Ambassador of Estonia to Belarus: We Preserve Faith in European Solidarity

By Anton Taras and Roman Yakovlevsky

“We still are full of idealism and positive pathos”, - declared the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Estonia to Belarus Jaak Lensment to DELFI. According to him, Estonia was not forced to enter the Eurozone and it perceives Euro as native currency. Except for that he noted that Estonia keeps its faith in fundamental values of European solidarity.

An exclusive interview of the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Estonia to Belarus Jaak Lensment.
- People talk more often about the European Union crisis. Than how can you explain economic successes of Estonia, which recently has entered the Eurozone, at such unfavorable background?

- Although previous years were really hard for us, but still we’ve managed to achieve a lot. We went through a number of serious tests, became a member of the EU, NATO, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, WTO and Schengen Treaty, etc. It’s quite a great achievement for us, the mark of quality or maturity, to say so. This year we’ve joined the Eurozone and we are proud of that. We weren’t forced to join the organizations, on the opposite we’ve made that with only our efforts.

We really consider that Euro is our currency. And this is a very important nuance and difference. We still preserved enough idealism and positive pathos. It’s significant to note that in 2010 for the first time for a long period Estonia observed a positive population growth. This is also an indicator. We also survived crisis due to that we have firm faith in future and in our own forces.
- Can we already state that you have gone through the global crisis?

- Mostly yes.
- How did Estonia manage to survive this crisis?

- I think that due to the state of mind. From the childhood we are taught economy, prudence. The same the state got used to live wisely. Our budget policy is conservative. But this is not always convenient in times of crisis. But Estonian society has got used to this not only in crisis periods – it has always been this way. We have never planned anything extra. Maybe, this is how our Lutheran routes are expressed. Estonian society has a pretty secular character, but influence of pietism still hasn’t faded away. We have accustomed to live decently, to evaluate our profits realistically. We have got used to live with our own means, which we consider to be natural. For many people crisis became a hard test and the moment of truth. Although there are some sectors which haven’t yet restored fully. For example, labor market. But in general we’ve got through the crisis and we did it bravely. The results of last year were promising – state budget last appeared positive. For 0,1%, but still positive. In the first quarter of 2011 our economy revealed its viability – GDP growth comprised 8% in comparison with the same period of last year.
- As Poland? Usually, they say that Poland got out of the crisis in Europe with positive indexes... And it turns out that it’s not only Poland.

- There are various strategies of states during crisis. The state of budget is not always the index of the state of things. Naturally one of possible strategies within crisis is to borrow funds and to revive economy with this. But we strive to establish conditions for business to attract to Estonia investments and innovations: with this we create working places, instead of using borrowed funds. That is why the level of state debt of Estonia is the lowest in the EU, - it is only 6,6% of GDP.
- And in general, last Parliamentary elections showed that there is significant support of citizens.

- The results of March elections illustrate, most people really uphold this line. In democracies it often happens that those powers in office are not reelected during overall elections. Probably, after the rehabilitation of independence for the first time we faced the fact that the ruling coalition updates its mandate. This is indicative as it is this coalition that has governed in recent hard years, when people faced various deprivations and problems.
- It is considered that Estonians and Finns are very close peoples in mentality and history. Nevertheless, the recent Parliamentary elections in Estonia and Finland showed a pretty expressed difference between the citizens of the two states towards the future of the European Union. It turned out that European skepticism grows stronger in Finland, and in Estonia European optimism prevails.  What is the reason for such differences?

- Timo Soini – a member of the European Parliament. I mean that he can’t be such European skeptic as he is the member of this European Institution. As far as I know, Timo Soini doesn’t demand the withdrawal of Finland from the European Union and even from the Eurozone. Probably, first estimations regarding Timo Soini and his actions are too emotional.
- So is this an invented image?

- Yes, it seems to me that his European skepticism is a bit sophisticated. Naturally, he has a specific opinion regarding each state of the EU and European solidarity. I.e. regarding how the EU should act with the states that made mistakes which could be avoided. But the fact that he focuses on responsibility doesn’t make him the opponent of European solidarity.

By the increasing role of national Parliaments in the process of decision-making within the frameworks of the EU, the resonance is understandable. Moreover he has a special view in the issues related not only the European Union. Nevertheless Timo Soini is not radical in the common sense of this word. Western Mass Media probably too freely project the image of their extreme parties on Timo Soini.
- Maybe it would be more appropriate to name him European critic?

- Probably.
- And still why is the difference so great? We do not observe this in Estonia...

-Estonia has parties and movements, which in a definite way treat Europe skeptically. The difference is that Soini doesn’t demand withdrawal of Finland from the EU, and Estonian Euroskeptics demand the withdrawal of Estonia from the EU. But in course of the elections the last ones were supported by quite a moderate number of voters.
- Why?

