Urmas Paet: "The year 2011 was a milestone in Estonia's relations with Central Asia region countries"

Exclusive interview  Estonian Foreign Minister

1. Would you please characterize current participation of Estonia in Baltic dimension of European integration?

Regional co-operation is very important for Estonia; Estonia contributes actively to implementing and developing the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region and is an active participant in all regional co-operation formats. Regional co-operation is continuing to intensify, which is demonstrated by the diversity of co-operation areas and the growing number of joint projects.

When speaking of global problems and development in farther-off regions, the Baltic countries could be among those helping to foster this development, so that relations with rising powers would always include values as a strong component and not be purely pragmatic.

Baltic co-operation is active on all levels: the presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers meet regularly and there is close co-operation between ministries and departments. Constant information exchange, consultations and meetings prior to major EU meetings help us to understand each other better, gather more information, and formulate positions.

There are issues on which the Baltic states have very similar positions, but naturally there are also some on which positions of the countries differ.

If the EU wants to play an influential role on the global stage of the future, it is essential to continue with the enlargement policy - the steps we take today are in the name of tomorrow's well-being. The countries in our region make a contribution to ensure that enlargement takes place based on firm and previously agreed principles that do not frequently waver, for this would lessen the policy's credibility. We must ensure the sustainable accession of new members into a union that already contains many different, but well co-operating countries.

All of the Baltic countries are interested in developing and strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy. European Neighbourhood Policy is one of the EU's most important mechanisms with which to influence the development of our new neighbours - political and economic reforms, institutional development, and legislative drafting.
2. How topical is the issue of nuclear energy for Estonia?

Estonia is interested in safe nuclear energy in the world and especially in its neighbourhood. We understand the appeal of nuclear energy for reducing CO2 emissions, but safety and environmental requirements must always be taken into account. Sharing information with the public and involving interested societal groups is very important. Estonia is interested in diversifying its energy portfolio, and we see the use of nuclear energy as a CO2-free form of energy as an option. Estonia has expressed political support for participation in the Visaginas nuclear plant project in Lithuania. Currently negotiations are taking place among energy companies. The strategic partner of the Visaginas nuclear plant project was chosen by Lithuania in July 2011 - they chose the Japanese-American company Hitachi-General Electric Nuclear Energy.

Estonia is in the theoretical stage of nuclear programme and will not build its own nuclear plant within the next decade. The energy company owned by the Estonian government, Eesti Energia, is participating in Lithuania's Visaginas nuclear plant project. We consider this programme essential for strengthening the electric energy supply security of the entire region. We can all learn a lot from our Nordic neighbours when it comes to the peaceful and safe use of nuclear energy. Building a nuclear plant on Estonian soil is currently not under discussion. Any potential nuclear plant would be built by companies, not by the state. To date not a single application requesting to build a nuclear plant has been filed and in fact it is not possible to do so until the corresponding legislation has been passed. Starting to produce nuclear energy in Estonia would require comprehensive discussion within society, therefore the possibility of building a nuclear plant depends not only on technical and economic analyses but also on the results on public and political debates.
3. Lately we have observed foreign political activity of Tallinn within post-soviet area, especially in Central Asia region. In this respect, to your mind, what are the certain successes of Estonian diplomacy in this region?

The year 2011 was a milestone in Estonia's relations with these countries - Estonia's first embassy in the region started to function in Astana and ambassadors were accredited to all Central Asian countries. This is a solid basis for further co-operation with these countries, as it is in Estonia´s intentions to develop co-operation in all fields that are useful and interesting for both sides. There is a number of possibilities for bilateral political and economic co-operation with Central Asia. Surely Estonia's experience from the reforms of the last 20 years of independence could be useful for these countries in building long-term stable modern societies as well as economic co-operation generally, but mainly in areas connected to modern technologies, like ICT and our e-governance solutions.

From the other side, the reason for intensifying relations during the last few years is our willingness to contribute to the stability and security of this very important region. We see it as our contribution to the implementation of the EU's Strategy for Central Asia as well as our responsibility as a NATO member.

We must also keep in mind the growing importance of the Central Asian region in terms of existing and potential resources. For example, in transporting energy carriers (petroleum, coal, etc.), the region is an important transit gateway for Estonia. We are also interested in bilateral collaboration in the energy sector. For example, Estonia is co-operating on energy-saving technologies with Kazakhstan. Estonia has sold hundreds of heat pumps to Northern Kazakhstan. We are also relaying our experiences regarding oil shale technology to Kazakhstan.
4. How do you assess the state and prospects of the European Union's "Eastern Partnership" and participation of Estonia in it?

Eastern Partnership, created in 2009, has today become a generally well-functioning form of co-operation that continues to develop. While there have been some alarming political developments in Eastern Partnership countries, notable progress in making reforms and integrating with the EU has also taken place. Recently we have been satisfied over the start of negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Moldova, Georgia and soon also Armenia, and we hope it will be possible for these negotiations to progress quickly. Equally important is implementing visa facilitation (this proposal has been made to Belarus as well) and moving towards a visa waiver. The European External Action Service and European Commission have done a good job with implementing and developing European Neighbourhood Policy, including emphasising both Southern and Eastern Partners, and this must continue. Increasingly important is the "more for more" principle, which means the countries that progress more quickly in carrying out reforms and communicating with the EU will in return receive more opportunities and support from the EU. Particular attention is being given to adherence to democracy, human rights, and rule of law, as well as involving civil society. EU support could come in the form of money and technical support or offers of free trade and the more free movement of people. Also important is co-operation in specific sectors, including in the education, energy, transport, agricultural, and other sectors (for our part we would like to place more emphasis on the topic of information society).  Soon we will have an Eastern Partnership road map to follow until the next summit at the end of 2013 in Vilnius and the next foreign ministers' meeting next summer.

Supporting the Eastern Partnership countries has always been a foreign policy priority for Estonia, even before a concrete policy was worked out within the EU - we believe that the development of these countries is vitally important for the development of the whole region and therefore essential for Estonia achieving its foreign, security, and economic policy goals. We will certainly be dedicated to Eastern Partnership in the upcoming years, supporting the continuation of democratic and economic reforms in our partner countries as well as the closest possible co-operation and integration with the EU. The Eastern Partners are also Estonia's development co-operation priority partners and as of last year the Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership, which focuses on raising our Eastern Partners' administrative capabilities, is active in Tallinn. The Center organises training sessions for officials from partner countries, supports people from those countries attending the Estonian School of Diplomacy and carries out studies.
5. Does Estonia intend to suggest something, introduce new initiatives during the oncoming NATO Summit in Chicago?

The NATO Summit agenda will be agreed amongst all the member states during the preparation process. Estonia does not intend to suggest new initiatives at the NATO Summit in Chicago.