No. 43




My First Fifteen Years as an Estonian Member of the European Parliament

  • Tunne Kelam

    Tunne Kelam

    Member of European Parliament 2004–2019

As a long-time Member of the European Parliament (EP), the author shares his memories of the first EP elections in Estonia and the popular attitudes in Estonia in 2004 when we joined the European Union.

As a respected leader, it was Arnold Rüütel who played a crucial role in persuading the sceptics; after his public appeals, the pre-referendum public opinion clearly turned in favour of the accession. The referendum received a new positive boost from President Rüütel’s arguments that only accession to the EU could save us from becoming a grey zone between the EU and the CIS, and that the accession would by no means weaken Estonia’s independence but instead strengthen it. Eventually, the position of the Estonian citizens was clear – over two thirds (67%) voted in favour of the accession, one third against it; almost two thirds of the electorate (64%) took part in the referendum.

The author was elected to the world’s largest parliament in the same year – 2004. He looks back at his seemingly unsure first steps in the European Parliament. Throngs of people circulating through one massive complex naturally makes one person feel small and almost powerless. Compared to Toompea Castle, the EP felt like an ocean with an immense mass of water and waves of up to ten metres high. It was not so much about staying afloat as about sensing out the different undercurrents, avoiding being automatically swept up by the main current, and instead starting to set the course towards one’s own destination, ready to paddle against the stream when needed.

The author also takes a closer look at the so-called April events in 2007 and sums these up in the following manner. “Looking back today, from a distance of 14 years, I see the relocation of the monument to the Soviet occupiers to its rightful place and the successful quelling of the Moscow orchestrated riot as a logical full stop to the long process of restoring the independence of the Republic of Estonia. We needed to complete it one way or another, and the provocations of the Putin supporting extremists helped us to find clarity sooner – quite contrary to their intentions. The government of the Republic of Estonia had for years been treading tactfully and with full respect for the nostalgic sentiments of a large part of our population. Yet, the enduring presence of this symbol of the Soviet “liberators” only half a kilometre from the premises of the government authorities of the Republic of Estonia, and its increasingly aggressive politicisation, set Toompea a disagreeable but unavoidable question – who holds the power? To all intents and purposes, this was an issue of double power, an equal recognition of a truthful and a false narrative.”