No. 41




All for One and One for All Twenty Years After*

10 June 2020


RiTo No. 41, 2020

  • Klen Jäärats

    Government Office of Estonia, Director for EU Affairs

The end of this political cycle in Europe (2019–2024) coincides with an historical occasion to celebrate the twenty years since the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union.

“Enlargement” is a technical term for a political process of historical conciliation and re-unification of Europe, and a popular political choice for a shared destiny under the same roof. On 1 May 2004, President Arnold Rüütel said, “We have every reason to believe that out of all similar historical attempts, the current unification of Europe is the best and most lasting.” So what will be the stories we will tell on that occasion? How is the current COVID19 crisis going to affect our common narrative? Did the crisis make us go forward with growing and with addressing the grand challenges of today, which can be effectively solved only together at the European level?

We, the Union and the Member States, were taken by surprise and were unprepared for the COVID-19. As usual, the crises bring out our best and our worst selves, and the reaction to this crisis is quite telling on what our Union is and how it works. Estonia knows how difficult it is to make progress at the level of the Union in public health sector, because it has always had an ambition for free movement of patients and free movement of health data, but so far not to great avail, and mostly because of very limited competence, lack of interest, and policy resistance. Metaphorically, we cannot ask for a European Army when we have not built one. So it is not the Union’s fault, because lack of competence is the main reason for what happened: the closed borders, the arms race for personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and the variety of forms of reaction, not to speak of the restrictions to our personal freedoms. Luckily, it only lasted for a very short period of time, before we were again able to co-ordinate and saved the day. This crisis has to change all that. Resilience needs to be built up and the comprehensive approach to security that Estonia has proposed, proceeding from its own experience, could be the foundation for Europe to become a valuable actor in security domain. There is no proper institution or framework to deal with health security, the security of value chains, the mobility of security goods, the RDI, interdependence and the security of critical technologies and infrastructures, and responding properly to the new emerging threats of cyber and hybrid nature and the threats emanating from our ecological and climate degradation. It all boils down to the need to change the way we look at things and also to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the Union. Considering the foundations of the Union – industrial production, the common market and the four economic freedoms – it is not surprising that speaking with citizens and about topical issues has dominantly been in market economy terms. While economy has always been considered a moral science, the American political philosopher Michael Sandel has pointed out the moral limits of markets, and the dangers of turning market economy into a market society, where everything has an exchange value. We have to put the freedoms, the public values and what isn’t for sale into the focus of the debate, without doublespeak, so that we could avoid the taboos of the past. The political choice of addressing the twin grand challenges – the ecological and the technological transformation – directly and as a way of making it a basis of opportunity and growth will provide the Union the outcome legitimacy that it has always craved for, but also democratic legitimacy, because this is what the European citizens expect and are worried about. If the Union is to last, it must speak also to our hearts and our feelings.

Seventy years ago, the Schuman Declaration laid the foundations for the Coal and Steel Union and for our Union of today. The Green Deal will lay the foundations for the Union of Renewable Energy, Sustainability and Data, which will be the building blocks for the industrial revolution, resilience and the continuing cooperation between the European nations and peoples in the 21st century. While doing this, we should not forget that we are also on a mission to save our Planet, mostly from ourselves. This hope for our better future and for our better self can be our story in 2024. This hope should also determine the direction and the course of our recovery and guide us out of the current crisis.

* The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author.