Estonia on Its Way into a Changing Europe
After Estonia restored its independence in 1991, the first instinct of the national leaders was to join the united Europe as soon as possible.
There was no doubt that if we were to get stuck somewhere in the mid-zone with our Soviet baggage, our freshly won independence would have wilted in no time. Two strategic objectives involved the accession to the European Union and to NATO. Only membership in these international organisations could ensure us safety, economic-political stability, but also the necessary stimulus for carrying out fundamental reforms.
Estonia’s chain of successes might create an illusion that no other way was possible. Yet the possibility that the development could have been blighted by negative influences or been cut short altogether was at least equally as strong. For this reason, we need to recognise and appreciate the efforts of Estonia’s institutions and parliament that took us to our two main goals in less than thirteen years after the restoration of our independence. The European Affairs Committee (EAC) was established in 1997 and developed into the leader and coordinator in the harmonisation of Estonia’s legislation at the parliamentary level. The key issue in harmonising Estonia’s legislation with the EU acquis was the ratio between pace and quality. The results were mostly consensual.
Regular contacts with the European Parliament turned out to be an important asset during our rapprochement with the EU. A special Riigikogu and EP Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed in the EP on 29 January 1997. Official meetings took place twice a year – in Tallinn and in Brussels. You can say that the majority of our colleagues in the European Parliament were the most sympathetic and supportive of Estonia’s efforts, out of all the EU institutions.
COSAC conferences (Meeting of the Chairpersons of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union) were an important international outlet in the parliamentary cooperation of the EU Member States and candidate countries. The regular COSAC conferences allowed us to plug into the parliamentary communication of the EU Member States, present the positions that were important for Estonia, and obtain support for these.
Representatives of the Estonian parliament and government participated in the work of the Convent on the Future of Europe, which had been established in December 2001 by a decision of the Council of Europe. The Convent sought a constructive balance between the imminent enlargement of the EU and the structural reforms inside the Union. The work of the Convent culminated with the EU Constitutional Treaty. We received a portent warning signal of the perils ahead from the EU Constitutional Treaty ratification process. This unexpectedly and dramatically brought to light the fears of the “old” Member States when faced with a massive historical enlargement of the Union. This resulted in the French and Dutch citizens rejecting the document drafted by the Convent on the Future. It has remained clear that the “old” Europe continues to struggle to “take in” the 13 new members from 2004–2013. However, the result is better than might perhaps have been expected. Despite the negative forecasts, Estonia did well to concentrate all its efforts on homework, fulfilling the membership requirements, avoiding any excuses to hold back the process. Our successful preparations were founded on determination and consensus on the national level.