Foreign Minister: No-deal Brexit, migration quotas, not way for EU to go

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Urmas Reinsalu in the Välisilm studio.
Urmas Reinsalu in the Välisilm studio. Source: ERR

Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu appeared on ETV foreign policy broadcast Välisilm Monday evening, giving a relatively pro-EU message on Brexit and the Italian governmental crisis, but at the same time stressing opposition to the union solving migration crises via quotas. Reinsalu also said that Estonian foreign missions should not make pronouncements in support of LGBT+ minorities in EU countries, including avoiding signing petitions to that effect, on the grounds that it need not be a case of follow-the-leader.

Speaking to Valisilm host Johannes Tralla, Reinsalu said while a no-deal Brexit now looked more likely, he did not see it as an ideal outcome, for anybody.

"It is not a good outcome for any of the sides. It will harm our businesses, it will harm our people, in all countries, including the U.K. That country's exit with a deal would definitely be more appropriate," he said.

Reinsalu also said that the EU could not be more flexible on Brexit, if that meant letting down the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU, referring to the issue of the nature of the UK-Irish border following Brexit. A "backstop" solution was part of the proposed deal to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland appearing after the U.K. leaves the EU.

Reinsalu also expressed hopes of sticking to the so-called Dublin principle in migration issues, where EU member states remain responsible for their own border controls and whether or not to grant asylum to migrants who apply for it.

Migration problems responsibility of state being affected

Reinsalu rejected the principle of refugee quotas.

"When a crisis erupts which can no longer be dealt with by an individual state, other member states will definitely be searching for solutions to help in a fashion that is acceptable and manageable for them. If the question is, is Estonia opposed to such central quota principle which calls for the distribution of refugees, then yes, Estonia is opposed to that in principle," the foreign minister said.

Estonia has seen a few dozen refugees resettled to its territory under the EU's migrant relocation quota, which arose following the 2016 migrant crisis. Recent figures put the number currently staying at the two accommodation centers at Väo and Vägeva at 63.

Reinsalu added that Estonia must stand up for its positions on migration, within the EU framework.

"This is definitely one of the opportunities for damaging the EU substantially," Reinsalu said, adding that he expects the EU to persevere, and hopes for there to be fewer splits in future.

On the question of Italy specifically, Reinsalu said the recent governmental crisis puts a new spin on how the country will align itself with the EU both in financial policy and foreign policy.

The previous, populist government of Giuseppe Conte was threat to the entire euro area, Reinsalu said.

Foreign missions should not officially support LGBT+ minority movements

Reinsalu also said that Estonian foreign missions in EU countries taking a stance on issues of sexuality was not a priority within Estonian foreign policy, in response to a question by the host.

Recent foreign ministry guidelines directed Estonian diplomats to refrain from signing petitions in support of LGBT+ minorities in those countries, on Estonia's behalf. Diplomats could sign the petitions or be involved in other ways, such as gay pride parades, if they so wished, as private individuals, however.

While many other countries may see their foreign missions as a platform to express support for these communities, this does not mean that Estonia has to follow suit, Reinsalu said.

"We don't have to prove something to everyone all the time and be guided in our actions by what others think about us," Reinsalu said.

The foreign minister's original statement on the issue reads as follows:

In accordance with the new guidelines, the foreign representations of Estonia will not make statements on behalf of the Republic of Estonia in pride parades taking place in the host countries. Everyone has the right to participate in any desired rally under the rule of law, but participation on behalf of the Estonian state in parades and statements from sexual minorities is not justified. It is guided by the principle that marital status issues are, firstly, interpersonal and, secondly, purely domestic, where it is inappropriate for other countries to intervene in any way.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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