Sven Mikser: “It's a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple that coun­tries have a sov­er­eign right to take de­ci­sions re­gard­ing their geopo­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and destiny”

Es­to­nia's Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs on agenda for Coun­cil of EU pres­i­dency, Eastern Part­ner­ship summit and UN peace­keep­ers for Eastern Ukraine

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Anna Kor­but

Es­to­nia holds the Pres­i­dency at the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union from July through De­cem­ber 2017. The Ukrainian Week spoke to Es­to­nia’s Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs dur­ing his visit to Kyiv about Es­to­nia’s po­si­tion on the pro­pos­als re­gard­ing peace­keep­ers in the con­flict area in eastern Ukraine, ex­pec­ta­tions re­gard­ing the next Eastern Part­ner­ship Summit, as well as Ukraine-Es­to­nia and Ukraine-EU re­la­tions.

What are the goals of your visit to Ukraine? What did you dis­cuss with Pres­i­dent Poroshenko at your meet­ing on Septem­ber 12?

First of all, the goal was to pay a bi­lat­eral visit to Ukraine, which is a very im­por­tant part­ner for Es­to­nia, an im­por­tant tar­get coun­try for our de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion. We have iden­ti­fied Eastern Part­ner­ship (EaP) as one of the pri­or­i­ties for our Pres­i­dency of the Coun- cil of the Euro­pean Union. So it was im­por­tant to visit Ukraine dur­ing the Pres­i­dency. The cal­en­dar of bi­lat­eral vis­its be­tween Es­to­nia and Ukraine has been ex­tremely tight: there have been a num­ber of bi­lat­eral vis­its, and prime min­is­ters have made their vis­its. But I de­cided that for me, as a for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter, it is also im­por­tant to visit Ukraine. This one ac­tu­ally co­in­cided with one of the EaP events, the Me­dia Part­ner­ship Con­fer­ence, in which I took part.

I met with Pres­i­dent Poroshenko, Prime Min­is­ter Hro­is­man, and For­eign Min­is­ter Pavlo Klimkin.

The two main broad top­ics on the agenda are the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly in eastern Ukraine, the most re­cent de­vel­op­ments there and the progress of at­tempts to build a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion. Ob­vi­ously, Es­to­nia is a very firm sup­porter of Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and sovereignty. We also work hard to keep

these is­sues on the ta­ble at var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions so that they are not pulled off the ta­ble by new crises in the world.

Since the ag­gres­sion against Ukraine is still on­go­ing and the il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea has not been re­versed, we need to keep sup­port­ing Ukraine in its en­deav­ours and main­tain strong pres­sure on Rus­sia as long as it has not re­turned to an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cept­able frame­work.

The sec­ond topic we dis­cussed is the re­form process. One as­pect is the macroe­co­nomic agenda. It’s am­bi­tious and is not ex­pected to be uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar. Some of these re­forms are painful ini­tially but ab­so­lutely im­por­tant in the longer run. We spoke about the re­forms of the pen­sion and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. Also, the re­form of the ju­di­ciary is crit­i­cally im­por­tant, as is the fight against cor­rup­tion. These will help pro­mote Ukraine as a coun­try with a good in­vest­ment cli­mate.

Ukraine has reached im­por­tant mile­stones in co­op­er­a­tion with the EU: the visa-free travel agree­ment, as well as the As­so­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and DCFTA. Now we have reached an im­ple­men­ta­tion phase and it’s im­por­tant that Ukraine be able to demon­strate that it re­ally is safe for in­vestors from the EU and be­yond.

What is Es­to­nia's po­si­tion re­gard­ing the peace­keep­ing mis­sion for eastern Ukraine?

I talked about that with Pres­i­dent Poroshenko at length. Ob­vi­ously, it was pro­posed by Ukraine very early on into the con­flict: that there should be in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ers. I ab­so­lutely be­lieve that if this idea ma­te­ri­alises, the peace­keep­ers should have ac­cess to the whole of the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory, not just the con­tact line. The mis­sion should not serve to le­git­imise the de facto sep­a­ratist au­thor­i­ties. That should not be ac­cepted. Also, we should be care­ful to see that Rus­sia doesn’t use this as a way of creat­ing an­other frozen con­flict. These are the main prin­ci­ples that need to be ob­served.

