Estonia

‘Estonian Flag’ by Ville Säävuori

* This article (and the image) was originally published in the Project for Democratic Union, European Parliament Elections 2014

One of the smaller yet enthusiastically Europhile member-states in the lead up to the May Parliamentary elections.

Estonia has seen a confused history as a state. Located at the top of the Baltic region and south of the Gulf of Finland with the Baltic sea at its West and Russia on the East, it belonged to Denmark from 1219 to 1329, parts of it joined the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1582 to 1583, and most of its part were under the Teutonic Order as well, to the Swedish Empire from 1558 to 1710 (mainly to get protection from Russia and Poland), then to the Russian Empire from 1721 to 1918. It saw a brief period of 22 years as an independent republic until the Soviet occupation in 1940, with a brief German occupation from 1941 to 1944, gaining again its independence in 1989.

This transition from one power to another has left a mark on the Estonian people, and partly explains the country’s embrace of the West. During the rule of the Teutonic Order, Germans became dominant in the commerce, government, and church for at least five centuries. Swedes, in turn, founded the University of Tartu in 1632 (a project of King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden). Estonia also witnessed the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism and the victory of the latter.

national awakening took place in the late 19th Century resulting in the First Estonian Independence of 1918, obtained through the German-Russian Brest-Litovsk Treaty and secured by British and Finnish support after an attempt by the Soviets to regain control of the country in 1919. The Second Independence was obtained thanks to the implosion of the Soviet Union, elections held in 1990, the new constitution of 1992 and new elections, and the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1994. The new century saw Estonia to orient more to the West and joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Also during this time the country pioneered in the field of electronic democracy with the introduction of an e-government in 2005, so that even elections are being held via the internet, as well as social services and banking systems. Also, most of the past decade saw an economic growth of 7% per year and an increase of GDP per capita of 45% in 2000 to 67% in 2008. Sweden and Finland are being accounted as the main foreign investors. The crisis of 2008 affected the country by placing the annual growth between 2.6% and 3.5%. In 2011, during the Eurozone crisis, Estonia adopted the Euro as its currency.

The 1.3 million people nation, as a result of its past and recent history, has a positive stance when it comes to the European Union. For instance, a 2008 poll showed that 82% support membership, with 78% perceiving it as generally favourable and 56% regarding it as a source of economic stability. This is significantly above the support in other member-states. The Estonian people also think that the Union should focus more on international coordination in order to deal with issues such as terrorism, developing science and technology, foreign policy and defence, energy, environmental protection, and crime. 96% of Estonians support a closer collaboration between the EU members. Even though only 19% of Estonians think that their voice counts in the EU, 66% is optimistic about the future of the Union and 76% supports monetary union.

The crisis of 2008 has not even touched drastically upon the optimism among the Estonian People, and the 24% think that the EU is more effective in weathering the storm, while 63% think the Union can defend its economic interests abroad. Even 70% think the Union will end stronger after the crisis. On the same track of EU trust, 56% trust in the European Union, the 72% percent feel a citizen of the Union and appreciate the free movement within the Union and the peace among its members.

With a 57% percent of trust in the European Parliament, it is little surprise that by 2009 participation in the elections were of 43.2%. And as a result, Estonia gained six Representatives, two of them being of the Centre Party/Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, one of the Reform Party/Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, one of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union/European Peoples’ Party, one of the Social Democratic Party/Socialist Group, and an independent with the Greens-European Free Alliance. Two of the representatives belong to the Foreign Affairs Committee, one to the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, one to the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and Employment and Social Affairs Committees, one to the Transport and Tourism Committee, and one to the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

For the upcoming elections in May, the latest polls casts a preference for the 26-9% for the Social Democratic Party with two seats at the Parliament, a similar trend for the Centre Party with a 27% and two seats as well. The Reform Party follows with a 21-4% and a single seat, with the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union with 16% and a seat at the Parliament.

March 2014 came with a surprise for the country with the election of the 34 year old Taavi Roivas as Prime Minister by the President Thomas Hendrik Ilves, with a support of a centre-right and centre-left coalition (the Reform Party and Social Democratic Party), and with security as a priority following the Russian aggressive attitudes on the Baltic states and the invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territories.

Apparently the Russian actions had no significant impact on the preferences shown by the polls, perhaps just because the confidence of Estonia in the EU as a source of peace drives the people to think that it can also secure a peaceful situation with Russia, whilst treating a NATO intervention as a resort for the worst of the cases. But this only takes account for the foreign policy and national security. It seems that, for Estonians, the focus is placed more on the standard of life, trade and socio-economic issues when it comes to the European Union and its elections. The only effect of Ukraine and Crimea has been only on the appointment of the new Prime Minister. Regardless, the country is optimistic while sailing on the dark waters of uncertainty and after having weathered the storm of the 2008 crisis. The only source of instability, as a fact, could be Russia and its actions over the Russian population living in the country.

But beyond this, it seems that Estonia will keep its pro-Western and pro-EU attitudes for some time to come. Perhaps Russian actions will end drawing the country closer to the European Union. After all, Estonia and Russia share a common yet not so pleasant history.

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