Why Estonia Wants to Join the European Union?
Estonia is linked with European countries by geographical, historical, trade and cultural ties. In various times, Estonia, a predominantly protestant country, has been part or has had close contacts with Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany, all of which are now EU Member States.
Four Estonian towns were active members of the Hanseatic League, a medieval trade partnership. This may explain why the idea of pan-European co-operation, put forward in 1923 by Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, received extremely enthusiastic reception in Estonia, which in the 1920s was enjoying its newly-found independence.
Having suffered heavily in World War II, and under the yoke of Nazi Germany, and then the Soviet Union, Estonians understand the benefits of close co-operation for ensuring peace, security and economic prosperity in Europe – a fundamental principle of today’s EU – better than other nations.
After the communist grip loosened enough to allow the setting up of political parties, and the establishment of civic movements and public organisations, co-operation with European countries quickly became the main foreign policy objective for most political organisations in Estonia.
Estonia started to make a case for accession to the European Union1 already in 1991, in a process that climaxed with the submission of Estonia’s accession application in 1995. Progress in European integration enabled Estonia to be included in the group of five most successful applicant countries of Central and Eastern Europe, that started accession negotiations already in 1998.
The Estonian Government has set an ambitious target of being ready for accession into the EU in 2003. Progress made by Estonia so far, and the positive opinion of the European Commission expressed in its reports, has made meeting this deadline very realistic. Provided that the EU itself is ready to welcome new members by that time, Estonia stands a realistic chance to become one of the first new members in the EU in the middle of this decade.
It is obvious that for Estonia, the main benefit of accession into the EU significantly differs from that of several other candidates, as well as current Member States. It is the security policy aspect that the EU can offer as part of geopolitical and trade co-operation structures that makes accession so attractive for Estonia. In this respect, the viewpoint of Estonia is similar not only to Finland, but also to several other candidates such a Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (i.e. countries which will form the external border for the EU). This will bring about a special responsibility to ensure the integrity of EU borders and compliance of the border-crossing regime with Schengen requirements, safeguarding the security of the EU from the east. Since security is a common objective for all Member States, it will also integrate Estonia closer to the European Union family. Membership in the EU means that we will be part of the common security zone. Today, this security is predominantly indirect, achieved mainly through trade and political co-operation, rather than military security. In the future world order, security based on co-operation and diplomacy is certainly more stable and effective than security based only on military presence.
Estonian political circles understand that globalisation is an inevitable and irreversible process. Small countries have limited possibilities to promote their vital interests. However, in co-operation with other European countries and with the opportunity to participate in the common decision-making process, Estonia would have significantly wider opportunities to promote its interests. This means that Estonia and the EU have a common ground of interest. Estonia needs the EU, but the EU also needs Estonia. Accession to the European Union will fully realise this common interest.
1The author’s vision on the European Union as the historical foreign policy objective of Estonia was published for the first time in the Estonian press in 1991, before Estonia finally regained independence.