You men­tioned EaP as a pri­or­ity dur­ing your pres­i­dency at the Coun­cil of the EU. What would be your goals or ac­com­plish­ments to speak about at the up­com­ing summit in Brus­sels in Novem­ber?

For­tu­nately, we have some suc­cess to re­port. We now have the AA and DCFTA, as well as the visa-free travel agree­ments with the three more ad­vanced mem­bers of the group. That’s very pos­i­tive.

A lot still needs to be done in terms of giv­ing real con­tent to the AA. The im­ple­men­ta­tion phase will prob­a­bly not be as vis­i­ble as the visa-free travel. But in the longer term, the open­ing-up of the EU mar­kets to goods from Ukraine, Ge­or­gia and Moldova, eas­ier ac­cess to those mar­kets, is a way to im­prove com­pet­i­tive­ness and the lives of peo­ple, per­haps even more sig­nif­i­cantly than those ac­com­plish­ments that are al­ready vis­i­ble.

That’s some­thing within the frame­work of the ini­tia­tive called “20 de­liv­er­ables for 2020”. I think that this will be one of the real de­liv­er­ables.

When it comes to the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion of the summit, we are in the early phases of draft­ing right now. We are work­ing very hard to see that it ad­dresses all con­cerns and ex­pec­ta­tions. We know there are some dif­fi­cul­ties to over­come in com­ing to agree­ment both among EU Mem­ber States, as well as among some EaP coun­tries. We all have recol­lec­tions of how it was with the Summit in Riga. (Two EaP coun­tries, Be­larus and Armenia, did not want to sign the fi­nal dec­la­ra­tion be­cause of the word­ing about Rus­sia’s il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. An­other prob­lem was the op­po­si­tion of some EU Mem­ber States to the phras­ing about Euro­pean as­pi­ra­tions of EaP coun­tries – Ed.)

But I hope that, with that ex­pe­ri­ence in mind, we can avoid some of the dif­fi­cult parts this time.

When it comes to the is­sue of Euro­pean as­pi­ra­tions of EaP coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the three that have ex­pressed them very clearly, there can be no fall­ing back from the po­si­tion that was ex­pressed in Riga – we have to be look­ing for­ward, not mov­ing back­ward. That is a very clear prin­ci­ple.

Do you ex­pect a lot of re­sis­tance to that?

Ob­vi­ously, there are dif­fer­ences, dif­fer­ent points of de­par­ture when coun­tries gather at the ta­ble. But I don’t see any­thing that can’t be over­come in the process of draft­ing. We also want to make the doc­u­ment avail­able to EaP part­ners be­cause it’s go­ing to be a joint dec­la­ra­tion. There needs to be time to con­sider and dis­cuss the in­put from EaP coun­tries.

Dec­la­ra­tions are im­por­tant out­comes of such meet­ings. But I think that in the longer per­spec­tive the im­ple­men­ta­tion of AAs and DCFTAs, and spe­cific de­liv­er­ables in im­por­tant ar­eas, such as con­nec­tiv­ity, en­ergy pol­icy and visa-free regime, are no less im­por­tant than the ex­act word­ing of the dec­la­ra­tion.

Af­ter the visa-free travel for Ukraine, next goals are be­ing dis­cussed here in terms of fur­ther Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion. Given the ten­sions within the EU about its fu­ture and pol­icy about as­pir­ing coun­tries, where do you see po­ten­tial for the most progress for Ukraine?

There are im­por­tant ar­eas where I see the pos­si­bil­ity of deep­en­ing what we have. It’s very im­por­tant that you are able to demon­strate suc­cess in re­form­ing in all the sec­tors I men­tioned: the so­cio-eco­nomic agenda, the fight against cor­rup­tion. The more you demon­strate that you are mov­ing ahead, the less scep­ti­cism there will be.

