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Estonia does not want to amend EU treaties

Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Despite the European Parliament's aspirations, Estonia maintains there is no justification for amending EU treaties, which would consolidate power in EU institutions. Some Member States have urged for treaty amendments and the removal of foreign policy unanimity requirement in the context of a prospective EU expansion.

"The Estonian government believes the treaty should not be opened today. We must never give up the principle of unanimity, which gives the Estonian state weight and a seat at the table. I think we can also manage in the future by respecting this principle," Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) told ERR on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a small majority in the European Parliament supported the discussion of the EU treaty revisions. Euro MEPs propose to abolish sanctions decisions' and other foreign policy decisions' unanimity requirement and expand the EU's powers in several national competences.

"We are against amending the Treaty and abolishing unanimity. We make it clear that unanimity matters," Tsahkna said.

He suggested that if the EU expands, how to make it work should be considered. He stressed that the EU enlargement and the future of the European Union should not be linked in this way.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) taking part in a panel discussion at the 2023 Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn. Source: ICDS/Arno Mikkor

"We have to distinguish between country-by-country enlargement and a broader view of the EU change. The European Parliament, elected at the start of next summer, should discuss this issue," he added.

Jäärats: The expansion of the Union does not require the Treaty amendment

Chief for European Union Affairs at the Chancellery of the Riigikogu Klen Jäärats told ERR that even with the current treaties in place, the EU could be made more effective with new Member States.

"Estonia believes that in considering potential future EU enlargement, it is critical to assess the implications of membership on EU institutions, the decision-making process and policy domains, which is all very vital to adequately prepare for the new members. Meanwhile, we are also confident that the EU can accommodate new members' accession without amending the treaties," he said.

Klen Jäärats Autor/allikas: Stenbocki maja Flickr

Pakosta: Rather, no

Liisa-Ly Pakosta (Eesti 200), chair of the European Union Affairs Committee (EUAC) of the Riigikogu, said in a comment to ERR that although the committee has not formed its own position on the issue, her personal position is rather no to the opening of the treaties.

"Enlargement of the European Union is not affected by the current initiative, but it's like an elephant in the room – publicly and behind the scenes, there are plenty of calls to change the EU treaties before enlargement. This seems a convenient and politically correct way of saying that we are in no hurry to enlarge," she said.

"In fact, we are in a hurry to enlarge, it is clearly in Estonia's interest to enlarge the EU to Ukraine and Moldova. I want to stress that the Lisbon Treaty (the current Treaty - ed.) has been made watertight for future enlargements," she said.

Liisa-Ly Pakosta. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A strong European eastern border is Estonia's top priority, she said. "This matters greatly. Let us envision a strong eastern border of the EU, connected by a militarily powerful and assertive Ukraine and a reformed Moldova. We certainly need this [future scenario] to protect our statehood and independence," she said.

Pakosta further stressed that when the European Parliament agreed on Wednesday to establish a special convoy, it stated that Ukraine and Moldova would join.

"Any change to the treaties requires a broad popular debate, and as the Supreme Court of Estonia noted in 2012 regarding the stability mechanism of the EU, the transfer of important competences from Estonia to EU institutions requires a referendum in Estonia. The matter was not essential at the time, but looking at the present list of items, a referendum is required," Pakosta said.

"We must distinguish between Treaty changes that give one EU entity more authority and those that improve things for collaborative work. This second half of the recommendations is worth examining because working together makes many things better, cheaper and more efficient," she said.

"Overall, Estonia needs a large, in-depth public debate before anything changes. Estonia has called for the EU to prepare seriously for new Member States' accession and to do so quickly in accordance with its Treaties," Pakosta summed up her position.

Estonian MEPs: Madisson rules it out, while Mikser and Ansip would discuss individual issues

Jaak Madison (EKRE), an Estonian MEP, strongly opposes altering the treaties and giving the EU more power, whereas MEPs Andrus Ansip (Reform) and Sven Mikser (SDE) would discuss some adjustments but agreed that the treaties do not need to be amended.

Madison (EKRE) told Vikerraadio that the European Parliament's Wednesday decision must go down the drain as its proponents see problem-solving as a matter of giving the European Commission, Parliament, Brussels more power.

"It seems that the solution to all the problems is more federalism. /.../ All of them (the initiators of the decision - ed.) represent a grand imperialist vision of this kind," he said, adding that governments, including Estonia, should hold referendums on treaty amendments.

"Fortunately, opening the Treaties is a hard procedure and practically impossible to get the 27 Member States to agree because Estonia has borders and constitutional rules. The referendum that brought us into the EU stipulated that we could only enter if the Estonian Constitution was upheld. But if treaties are negotiated that result in some power moving away from Estonia to the level of the European Union, the 2003 mandate will have ended and a new referendum will have to be held," he said.

Andrus Ansip. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Ansip: Changes have been made before, so it is possible

Andrus Ansip (Reform) said that it should be possible as the treaties have been revised before. "But is there such an urgent need for change that we should start amending the treaties?" he asked.

"This extensive list of ideas has some decent proposals, but some are not. However, if we believe that some Member States have a concern and want to explore treaty changes, we might still listen," Ansip said.

Mikser: Such proposals could be counterproductive

Mikser said he wouldn't worry about the European Parliament's decision because if it ever comes to amending the EU treaties it won't be based on its existing recommendations. He said the procedure would take years.

"It may be the impulse that starts the process, but many things have not been carefully thought through," he said.

"I am not a big fan of qualified majority vote. /.../ I do not support measures that change the balance of competences between the Member States and the Union in defense, security, justice, and home affairs. I think it's a risky path that could undermine or disintegrate the EU, which serves us well today," he said.

"I think the people who put together this set of proposals don't represent European public opinion or Member State opinion very well. They are more federalist than the average Europeans is," he said.

"I am afraid that people living in such a bubble come up with proposals that erode support for the EU, because they go too far, in the wrong direction, or do not take into account Member States' tolerance limits," Mikser said. "That's a big issue and we saw it with Brexit."

Sven Mikser Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The European Parliament voted 29 for and 29 against opening the Treaties. Parliament has 705 members.

A report by Belgian Liberal Guy Vehofstad, former head of government, and four other MEPs calling for a fundamental reform of the EU, including Treaty revisions, was approved by 305 votes to 276 in the European Parliament on Wednesday. The report suggests the European Council hold a treaty review convention.

It calls, among other things, a significant increase of the areas in which decisions are taken through qualified majority voting, thereby eliminating the requirement for unanimous agreement among all member states.

It also calls for the European Parliament to be given the right to take legislative initiatives (currently only the European Commission can - ed.) and for the role of the Council and Parliament to be reversed in the nomination and confirmation of the Commission President. It is also proposed to increase the transparency of the Council of the European Union, to make the environment, biodiversity, climate change and public health the exclusive competence of the European Union, and to extend the competence of the European Union in energy, foreign affairs, external security and many other areas.

It also reiterates the call for qualified majority judgments on sanctions and other foreign policy decisions, as stated by Parliament in its approval of Urmas Paet's report.

The EU's mainly western member states have repeatedly proposed majority voting in EU foreign policy, both individually and in June, for example, in a joint appeal by seven countries.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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