Foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) told ERR on Monday that Estonia’s foreign policy course will continue, albeit with small changes. What he refers to as a shift of emphasis on specific policy points, mainly in the area of migration, is a result of the recent government change, Reinsalu said.
In spite of Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’ reiterations that Estonia’s foreign policy course won’t change, Reinsalu was quite clear that things aren’t quite the same in the current coalition. “There have certainly been several changes made to our foreign policy,” the minister said. “But where our course regarding relations with our allies in NATO and the European Union is concerned, it is unshakable.”
Reinsalu stressed that Estonia’s relations both with the EU and NATO are a “cornerstone” of the country’s security, and thus the “central mission” of its foreign policy.
Instead of substantial changes on the whole, there has been a shift in the emphasis on different policy points, Reinsalu said, perhaps the most prominent being migration. “In these matters my view is decidedly more conservative than that of my predecessors. In my opinion, it is important that we keep maximum control in these questions,” he added.
No specific approximation to Poland and Hungary, says Reinsalu
Responding to recent claims that Estonia is headed for a foreign policy stance similar to that of Poland and Hungary, Reinsalu rejected notions that Estonia is going against the EU’s mainstream, and stressed that Estonia is not about to turn away from any of the union’s central policies. On the contrary, it is in Estonia’s strategic interest to participate in EU cooperation, to contribute to the respectful dealing with each other, and to get to decisions together, he said: “There’s no reason to worry here.”
Commenting on recent divides within the EU, specifically the reservations of the Visegrád states in matters of migration policy, Reinsalu said that countries’ priorities can differ. “States have their own views in specific matters, and it is honest to come out with them as well, and to justify them,” the minister said further. “And if a promise is made, then also to stick with it.” Keeping one’s promises and honoring mutual agreements are the basis of European solidarity, he argued.
“The claim that we have been talking to Poland and Hungary more than to others is wrong. Which of course doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking to Poland,” Reinsalu said.
Concerning reports of a special agreement with the Polish and Hungarian governments to exchange information in the field of migration, and to do so to be prepared to fend off new initiatives in the international arena, Reinsalu insisted that there are no written agreements.
“My Hungarian colleague offered an opportunity to exchange information. And naturally, information is always useful. There’s never too little, but the question is its quality. And naturally, we’re happy to exchange information with any country, including migration, and that’s that,” Reinsalu said.
No-deal Brexit more likely than ever
In connection with a possible no-deal exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, Reinsalu said that there are serious implications both in terms of the EU’s economies as well as its legislation. “A no-deal Brexit is now more likely to become a political reality,” Reinsalu assessed the current state of work.
The minister said that he is planning an overview for the government in the coming weeks of the risks and problems potentially associated with Brexit at this point. “In the case of a no-deal Brexit, there will be a whole number of questions and problems especially for businesses,” Reinsalu said, adding that a priority is also to inform the Estonian public about the implications.
Trade in general is another area where Reinsalu’s ideas differ from those of his predecessors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has heeded recent calls for an increased economic focus: “I intend to submit proposals in the near future how to be more effective concluding agreements with third countries to avoid double taxation.”