No. 14




Defining the Foreign Policy Ideology of Estonian Parties

18 December 2006


RiTo No. 14, 2006

  • Heiko Pääbo

    research fellow, University of Tartu, Eurocollege

  • Taavi Kand

    political science master's degree candidate, University of Tartu

  • Triinu Kaljuorg

    political science master's degree candidate, University of Tartu

The article treats current research conducted by the University of Tartu Department of Political Science. The focus of the article lies on the defining of foreign policy ideology of the Estonian political parties in the Estonian parliament Riigikogu (Centre Party, People’s Party, Pro Patria, Reform Party, Res Publica, Social Democratic Party).

The aim of the research is to define the sources of the foreign policy action of the political parties. We elaborated an analytical model, which was proposed by Ulf Bjereld and Marie Demker (2000) in research on the main Swedish political parties’ foreign policy behaviour. The foreign policy ideology is measured by the scale “historicism” and “liberalism”.

We defined three main criteria to define the political parties’ position on this scale. First we evaluated the political parties’ attitude towards political debates on the foreign policy issues, postulating that openness for debates is characteristic for liberalism and foreign policy consensus is defined by historicism. According this criterion, most of Estonia’s political parties prefer consensus in foreign policy and therefore belong to the group of parties who prefer historicism. Only the Centre Party and Reform Party differ from the others, leaving an open door for political debates on foreign policy, and the Reform Party considers the debate to be a normal phenomenon after joining the EU and NATO.

The second criterion is involvement into the process of foreign policy decisions. According this criterion most of the Estonian political parties had an ambiguous position. The Centre Party and People’s Union used the argument of public involvement only in the public discourse but in general they did not sense any pressure from either voters or party members. Pro Patria focused more on party internal pressure and they did not consider the bigger public involvement. All this three parties belong rather to the historicism ideology. Res Publica and Social Democrats considered public involvement important and also perceived slight public pressure to the foreign policy issues. The Reform Party is most open to public involvement and also perceives public interests on the foreign policy issues. However, all parties declared that foreign policy is a less relevant issue for the voters and party members than internal policies.

The third criterion is the worldview, which was defined on the scale of Realism vs. Liberalism. Parties in the Realist school are more historicist and parties which tend to perceive the world through Liberalism values are more liberal. Pro Patria, Peoples’ Union and Res Publica perceive the world as anarchic and hostile and therefore we can define them as historicist parties in foreign policy. The Social Democrats are more ambivalent but rather liberal. Central Party and Reform Party both tend to perceive the world in the vein of the Liberalist school.

In total, it is difficult to define the foreign policy ideology of Estonian political parties because there are several ambiguous issues and very often party foreign policy ideology is defined by a few front men or women. However, we defined this ideology on the relative scale in the Estonian context. Pro Patria, Peoples’ Union and Res Publica tend to support all historicism. As its name indicates, the Centre Party is located in the centre but leans slightly towards historicism. The Social Democrats are also in the centre of this scale but also leans slightly towards liberalism. The most liberalistic party in Estonia is the Reform Party. This research is a pioneering one: the young party system has not initiated any earlier research on the foreign policy ideology of Estonian political parties.

Full article in Estonian