Siim Kallas: Estonian foreign policy should avoid transnational intrigue

Siim Kallas.
Siim Kallas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The foreign policy of Estonia as a small country should steer clear of transnational intrigue. There is often the temptation to form groups of countries inside the EU to pursue a common agenda. However, it is a fatal mistake that achieves nothing, Siim Kallas warns.

Estonian foreign policy has two dimensions. One is the regional dimension – cooperation with neighboring states – working with Finland, Baltic and Nordic cooperation. And why not Arctic cooperation, as mentioned by Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets. And then there is the wider, global dimension where Estonia participates in global affairs as part of the European Union 27.

Global politics has three major powers – USA, China and the European Union.

Estonia's foreign policy interest is for the EU to be as strong as possible in its relations with the remaining two superpowers so it could negotiate and strike agreements with the latter on favorable terms.

America is a natural ally for the European Union. The EU and USA yield half of the global GDP and a third of goods turnover. But relations are strained.

Donald Trump rendered sharper the problem of unbalanced trade relations between Europe and USA that now forms a part of his domestic legacy. While in 2009, USA had a slight edge ($5.2 billion) in goods and services turnover, a decade later, the EU is ahead by €120.7 billion. The difference has been growing all along and in spite of the previous president's tariff measures.

The list of topics where EU-USA relations clash is quite long today – Boeing-Airbus, GMO etc. The World Trade Organization is processing 23 EU complaints against USA and ten complaints by USA against the EU. Relations are also very tense on the security vs human rights axis.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks should be restored. Promoting this idea could be one of the guiding principles of Estonian foreign policy and I am glad the foreign minister mentioned it during the Riigikogu foreign policy discussion.

Finding solutions to specific problems is an important challenge in restoring the transatlantic axis.

China's economic power growing did not stir emotions 15 years ago. The market was growing, European investments were paying off and Huawei was a welcome guest in Europe. The situation changed when China started wielding its economic might for the purpose of garnering political influence in the world.

In 2012, they went after the EU by creating the so-called 17+1 format (China and Central and Eastern European countries workgroup) with its headquarters in Beijing. Estonia is a member of the group.

China is putting pressure on the EU in trade relations by demanding technology transfer as part of all agreements. It is the interest of Europe and Estonia to protect technological achievements.

While Chinese investments were received favorably in the past, nuances having to do with security and unfair competition in trade (state aid) and unfair conditions when investing in Chinese companies are increasingly spotted today.

I served as chairman of the European Council of Ministers in 1996. I gave several joint press conferences with Hans van der Broek, then EU foreign affairs commissioner. "Well," he said before one of those press conferences. "If I'm asked about something, it is money, while it is the Russians in your case."

Estonia is certainly about more than Russia today. We have other topics we can use to score points, while the balance between Russia and other topics needs to be maintained. The important thing is that we need a strong EU to deal with Russians on our terms and not those of Sergey Lavrov.

Foreign policy inside the EU is subject to its own nuances. One needs to keep in mind the unwritten rule (at least formerly) that the EU protects small states in relations with third countries because the larger ones can take care of themselves. There are many examples. However, this does not mean it is possible to achieve something without paying heed to other nations.

The foreign policy of Estonia as a small country should steer clear of transnational intrigue. There is often the temptation to form groups of countries inside the EU to pursue a common agenda. However, it is a fatal mistake that achieves nothing, while initiators of such groups are often quick to take advantage, leaving a small country in a rather unfortunate position.

It may seem that a small country is but a speck of dust with no real foreign policy influence. That is not true. We can achieve quite a lot if we set feasible goals and use the right tools.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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