Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Kosovo, Chechnya and Afghanistan in helping to meet basic needs. Estonia has given support to earthquake victims in Iran, Turkey, India and Pakistan and has also helped to soften the consequences of the floods in Poland and Czech Republic and famine in Georgia. When responding to such crises, the Estonian Government closely co-operates with international organisations and NGOs, which in several cases have been the leading agencies in delivering assistance.
In 2004, Estonia joined the global relief effort to assist Southeast Asian countries and their people to cope with the situation after a devastating tsunami and for the first time dispatched the Estonian Disaster Relief Team (EDRT) on a mission to Indonesia’s Banda Aceh region. EDRT participated also in 2005 in the relief efforts after the earthquake in Pakistan. In 2008 humanitarian assistance was delivered to Ukraine and Moldova for assisting the victims of floods and for repairing the damages of floods.