Estonian politicians split over EU majority voting discussions

Estonia's current and former foreign ministers are divided on discussions to introduce majority voting for EU foreign and security policy, moving away from the current rules of unanimous decision-making.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz raised the topic in the European Parliament yesterday (May 9) in order to stop countries such as Hungary from blocking decisions. Several other member states made a similar request last week.

The Estonian government has repeatedly said it prefers the current voting system.

ERR spoke with current foreign minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) and former holders of the role, Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa), Urmas Paet (Reform), and Marina Kaljurand (SDE).

Paet and Kaljurand, both currently MEPs in Brussels, highlighted slow decision-making caused by the unanimity requirement.

But Tsahkna and Reinsalu emphasized that this gives equal weight to all member states, including Estonia.

"Estonia has always supported a consensual decision-making process in the European Union, as it gives all Member States, no matter how big or small, exactly the same weight. Estonia is a small country, we are 1.3 million people, but we are on an equal footing at the European Union decision-making table, and that is why we will continue to support consensus-based decision-making," Tsahkna, who took over the role last month, told ERR on Wednesday.

EU flag. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Two-time foreign minister Reinsalu (2019-2021, 2022-2023) echoed his view.

"Under no circumstances must the consensus policy be abandoned. This is a vital security interest for us because it means that our positions will also be taken into account by our larger partner countries," he said.

"I think that if we want to keep the unity of the European Union in foreign and security policy, the quickest way to break it up is precisely to create the logic of rolling over with majority votes. And what that means in practice is that the countries will not, in reality, implement these directives," he added.

Reinsalu called on the new government not to abandon the requirement.

However, both Paet and Kaljurand believe the rule should be abandoned.

"My view is that we should move, step-by-step, in foreign and security policy in a way where one or a few countries are not in a position to take all the rest hostage, so to speak. We have seen in recent years, unfortunately, how a number of decisions about introducing sanctions have been delayed or weakened precisely because one or a few countries have started to press their case and then the whole of the European Union, all the Member States, cannot take a decision," said Paet, Estonia's longest-serving foreign minister (2005-2014).

Meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers (Foreign Affairs Council, FAC) in Brussels on Monday. November 14, 2022. Source: European Union

He said consensus voting could be waived on topics that concern human rights violations and international law, i.e., the decision to impose sanctions and support victims.

Kaljurand, who worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 25 years (1991-2016), said her view on the issue has changed over time.

"For years I have been in favor of consensual decision-making because I have seen it as a layer of protection or a way of defending our interests so that we cannot be ignored or [decisions are] made over the heads of small countries. But I have to admit that if you look at the real decision-making process, the real situation, and the real decisions in foreign policy, abandoning the consensus would speed up decision-making," said Kaljurand, who acted as Estonia's foreign minister between 2015-2016.

"As far as defending the interests of small countries is concerned, I cannot imagine a situation or an issue where Estonia would be acting alone. If Estonia were on its own, I think it would be a situation like Hungary or Poland, and then it would be a very good thing if the European Union could disregard Estonia's opinion and decide what is right for democracy," she added.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Helen Wright

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