Challenges Facing the European Union
First of all I would like to thank you all for the wonderful opportunity to be able to speak today in this respected think tank. This year in September it will be thirty years since the beginning of Solidarity, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Europe. Without the courage and resolve of the Polish people, we would not be able to talk about a free Europe today, about common plans and challenges.
One of the most important milestones in recent European history is the Treaty of Lisbon. This treaty, created to strengthen the unity of Europe, did not come easily, but now it is here. In a union functioning on the principles of the Lisbon Treaty, we can make the European economy more competitive and open.
The economic crisis and the resulting 5% decline in the economy of the European Union in the first half of 2009 was a harsh blow for all Europeans. Nine million jobs were lost in Europe, which is as many as were created during the economic growth years of 2006-2008.
Bringing the economy back onto the path towards growth will take enormous effort. Only six EU member states, including Estonia, have so far managed to keep their state budget deficit below 3%, like the European Stability and Growth Pact requires. Since the euro is one of the factors that brings a quicker economic recovery and an increase in well-being, Estonia is making an effort to join the euro zone on 1 January 2011 and it seems that we are well on the track.
The European Union’s task is to bring the union out of this economic standstill and provide an impulse for new development. Estonia would like to see the European Commission take on a greater role in developing the internal market and making the so-called “fifth freedom”—the free movement of knowledge—a reality.
Innovation is an integral part of competitiveness. Last week I had the pleasure of introducing Estonia’s IT developments in the public sector in the Republic of Korea. It is only natural that Estonia has worked for a year and a half to become the location for the EU IT agency for justice and home affairs that has yet to be established. It is also natural that Estonia has for years already contributed to building up effective cyber defence that will protect against the evolving threats. We are proud that the NATO Cyber Defence Centre has been established in Estonia.
For the Europe of the 2010s, it is inevitably necessary to solve one of the union’s most urgent problems—how to achieve a secure energy supply, and through that energy security. Estonia’s position is that creating an interconnected and functioning European energy market is not just a question of supply security, but of national security. We are in agreement with Poland that in order to ensure Europe’s energy security, we must diversify supply and create additional energy connections between member states. The Baltic Energy Market Interconnection Plan plays an important role for Estonia and all the nations along the Baltic Sea.
How to achieve a common European energy policy and energy security? Estonia would like for the European Commission to take on a greater role than before in advancing energy security and representing the European Union’s energy policy in relations with third countries. This requires first and foremost that we drop the obsolete belief that energy policy is the business of each individual member state and doesn’t affect anybody else. A year ago in the winter, when many European homes were left without heating at the coldest time of year, we all became convinced that individual problems quickly became a great and common concern. As I mentioned before, we could avoid such concerns through diversifying supply sources and through the existence of a European energy policy that is unified, not just in words but in actions. The unity of Europe apparently does not disappear when one’s room is cold, but it does give a European citizen reason to ask why the world’s richest and most attractive union is not able to reach an agreement on something as fundamental as energy solidarity.
This is a complicated assignment—the art of agreement and compromise—but the European Union has come to terms with even tougher challenges in the past.
Mr Stanisław Poraj, who was the chairman of the Estonian-Polish journalists’ friendship society between the two World Wars, often called us “neighbours because of the sea”. It is natural that among the many common interests of Estonia and Poland, one is Baltic Sea co-operation, which was functioning well even back then.
The Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region supports the goal of the European Union’s competitiveness strategy “EU 2020” to improve the competitiveness of all of Europe. There are many problems that affect us all and that we can all help to resolve. During the restless 20th century about 150 000 mines have been laid in the Baltic Sea. About a quarter of those have been disarmed to date; the rest are still lying in the sea. After the Second World War, massive amounts of chemical weapons were sunk in the Baltic Sea. In addition to the dangers lurking about today, there are new ones to be anticipated: it is probable that by 2015 the amount of crude oil carried over the Baltic Sea will reach more than 250 million tons per year, and with insufficient supervision the likelihood of a large-scale accident is growing. In order to avoid this, it is necessary for both Estonia and Poland to support each step that prevents the further pollution of the Baltic Sea. It is essential that we develop a comprehensive sea surveillance system.
