UN Global Compact unfinished business, says justice minister

Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa).
Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) has said on Wednesday that the next Estonian coalition should distance itself from the UN Global Compact on Migration, bringing up an unresolved question which had been seemingly put to bed for the remainder of the current coalition's term. This effectively ends with the general election on 3 March, though it is likely to be several weeks before the makeup of the replacement coalition is known, following discussions with parties depending on the number of seats they pick up at the election.

The issue of the global compact, which caused a governmental split in November, with Mr Reinsalu's party in opposition, should be solved by Estonia distancing itself from the compact, Mr Reinsalu says justice ministry analysis demonstrates.

The question largely hangs on the binding or non-binding nature of the compact. Since countries have not had to sign anything, principally giving oral asent including at a summit in Morocco in December, it has been argued that it is non-binding. However, Mr Reinsalu says, in reality extra safeguards need to be in place to circumvent it becoming binding further down the line.

Several EU countries, including Poland, Hungary and Austria, did not give their assent to the compact; not only Isamaa but opposition party the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) voiced their strong disagreement with Estonia going along with it.

Questions were also raised at the time of the constitutional powers of President Kersti Kaljulaid, who had been speaking in favour of the compact and visited the UN several times, partly in pursuit of a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for her country.

Clear statement needed

The government must make a clear statement to the UN in this respect that, under international law, it is a so-called permanent respondent, in the case of the Republic of Estonia, and the Republic of Estonia does not consider itself bound by either political or other subsequent norms of international custom," Mr Reinsalu told ERR on Wednesday.

''The question is whether the Republic of Estonia can isolate itself from this document within the meaning of international law; the answer is: Yes, this option is completely possible, this path is perfectly acceptable within the sense of international law, and depends on the political choice of the future government," Mr Reinsalu added

Mr Reinsalu however said that no declaration need be inserted into the framework yet – on solution touted during the crisis in November – but that the Estonian government simply need distance itself from said framework.

If the next government did not have the political will to make such a declaration, however, then the onus would fall on the administration after that, Mr Reinsalu added.

The move would go against what has been carried out by Estonia's representatives at the UN so far, however. The Estonian ambassador to the UN, Sven Jürgenson, for one thing had voted in accordance with the Estonian foreign ministry at the UN in supporting the compact.

Foreign minister Sven Mikser is from the Social Democratic Party (SDE), which supported the compact.

Mr Jürgenson had read Estonia's speech on the basis of a statement by the Riigikogu, following the UN vote, also confirming Estonia's position that the migration framework does not change the current customary law.

However, Mr Reinsalu said that the status quo may change due to the political nature of the compact and that, if Estonia did not take the steps he recommended, whatever the Estonian ambassador to the UN had voted on or said in the past would not carry any weight.

The general election is on 3 March.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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