President Kersti Kaljulaid has issued a statement on the UN Global Compact on Migration, following a political ruckus which saw not only protests against Estonia being a party to the compact, but also charges that the government had kept parliament and the people in the dark on the issue.
”Now at least the government’s stance on the UN’s Global Compact on Migration is clear,” said Ms Kaljulaid in a press statement released by her office on Thursday evening.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) said at the weekly government press conference on Thursday that the compact offered a solution to the global migration problem, which the UN says may involve as many as 230 million people, in a manner which safely preserved the legal rights of those caught up in the issue. Mr Ratas’ foreign minister, Sven Mikser (SDE) stressed the need for strong leadership direction at the same conference.
No unity, no Marrakesh trip
President Kaljulaid said early on in the week that if there wasn’t government unity on the issue, then she wouldn’t be on the plane to Marrakesh, Morocco, where the compact is due for endorsement, on 10-11 December.
The compact does not require sigining, but national leaders, in attending the Marrakesh meeting and giving speeches supporting the compact, effectively signal their country’s support for it in that way.
Several European countries including Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, as well as Donald Trump’s US, have stated they will be staying away from the Marrakesh meeting and thus not backing the deal.
Somewhat un-Estonian breakdown of tranquility?
”The unexpected failure of government unanimity has given way to a week of social hysteria, lies and hurt,” Ms Kaljulaid continued. Critics of the apparent use of the issue for electioneering purposes have included former foreign minister Urmas Paet (Reform); the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) collected over 1,000 signatures in opposition to the compact and picketed the Riigikogu on Thursday. Isamaa/Pro Patria also expressed its opposition.
Knowingly making associations with claims which are not true but are sure-fire ways to divide society to the migratory framework, on the matter of refugees, may seem like regular election campaigning, but since it effectively libels the compact, it is very much not the case,” the president continued.
”This brings the foreign policy of the Estonia we have created and built together for the past 27 years into question. The Estonian people deserve better,” she said.
Agreement no snake in the grass
Mr Paet himself had warned against joining the ranks of Austria, Hungary etc. in opposing the deal, suggesting that he would be prepared to step into the breach as foreign minister again if Mr Mikser was found wanting.
”We also need to discuss details, hence why Estonia, together with the rest of the world, acknowledged two years ago that we need a greater common understanding of what migration is. We can not simply bury our heads in the sand and hope that the migration issue will just go away. We can walk away from the table, but by doing that we will have simply lost the opportunity to discuss the issue and not resolved it. For Estonia, it is crucial for a world order based on international treaties and rules apply; if we no longer believe in those principles, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain them from others in the future,” the president went on.
”The UN Migration Framework creates greater understanding and cooperation, but it does not create new rights or change the laws of, or options open to, Estonia. It is precisely this type of cooperation that has so far best served best to maintain Estonian integrity and to ensure the security of our country and increase the economic well-being of our people,” the President concluded, obliquely referring to claims made by justice minister Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria), that whilst the compact may appear to be non-binding, in practice the framework of mechanisms he says are in place for monitoring adherence to its terms, not to mention its far-reaching nature, going way beyond the national laws of the country, mean it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Existential questions surrounding presidential role
Mr Reinsalu, citing legal advice, had given the example of Austria, whose government opposes the deal as noted, where most of the 23 sections of the compact applying to it go far beyond the scope of current Austrian law, he says. Mr Reinsalu had earlier in the week also questioned the constitutional leeway the president has for directing the government on the issue; he was not alone in raising concerns here; Marko Mihkelson (Reform), chair of the Riigikogu’s foreign affairs committee, had voiced similar concerns, as well as concerns he had about the government withholding information on the compact’s progress from parliament.
In short, the president’s statement, whilst clear, is unlikely to be the end of the story.