Ob­vi­ously, there are also chal­lenges that are in­ter­nal to the EU, in­clud­ing the soul-search­ing af­ter the Brexit vote and ne­go­ti­a­tions dur­ing the exit of one of its largest mem­bers, some­thing that is un­prece­dented. So the EU’s at­ten­tion span is some­what lim­ited.

I think there is a pos­si­bil­ity of mov­ing for­ward in the Digital Sin­gle Mar­ket. There are also a num­ber of

Sven Mikser was born in 1973 in Tartu, Es­to­nia. He grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Tartu in 1996 ma­jor­ing in English lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture. Mr. Mikser was MP at the Es­to­nian Par­lia­ment from 1999 to 2002. He served as Min­is­ter of De­fense in the Siim Kal­las Cab­i­net from 2002 to 2003, and Min­is­ter of De­fense in the Taavi Roivas Cab­i­net in 2014-2015. From 2007 to 2011, he was chair­man of the So­cial Demo­cratic Party's fac­tion and mem­ber of the For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. From 2008 to 2010, Mr. Mikser served as Vice Pres­i­dent of the NATO Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly. He was appointed Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs in 2016.

other ar­eas where we can think cre­atively and ar­rive at pos­i­tive out­comes.

Pro­mo­tion of the Digital Sin­gle Mar­ket is one of the pri­or­i­ties in Es­to­nia's pres­i­dency. What are the oth­ers?

There’s a full leg­isla­tive agenda on the ta­ble. We have iden­ti­fied the fac­tors where want to see progress.

With re­gard to the hor­i­zon­tal pri­or­i­ties in var­i­ous fields, EaP is one of those in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. We are en­gag­ing those part­ners in a num­ber of min­is­te­rial meet­ings. We had Min­is­ter Klimkin and other EaP min­is­ters of for­eign af­fairs in Tallinn for the Gym­nich in­for­mal meet­ing of for­eign min­is­ters of EU Mem­ber States. We had min­is­ters at­tend­ing the in­for­mal meet­ing of jus­tice and home af­fairs min­is­ters, as well as con­fer­ences and fo­rums on busi­ness com­mu­nity, civil so­ci­ety. This is one of the hor­i­zon­tal pri­or­i­ties: we want to make sure that the EaP pro­gram is seen a pri­or­ity area for the whole of the EU, not just the Mem­ber States from Eastern Europe. It is im­por­tant both from the se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tion per­spec­tive; it is im­por­tant that it doesn’t dis­ap­pear from the agenda af­ter our pres­i­dency.

As for the agenda for the Digital Sin­gle Mar­ket, it con­cerns digital is­sues more broadly – free move­ment of in­for­ma­tion, which we want to see one day emerg­ing as a ba­sic free­dom of the EU. Also, the cy­ber se­cu­rity di­men­sion is a very im­por­tant as­pect of the digital agenda.

Then, there is se­cu­rity in the broader sense. We have seen bound­aries be­tween in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity be­com­ing less and less clear. There is an indivisibility of se­cu­rity in the ge­o­graph­i­cal sense: de­vel­op­ments that hap­pen very far from home af­fect your se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity im­me­di­ately. These in­clude the EU’s in­ter­nal se­cu­rity: how we ad­dress is­sues such as ter­ror­ism and or­gan­ised crime, vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion in our own so­ci­eties. As well as ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity, from the de­fence of the EU’s ex­ter­nal bor­ders to ad­dress­ing the causes of crises, the EU de­vel­op­ment pol­icy, how we sup­port the build­ing of re­silience in the so­ci­eties and coun­tries that are frag­ile and prone to crises.

In terms of cy­ber se­cu­rity, you have faced a num­ber of at­tacks on your cru­cial sys­tems. Ukraine has suf­fered that as well. Do you see a space where the two coun­tries could co­op­er­ate with mu­tual ben­e­fits?