First and foremost we must acknowledge that the Baltic Sea Region strategy is only as great as the extent to which it is implemented by us all in reality. Estonia is focusing on the three areas in which we believe it is possible to accomplish the most. These are sea environment and navigation, better communication in the Baltic Sea region, and a knowledge-based society.
Today’s developments—the creation of the institution of the High Representative for European Union Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the establishment of the European External Action Service—give us a real chance to strengthen foreign and security policy. It is clear that we won’t see results right away, but we are convinced that they will come in time.
It is in the interests of both Estonia and Poland to have a strong, unified and internationally influential European Union, which is able to be both a safe home for our citizens and a significant partner in world politics. This is why we support a strong and comprehensive European External Action Service, which should effectively assist the High Representative for European Union Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and be an effective tool for making the European Union’s foreign activities more cohesive. In order to accomplish this, the foreign service being created must have expertise in all regions and areas of foreign policy. We cannot have doubts about whether or not the European External Action Service is a means by which the European Union’s influence in the world will be increased, so we need all member states to help in a way that is constructive and open to compromise.
Estonia has set the goal of actively helping to spread democratic values and create stability first and foremost in the neighbourhood of the European Union, since we feel this is the best means for ensuring peace. Estonia supports the strengthening of the European Neighbourhood Policy. An effective Eastern Partnership is also an important challenge for both Estonia and Poland. Estonia’s goal is for Eastern Partnership to be a values-based policy that is an effective means for bringing partner countries closer to the European Union. This policy means European Union support and resources, the conclusion of association agreements, economic integration, visa freedom, and practical co-operation in energy and infrastructure matters. It is necessary to move forward with visa dialogues with our partner countries to help them move closer to the European Union. It is also necessary to keep in mind that Eastern Partnership is a process in which both sides have responsibilities. In order to fulfil our part, we must focus on programmes that have clear and tangible results, for example the strengthening of institutions in partner countries through trainings, fighting against corruption, supporting small businesses, and improving border management. All of these areas offer member states plenty of opportunities to help. One example of Estonia’s contribution is our readiness to begin practical seminars for experts of both partner countries and member states next year, and use that as a groundwork for the creation of an Eastern Partnership Training Centre in Tallinn.
Now I shall address one of the most important challenges standing before Europe: making the strategic co-operation between the European Union and NATO more effective. We must admit that it is much more modest today than the potential held by the two organisations together would allow. There is plenty of talk about co-operation, but the activity that would make it happen is very accurately summarised in the analysis by Demos Europa and the magazine “Polityka” entitled “Europe can do better”: A new phase should begin with a better understanding of the strategic environment in which both organisations function. I agree with this position, because the first goal of Estonian foreign policy is ensuring national security and the indivisibility of security. We also believe that dialogue is required on a very high political level that would create a basis for effective joint planning and practical co-operation. It is necessary to support all initiatives that intensify communication between the European Union and NATO, and Estonia has done so.
The area in which it would be possible for the European Union and NATO to do more co-operation than before is fight against terrorism, and the place that needs it most is a priority for Estonia and Poland and all of NATO—Afghanistan. Parliamentary elections are coming up in Afghanistan this year, and at such a vital time it is premature and even dangerous to talk about the withdrawal of troops, because this could provide terrorists with an opportunity that would certainly not go unused. Estonia will contribute to the ISAF, mostly with soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, for as long as is necessary. Estonia has decided to increase its civil contribution in Afghanistan in 2010. Afghanistan also needs to increase its own involvement. One co-operation opportunity and common challenge for the European Union, NATO, and other donors is the co-ordinated use of military and civil measures in developing Afghanistan.
A great figure in Polish diplomacy, Juliusz Szymański, has said that history knows no great nations and small nations. This means that history knows those nations that stand beside one another in solidarity even during difficult times. Za wolność naszą i waszą.
Ladies and gentlemen!
On 10th of August 2010, 80 years will have passed since a major moment in Estonia-Poland relations—the Polish head of state’s first visit to Estonia in the history of independent Estonia. In an editorial published in the Estonian press at that time, the many-times prime minister and later president of Poland in exile, August Zaleski, stated that Estonia and Poland’s kindred spirit is the best basis for our relationship and co-operation. This does not apply to only Estonia and Poland, but to all of Europe.
Thank you for your time!
( http://www.vm.ee/?q=en/node/50... )
Urmas Paet’s speech at the think tank Demos Europa in Warsaw