Minua pyydettiin kirjoittamaan johdanto Viron ulkopolitiikan vuosikirjaan Pilk Peeglisse – Glance at the Mirror 2007. Teksti julkaistiin viroksi ja englanniksi.
Estonia is more than a Test Case of Russian-EU Relations
By Risto Penttilä
The year 2007 was the year of the Bronze Soldier. The scuffle surrounding the relocation of a war memorial in the heart of Tallinn reverberated far beyond Estonia’s borders. It highlighted the difficult relationship between Russia and Europe. It brought electronic warfare to the agenda of the European Union. For Estonia, it was a good reminder of why it made sense to join both NATO and the European Union.
The crisis was a manifestation of Estonia’s role as a test case of EU-Russia relations. When relations between the EU and Russia are cordial, they tend to be cordial between Russia and Estonia as well. When overall relations are tense, they tend to be even tenser between Russia and its bête-noire.
Yet, it is worth remembering that Estonia was not the only EU country at the receiving end of Russian criticism. Britain in particular has had a rough time with the Kremlin. In the course of 2007, we saw a series of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats. The branch offices of the British Council were closed down in two Russian cities, St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. Kremlin accused London of a colonial attitude and BBC journalists were treated badly.
In other words, the Kremlin is not lacking in self-confidence. Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has summed up the mood in Moscow very succinctly. According to him the present Russian administration believes that ”Russia is up, America down and Europe out.” If you want to study the drama at a close distance you go to Estonia. The annual Lennart Meri conference and the innovative work of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute and the International Centre for Defence Studies have turned Tallinn into a hub of foreign and security policy debate in Northern Europe.
As important as Russia is for Estonia and for the European Union, Russia is not the only dimension of Estonia´s foreign relations. President Ilves conveyed this message very clearly when he spoke to Finnish business leaders in December 2007. The president said that he has made a point of not talking about Russia in his speeches when he travels abroad. ”Of course, when it is time for questions and answers, all the questions have to do with Russia.”
President Ilves is right. Estonia is more than a test case of EU-Russia relations. The country plays two additional major roles on the international stage. One should not forget either of them.
Estonia´s first role outside the nexus of EU-Russia relations has to do with economic policy. Like it or not, Estonia is the beacon of economic liberalism in Europe. Its flat-tax, free market approach has won admirers and detractors. But most importantly, it has worked. The country has made enormous progress in a very short time. But is the progress sustainable? Many experts think that Estonia cannot maintain its fast growth rate. The bubble will burst sooner or later. So far Estonia has proved the critics wrong. It was not the Estonian economy that ran into difficulties toward the end of 2007, it was the American one. It was not the Estonian banking sector that was hit with big write offs, it was the banking sector in the USA, France, Switzerland and in other ”stable countries”. Finnish and Swedish financial institutions also fared rather well. One suspects that the lessons of the financial crisis of the 1990s have not been forgotten.
Estonia´s second (non-Russia related) role has to do with digital technologies. Finland is still a world leader in mobile communications. But when it comes to the adoption of new technologies Finland, and in particular the Finnish public sector, is losing ground to Estonia. Estonia has introduced voting over the internet. You can fill out tax forms on-line. And government meetings have been paperless for years. And then there is Skype, of course. Finland has a lot to learn from its southern neighbour.
Lastly: a few words about the very special relationship between Estonia and Finland. Despite our proximity, our historical experiences have been very different. Yet, today we find ourselves in a very similar position. We are both members of the European Union. Our economies are becoming more and more integrated. Thousands of Finns visit Estonia every week and vice versa.
There are only two defects in the otherwise idyllic picture: Estonia is not member of the Euro zone. And Finland is not a member NATO. I rather suspect that it will take less time for Estonia to join the Euro zone than for Finland to join NATO. When this happens, it will not be the first time in the modern era that Finland and Estonia have the same currency. Immediately after Estonian independence, the two countries shared a common currency for about ten months. In that sense, it is back to the future with the Euro.