Jüri Ratas: All roads lead to Europe ({{commentsTotal}})

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: (Siim Lõvi/ERR)

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said in an address on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on Saturday that the European Union needed to offer real solutions for the future, and that it needed to be brought closer to the people. ERR News is publishing the prime minister’s speech in unabridged and unedited form.

60 years ago, firm foundations were laid in Rome for peace, stability and prosperity in Europe 

The foundations of the European Union, created on 25 March 1957 as the European Economic Community and later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, were laid sixty years ago in Rome. For Estonia, today’s date is also specifically significant because 20 years ago in December Estonia was invited to EU accession negotiations on the initiative of Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg at the time. Just ten years earlier, when Estonia was still under occupation, we did not even dare to dream it.

However, peace, democracy, and Europe’s prosperity model are fragile and require continuous care. The White Paper on the Future of Europe recently published by the European Commission acknowledges that Europe’s economic and political power is shrinking in the light of global developments. We must decide now whether or not Europe will have a say in the decisions affecting the global economy, and politics, in ten or twenty years. It can no longer be taken for granted that this century will be a ‘European century’ – a century of respect for international commitments and human dignity.

Today’s Europe, created through the joint effort of its people, is unprecedented and unique in the history of humanity. For Estonians, the 25th of March is, above all, the solemn anniversary of the March 1949 deportations. We have experienced first-hand the atrocities of totalitarianism and authoritarianism and a lack of security and freedoms that we consider so self-evident today. It is, therefore, understandable that Estonians see cooperation with western institutions as anchors of security and independence that are based on western values. However, we must remember both meanings of the 25th of March. 

The greatest achievement of a united Europe is peace, security, and the joint exercise of freedoms. It is essential to recognise these achievements and values, particularly in an era when they are called into question by lies and populism. 

Here we can rely on the bridge created by two great men. Yuri Lotman, a prominent literary scholar, semiotician, and cultural historian, exchanged letters with Umberto Eco across the Iron Curtain back in the 1960s. Umberto Eco argued that semiotics was the discipline to use to study everything that could or can be used in order to lie. Yuri Lotman could have provided his counterpart with an abundance of research material – we, the people behind the Iron Curtain, were deprived of truth and freedom. Every day we must stand together for European values so that the era of lies may never return.

As we mark the 60th anniversary of the European treaties, we have not gathered in Rome to retire the European Union. All 27 of us are here to reinforce our commitment to ensuring peace and prosperity. We need to think about the challenges of the coming decades and to offer solutions to future generations.

We need to further preserve and develop what is important to us – our cultural and linguistic diversity, traditions, wildlife, a caring social model, and the unprecedentedly large market, common currency, and fundamental freedoms. Naturally, we must keep peace and offer security, as well as explain how the environment is changing, and what is going on in the world. We all understand that being inward-looking, rejecting the rapidly developing world and fearing technological change is not a solution. 

Europe’s democracy and social models are ideal for alleviating people’s fears about the changing circumstances. We must turn challenges into opportunities, reinforce freedoms, fight barriers, and stand up for free trade and technological progress.

The four fundamental freedoms established by the Treaty of Rome sixty years ago have brought us to where we are today. Estonia has proposed a fifth fundamental freedom – the free movement of data – to ensure a better management of political and economic processes in the future. While changes are inevitable, Europe is the best there is. I am confident that for Europe, a continent seasoned by crises, the best is yet to come. 

The greatest value of the Treaty of Rome as an instrument is that it provides general guidance and that it is signed by all member states. Each one agrees to it. Yet, political disputes and disagreements between North and South as well as East and West concerning solidarity, responsibility, and mutual respect have again raised the question of working methods. This has engendered discussions about the extent and intensity of cooperation between different parties.

Retrospectively, we can say that the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, which made the European Council a full institution of the European Union and thus provided crisis aid, was actually a very forward-looking decision. It is my opinion that while working methods are important, they are not sufficient to solve fundamental differences of opinion. We need to reach a consensus concerning the outstanding issues at the heart of the political debate – the euro area, migration, and the Schengen area. 

We need assertions that together we will survive the next crises too. The member states that use the euro as a common currency and belong to the Schengen area, and share its external borders have a special responsibility. Different working methods may eventually lead to the same result if the parties themselves accept its direction and content. Unfortunately, the right to abstain rather than the will to follow is often the issue. Such a right should probably exist in justified cases. Europe has always reached a ‘major agreement’ step by step and comprehensively – be it the internal market, common agricultural policy, the monetary union or the Schengen area. The first task is to achieve factual solidarity between member states. The democratic system will always be imperfect for those who desire agreements that are larger than life.

The French and German general elections may lead to discussions about European defence cooperation. The existing treaty allows for moving forward without involving all member states. This is actually the first opportunity for Estonia to be involved in the decision-making right from the outset, because joining the Schengen and euro areas required a great effort. 

As a member of defence cooperation, we can be among the vectors of development. In addition to developing a common culture and sharing threats, –we could, together with the other member states and allies, influence our common defence spending and investments. Just imagine what it would be like if the European defence cooperation were at the same level today as the agricultural and trade policies established in 1957, and in which we are equal partners to the United States.

A place at the negotiating table is vital for Estonia, and its geopolitical and security policy positions remain unchanged. Therefore, the question of whether or not Estonia should be involved in defence policy from the start should never arise. Of course it is in our interest. 

Estonia’s return to Europe and Europe’s return to Estonia must be irreversible. The cornerstone of Estonian foreign policy established by Lennart Meri – never again alone – remains relevant. Estonia must be at the core of European defence policy.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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