Tallinn: Estonia takes on EU presidency amid national change


Picture of Viljar Veebel
Viljar Veebel

Viljar Veebel is Senior Fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute

For Estonia, the first half of 2017 was unexpectedly dynamic. The power struggles within and between domestic political parties brought a new coalition in late 2016, a landmark change since the Reform Party, in power over the last 17 years, went into opposition and the moderately leftist Centre Party – the main representative of the Russian-speaking minority – took leadership of a coalition with the Social Democrats and the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. Right-wing and strongly nationally-oriented politics has become more leftish and inclusive. One immediate issue for the new government was Estonia’s European Union Council Presidency, shifted forward six months due to Brexit. Suddenly the new government, and especially the Centre Party, out of power for a decade, had to actively participate in EU-level political processes.

While a first-time presidency is undoubtedly challenging, the government has kept an open mind and set an agenda close to the heart of the Estonian people. A main priority is the Eastern Partnership initiative. In the context of the recent Georgian and the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, issues related to regional security and stability are crucial. Hopes are high in Estonia and a lot is expected from the November 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict Estonia has been closely engaged, stressing the need to solve the conflict via international law and supporting Ukraine’s EU integration efforts. Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has said that “the future of Ukraine determines the design of the European security architecture for the next couple of decades”.

Another topic bound to gain priority is the single market and particularly the digital single market. Topics and initiatives known as ‘e-issues’ have nowadays become rather ordinary in Estonia compared to a decade ago. On the international stage the country feels a soft ‘pressure’ to preserve its reputation as a digital success story, thanks to its reputation on e-government and e-residency.

During the presidency Estonia intends also to use its leadership role to ensure “what actually we in Estonia believe is really important in the EU, that every country, every member state, has a voice and a right to be heard”, to cite the Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. In short, not only the European Commission or some of the big EU member states have the right to determine the future of the Union: all EU member states, irrespective of their size, should have the possibility to contribute to the discussion and the process, and have their voice heard.

This article was first published in Europe’s World print issue number 35. Read more on the issue and order your copy here.

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