- Because in comparison with Finland our political spectrum is more right-wing one. Even Finnish parties, maybe, are more left-wing than ours. When talking about the European Union, than we are not talking exceptionally about direct monetary benefit. Also the EU is not an antagonistic game with opposite prizes, where the victory of one side is proportionate to the loss of another one. The European Union first of all is common values. It’s absolutely evident that peace and prosperity on the continent is the result of these values. Freedom of personality, civil and economic liberties, openness of societies and solidarity is the term of trust between those peoples which earlier during centuries carried wars and competed in revanchism. And indeed most citizens of Europe consider that common property doesn’t at all threat the identity of national states of Europe.
- And the main thing is that most of electorate supports this policy...

- Yes. In Finland those who doubt the policy of solidarity in the European Union is in minority. As the upholders of Soini comprise 19%, and even those are ready to be flexible in complicated issues.
- When the global financial crisis forced many states to reduce budget expenses, which affected also the expenses of diplomatic representative offices in various states of the world, Estonia expands them. Recently the plans of Tallinn to open its Embassy in Astana was announced. Could you please characterize the current foreign policy of Estonia on this example?

- The opening of the Embassy demands few efforts. The decision to open the Embassy didn’t suppose the existence of funds for building, personnel, etc. Everything is done step by step. As for opening of new Embassies, than at the moment we open them without increasing of the budget in general.

We consider that Kazakhstan has a very significant role in economy, stability and security in Central Asia. We appreciate the role and lines of Kazakhstan, where they seriously treat the issues of civil and social reforms, to the dialogue within the issues of human rights protection. We also know how seriously this state treats their problems. The OSCE Chairmanship of Kazakhstan revealed flexible diplomacy, the ability to find the right line.

I would like to remind that our President has also underlined the work, lead by Kazakhstan in the status of the leading state of Shanghai Cooperation Organization, one of the goals of which is the promotion of various cultures and religions in its region and within wider scale. Except for that, this year Kazakhstan chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), keeping on strengthening the contacts and understanding between East and West.

Naturally, we’d like to be represented there. Supposedly, the Embassy in Astana shall also fulfill regional tasks. Except for that, we have also economic interest in Kazakhstan and wide region around.
- Expressed interest was incited by the recent state visit of the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev to Estonia. Widely recognized is the fact that in modern international relations energy security plays a significant role. Can we say that it has become one of the main reasons for the visit of the Head of this Eurasian state, which plays today greater role in various spheres of security in the world?

- Naturally, Kazakhstan has its involvement in Estonia. If to look at the map, it is not difficult to find out that Estonia and Kazakhstan live in the places of trade roads crossing – Hanse and Silk one. That is why, these historic relations should be revived and unite more intensively than earlier.  As along the new Silk Road today from East to West oil and gas are transported, and from West to East – innovative technologies and others. Today evident is the importance of use of Estonian ports for transit. But I don’t see for the energy block to be so important within our bilateral relations, when we talk about the reasons of the visit of the President Nazarbayev. Significant for their development are also other industries as Information and Communication Technology, innovations, contacts between people, as well as transport and transit.
- Do you mean the transit through Russia?

- Yes, through Russia. But we have the spheres of mutual interest, not only the ones like transit, energy resources, but also as cooperation in agricultural sphere. We consider this as extremely important and perceive Kazakhstan really seriously in these aspects.
- How do they in Tallinn assess the results of the visit of the President Nazarbayev?

- We evaluate this visit really positively. Kazakhstan has positive dynamics: economic, social. That is why we think that this country is our important partner.
- And no one is irritated by the kind of cooperation? For example, the other members of the Customs Union.

- No we don’t observe the kind of things. The Customs Union is itself quite a nice idea. By the way, our country supports Kazakhstan, that leads talks on the joining the World Trade Organization. We also support rapid launch of talks between the European Union and Kazakhstan in order to conclude a new treaty on partnership and cooperation.
- Which role does Estonia play today within the “North dimensions” of European security?

- “North dimension” is an international project of the European Union for partnership between aligned territories of North Europe, Baltic and Russia. In particular, “North dimension” exists in order to contact with regions of North-West of Russia. But this is not a defense idea but mostly ecologic one. We made our choice with respect of so to say rigid security in another sphere. We are NATO members. Some of our neighbors in Baltic like Sweden and Finland are not. Norway, Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania are the members. And our choice in this view is absolutely definite.
- Is the promised launch of the “North Stream” able to affect this security picture somehow?

- No these are different things. We do not consider this NATO subject. As for NATO, there is a firm wish of the Alliance to cooperate in the direction of Afghanistan, where the states of Central Asia contribute into the provision of urgent for international security forces transit corridors. And also participate in various civil projects in Afghanistan. And here I also would like to recall Kazakhstan. During Tallinn meeting of the Presidents of Estonia and Kazakhstan it was underlined that during many years Kazakhstan has expressed special feel of responsibility in the sphere of peaceful Afghanistan promotion.
Translatedby EuroDialogueXXI from