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Foreign minister: Consulate closures will not affect business diplomacy

Margus Tsahkna.
Margus Tsahkna. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) told ERR that Estonia's decision to close consulates in San Francisco and New York will not harm business diplomacy

"Yesterday was not a pleasant day for me as 5 percent of Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff was laid off. A total of 45 positions were made redundant. Some positions had not been filled. I will be honest in saying that it is quite brutal toward the people involved. The Foreign Ministry's budget is €110 million out of the total €16 billion. And we are covering the entire world. This includes all of our real estate and staff. It was a painful decision, but we are showing solidarity in dialing back our team," Tsahkna said.

The minister remarked that most people were laid off from the ministry's headquarters in Tallinn.

Consular workers have not been laid off as their work is simply being reorganized.

"The positions were very different. We have hired local people for support services at our foreign missions and embassies. We also cut back on those positions," Tsahkna said.

He said that he understands the wave of indignation that followed news of the consular closures. "Indeed, our entire foreign service was based in New York during the occupation. But we need to understand that times have moved on, and we are not abolishing consular service, we're simply reforming it. We have a large and well-staffed representation and mission with the UN in New York, and we have people there performing the same tasks. We also still have the Estonian House where Estonians can gather. The services offered by the consulate are not going anywhere."

The minister stressed that Estonians who find themselves stranded in New York can go to the Estonian mission with the UN that also offers consular services.

Tsahkna said that his choice was between closing an embassy and reorganizing services. And I am categorically against embassy closures," the minister remarked.

Talking about the consulate in San Francisco, Tsahkna said it never worked at 100 percent capacity.

"Everything can be done more efficiently. The message is clear – we are not dialing back services, we will just offer them more efficiently," he said.

San Francisco will be covered by an additional employee at the embassy in Washington, the minister added.

The Enterprise and Innovation Foundation (EISA) office in San Francisco that is in charge of business diplomacy will be retained.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday it will make redundant 45 positions and close consulates general in New York and San Francisco in the summer of 2024.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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