We al­ready do in a very mean­ing­ful way. The rel­e­vant agen­cies are co­op­er­at­ing in cy­ber de­fence, in pro­tec­tion of our in­fra­struc­ture, com­mu­ni­ca­tions that are used to de­liver ser­vices via the in­ter­net. That is one of the up­com­ing is­sues of the day. And no longer is this sphere iso­lated. When we talk about fight­ing off in­for­ma­tion wars and hos­tile pro­pa­ganda, that has a very strong cy­ber di­men­sion. The same goes for the pro­tec­tion of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture.

We also share our ex­per­tise when it comes to e-gov­ern­ment and digital plat­forms in mak­ing the gov­ern­ment more trans­par­ent and di­rectly ac­count­able to peo­ple. When it comes to fight­ing cor­rup­tion, that’s a chal­lenge for ev­ery coun­try. But the more de­vel­oped a coun­try is, the more you can rely on the cy­ber plat­forms, e-gov­er­nance so­lu­tions. The more trans­par­ent the op­er­a­tion of the gov­ern­ment, the less space for cor­rup­tion there is. It im­proves the le­git­i­macy of the au­thor­i­ties on the lo­cal and na­tional lev­els. And it’s good for peo­ple since it saves the coun­try a lot of money. It also makes the coun­try much more at­trac­tive as a place to do busi­ness.

The Es­to­nian Cen­tre of Eastern Part­ner­ship we host in Tallinn is run­ning im­por­tant projects. We have an e-Gov­er­nance Academy that is co­op­er­at­ing with all the part­ners in Europe’s east and south. They are do­ing some very promis­ing projects with some coun­tries in Africa, Latin Amer­ica. That’s how a small coun­try like Es­to­nia can have an im­pact be­yond its reach and size. The tra­di­tional ex­ports of goods can be lim­ited by size – you can’t have a huge im­pact on ge­o­graph­i­cally large and dis­tant mar­kets such as China, Ja­pan or many African coun­tries. But when it comes to plat­forms for digital ser­vices, e-gov­er­nance so­lu­tions, you can eas­ily adapt to var­i­ous cir­cum­stances, as well as scale them up. We’ve iden­ti­fied that as a way to punch above our weight.

Lithua­nia is dis­cussing a “Mar­shall Plan” for Ukraine. What is your po­si­tion on it?

How­ever we call it, it’s ab­so­lutely clear that we will have to con­tinue to sup­port Ukraine so as to see that you get through the very dif­fi­cult pe­riod in the his­tory of your coun­try when you have to re­form at a very high pace and fight off an ag­gres­sion at the same time.

Some of the re­forms we are talk­ing about are dif­fi­cult to im­ple­ment even in peace­time. They are so much more dif­fi­cult when you have to fight for the in­tegrity and in­de­pen­dence of your coun­try. We sim­ply can­not af­ford the en­emy to win that con­flict.

It’s morally wrong. It’s a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple that coun­tries have a sov­er­eign right to take de­ci­sions re­gard­ing their geopo­lit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion and destiny. No third party has a veto on that. And that is ex­actly what the Krem­lin is try­ing to im­pose. So it is a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple.

But also it is a mat­ter of ex­is­ten­tial in­ter­est: should your en­emy pre­vail, the con­se­quences would be ab­so­lutely cat­a­strophic for the whole Euro­pean se­cu­rity ar­chi­tec­ture. So it is vi­tal that we as the EU, as well as a com­mu­nity of demo­cratic na­tions around the world more broadly, sup­port you and help Ukraine to come out of this stronger than it was. And main­tain pres­sure on the ag­gres­sor.

There is prac­ti­cal ma­te­rial help, as well as moral sup­port, the good ad­vice and prac­tices. We are ready to do all that. Also, we have to see that this is dom­i­nant at im­por­tant ta­bles in the EU and in in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions.

It is never go­ing to be easy. But we have seen in the not too dis­tant past that truth will pre­vail in the end. In­jus­tice will be re­versed in the long run. So it is very im­por­tant that we main­tain the re­solve, the united front, and be there for you in var­i­ous ways.


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