Current Crisis Will Bring us back to Earth
On 15 April, representatives of the parliamentary parties Anneli Ott (Centre Party), Marko Mihkelson (Reform Party), Anti Poolamets (Estonian Conservative People’s Party), Mihhail Lotman (Isamaa) and Ivari Padar (Social Democratic Party) discussed if the European Union had responded adequately to the current crisis, how to assess it in short and long-term perspectives, and what the lessons from the crisis were.
MARKO MIHKELSON: First, we should make it clear to ourselves here in Estonia, and in particular, the Government should have a clear idea of what kind of European Union we want. It was a matter of serious concern to me when we were discussing in the Foreign Affairs Committee about a week ago what the unity of the European Union, and its importance and relevance were. After all, we have clearly been sharing the common position that we will never be alone again. The solidarity we have to show Europe and expect from others in support of our security or economy is something that, in my opinion, is very clearly understandable to our citizens. If you look at the opinion polls conducted since 2004, then Estonia has been one of the most positive societies that perceives the benefits (in the good sense of the term) of the European Union. Among other things, the issues we have discussed here, namely free movement in all its essence, for work, for studies and simply for travelling, is the most highly valued among the citizens of Estonia. I have heard no clear message yet from the present Government as to what kind of Europe we want to have from this point onwards, and what Estonia’s role in it will be.
ANTI POOLAMETS: The Member States are now trying to win back their sovereignty, at least some of them; I have no doubts about that. In my opinion, free movement has been bankrupt for a long time now, and I have never supported it. The refugee crisis, where people marched from the border of Greece to Stockholm without any control, was a proof of that. It showed how Europe had no control at all over what was happening on its territory. Since then, Hungary in particular has been viciously attacked, and this is continuing even now. Instead of addressing the crisis, the European Commission is busy harassing Hungary at its meetings. It is clear, after all, that this way they (the EC) are putting off some Member States even more and turning the states even more against them. Thus, the European Union has failed in the crisis, not least because the issue of free movement is indeed the greatest problem, but President of the European Commission [Ursula von der] Leyen has said that we must still keep the free movement.
IVARI PADAR: It should be considered what the EU-wide actions could be, for example, in health care. Presumably, it would be necessary for the European Union to have a crisis management unit. And I very much hope that it would have nothing to do with rampant new bureaucracy, and would be something very practical. The issues relating to this crisis or emergency management unit that should be better negotiated between the Member States are the medical supplies, or specifically the supplies necessary in situations of pandemic, which could be markedly provided to where the need is the greatest.
If I say that it is the scourge of the Lord that has come today, then let us use this scourge of the Lord in a sensible way to build up a better European Union.
MIHHAIL LOTMAN: My view in the dialectics of the European Union and the nation states is that the stronger the nation states are, the stronger the European Union is, and the stronger the European Union is, the stronger the nation states are. It is not a zero sum game, it is a cumulative sum game. The European Union is interested in stronger Member States, and the Member States in their turn make the European Union stronger.
And I would now like to argue a little with Ivar. I am not sure actually that the European Union needs an additional structure for tackling crises. It is necessary, however, that the European Union prepared a crisis strategy that is accepted by all Member States. This is what we are lacking. Along the lines of “in this kind of situation, we do this, and in that kind of situation, we do that”, and there is a consensus about it. We are lacking this at the moment. But I think – and the current crisis has shown this – that the European Union structures have survived.
ANNELI OTT: The current crisis will definitely bring us to earth again. In this sense, there is an awakening or adaptation all over Europe, where the nation states are beginning to better perceive their focuses. This will also provide a new opportunity for solidarity to grow, and the tensions that were increasing here will be reduced by the crisis. I like the saying “Trust in God but tie your horse”.
Think about what happened on the Polish border. The European Commission itself has admitted that there was a standstill for a moment, but it was actually overcome in a matter of a week. And I cannot say whether criticism is appropriate in the case of such a large organisation.