Daily: Where is the foreign minister and what is she doing?

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Foreign Minister Liimets has plenty of other countries to deal with and not just Finland and Belarus - here she is pictured with French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian at a meeting Wednesday where the pair signed a strategic partnership. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Judith Litvine

Several recent diplomatic incidents affecting Estonia and relating to Finland, Belarus and also China have shown up incumbent foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) as ineffectual, an opinion piece in daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) claims, while at the same time another Baltic State, Lithuania, has grabbed the bill by the horns, at least with Belarus and China.

EPL journalist Raimo Poom points out in the piece (link in Estonian) that last week's summonsing of the Finnish ambassador "to the carpet" over Finland's continued travel restrictions – restrictions which go over and above the EU requirements regarding free movement and also prevent work commuting between Estonia and its northern neighbor – was done, not by the foreign minister, as one might expect, but by the prime minister, Kaja Kallas.

The developments came fairly soon after the sitting foreign minister had called for a tough EU-wide response to the actions of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, only to back down when the decision was made to bar Belarusian flights into and out of Estonia (at the domestic level) – again a decision made by the prime minister, Poom writes.

Generally speaking, headlines associated with the minister tend to be followed by phrases such as "have not decided", "are not in a rush to decide" – something which seems to be exacerbated when Estonia's next-door-neighbor-but-one to the south, Lithuania, takes a more proactive approach.

This had already happened with the southernmost Baltic State's decision to leave the China-initiated 17+1 cooperation format, a framework which has come in for increasing criticism as being one of "divide and conquer" within the EU (the "seventeen" being principally central and eastern European states, the "one" being China – ed.) and which is now 16+1 thanks to Lithuanian withdrawal, again an issue which, Poom points out, Liimets was not in a hurry to make a decision on.

Even in a sphere closest to Liimets pre-ministerial resume – she is a former ambassador – Estonia lags behind not only Lithuania, which has recalled its ambassador to Belarus, but even Italy, which has declined to recognize an incoming Belarusian diplomat on the grounds that Italy does not acknowledge the head of state named on the would-be ambassador's credentials, i.e. Alexander Lukashenko; Estonia meanwhile is only considering what to do when its current ambassador to Belarus' term finishes later in the summer.

Poom poses the question as to what would happen in Finland if the restrictions on movement applied, not to people, but to goods, and how quickly would the matter get resolved based on internal pressure alone, noting that "So far, however, the Estonian foreign minister has not been able to lift a finger even slightly, so why should Finland worry if their policies do not have any consequences?"

Foreign ministers and the diplomatic service's know-how can be evaluated not only by its ability to interpret decisions made in a neighboring state and send these home in the form of reports, but also by their ability to influence decisions, Poom writes, a skill which requires close links with those making the decisions and an ability to get them to empathize with Estonia's position.

Regarding Finland, this has not happened, he continues – the minister has shaken a few hands and told various publications that she has done everything her powers permit, but at the same time, the minister is not paid to shoulder the concerns of the citizens, but to resolve them, by taking new measures if the preceding ones should fail – even those at European Commission level – and if this does not materialize, it suggests the foreign minister/ministry does not think about the Nordic countries very much, Poom goes on.

Ironically it is a foreign ministry-funded think-tank, the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) which flagged the situation whereby Lithuania has become the foreign policy leader in the Baltics, compared with the slow response from Estonia on Belarus and China, with one potential bright spot being Estonia's location – Lithuania is quite some distance from Finland and the Nordics – enabling it, Estonia, to act as a mediator here, Poom said the ICDS had noted.

The original EPL piece (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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