Foreign and Domestic Politics of Estonia

Politics of Estonia: Foreign and Domestic

Brief Introduction/Overview.

Estonia is a small Baltic state with an area of roughly 45,228 sq km and a population of 1.3 million people. It is bordered on the south by Latvia, and to the East by the Russian Federation. It is a coastal country, with a Western shore to the Baltic Sea and a Northern shore to the Gulf of Finland. The country gained its independence in 1918, and became a representative democratic republic, with an official constitution adopted in 1920. In 1940 however, the country was occupied by the Soviet Union, and despite a subsequent Nazi occupation during the war, and a brief period of renewed sovereignty, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1992 a new constitution and governmental system were adopted, mirrored after the pre-occupation republic (CIA The World Fact Book).

The country is governed by a parliamentary system, and executive government, and an independent judiciary. The parliament elects a president who serves as the head of state, who then appoints prime minister who serves as the chief administrator of the government. This allows the President to focus on large scale national issues and foreign policy, while allowing the Prime Minister to focus on the day-to-day running of the government (Kortmann).

II.Problems/Issues Confronting your State

A.International System Issues

1.Since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the regaining of Estonian independence, the country’s main priority in terms of foreign policy has been to remove as much Russian influence in the country as possible. Initially, the focus was on getting the Russian military forces out of the country which had been stationed there for most of the Cold War period. The removal of Russian forces was completed by 1994. Following that, the country moved to finalize borders with Russia and create a lasting recognition between the two countries. However, despite the signing of a border treaty in 1999, and the signing of that treaty by Estonian and Russian foreign ministers in 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered that the treaty not be recognized. Since that time, Estonian-Russian relations have been strained, a situation made even more tense due to Estonia’s entry into both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.

2.As noted, Estonia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. This was the culmination of the second most important focus of its foreign policy since regaining its independence. Due to its domination for over 40 years by the Soviet Union, and the inherent isolation from the West that resulted from that domination, Estonia felt a need to reestablish its connections to Europe and the United States. The enlargement of the European Union gave Estonia the perfect opportunity to do this, although it had already been working for over ten years to build its economic and political relationship with neighboring European nations, especially the Nordic countries such as Finland. By the time of its joining, most of its imports and exports were going to Western Europe, a stark change from the previous decades were Russia was the main trading partner.

3. The rationale for this move Westward was not entirely economic however, as Estonia wished to position itself so as to never again be subject to Russian domination. This is why membership in NATO was, and continues to be, a critical part of the national security strategy of the country. While the possibility of a full scale invasion and occupation like what occurred during the Second World War remains remote, under the leadership of Putin, Russian sees itself as having the right to exert influence in the Baltic and Eastern European region (Trennin,65). Given Estonia’s location on the Russian border, it will remain apprehensive about this more aggressive Russian foreign policy stance for quite some time. Ironically, as Estonia moves ever closer to the West Russian may feel it is being encircled and act out in potentially destabilizing ways. This is evidenced in the Russian invasion of Georgia’s South Ossetia region in 2008, a move many saw as a response to Georgian desires to join NATO and also move much closer to the West.(Antonenko,23)

B. Domestic Issues

1.As is the case with many other foamer Soviet-Bloc countries, Estonia has seen its economy grow substantially as a result of open market reforms and pro-foreign direct investment policies. This has allowed the GDP of the country to grow at a remarkable 8% a year up until the credit crisis and subsequent global recession in 2008. As a result of that recession, GDP contracted by around 15% and unemployment soared from 8% to over 14%. While the country is poised for a recovery, the economy remains one of the most important issues domestically.

2.Another issue, one which is very much connected to the economy, is the issues of the proper role of government in regulating the free market and providing social safety nets and other public services. Probably due to its forced association with socialism, unlike most other European Union countries, Estonia does not have a substantial welfare state, and generally promotes free market competition as the solution to many social and economic problems. While this has certainly increased the economic output of the country, and increased standards of living across the board, some have questioned the cost of the expansion in terms of growing wealth inequality and a lack access to equal opportunity mechanism such as education and health-care (Hannula et al.,313).

3.Like most Eastern European countries that were once under the Iron Curtain, Estonia has a large percentage of ethnic Russians in its population. The settlement of ethnic Russians across the Baltic States, and other areas of the Soviet Union was a deliberate policy designed to unify the country and allow Moscow to maintain effective political and social control of the periphery of Russia. While Estonia remains relatively stable in terms of identity and ethnicity, divisions between the ethnic Estonians, and Russian speaking ethnic Russian population remain. Generally, the Russian population understandably feels closer to Russia, and identify with Russian interests in the country and the region as a whole (Eiki & Ehin, 30). This may prove problematic for the future unity of the country and its ability to craft policies that citizens feel represent their interests.

III.Orientation of the Ruling Group

The ruling group of Estonia is currently the Estonian Reform Party, which leads a coalition government comprised of the Estonian Centre Party, Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, and the Social Democratic Party. While these parties do have influence and say in the government, the Reform Party remains the biggest influence in both domestic and foreign policy ().

A.Foreign Policy Orientation

The Estonian Reform Party has neither a hard-line, nor an entirely accommodationalist foreign policy. It is generally favorable to Western interests and seeks closer cooperation on security, economic, and social issues within the context of the European Union. While it seeks to protect Estonia against Russian influence and control, the ruling party does not take a hard-line approach to Russia and is not pursing any overly hostile defense measures. Additionally, given its pro-free market approaches, the ruling party seeks trade agreements with countries in different areas of the world and has opened up diplomatic missions in areas where it previously had only a token presence. There is a general openness towards the rest of the world, in terms of the cultural, social, economic, and political.

B. Ruling Strategies.

The leadership rules via coalition and support building for its various initiatives. It tends to be non-ideological when dealing with international issues and seeks to resolve issues with practicality and pragmatism in mind. This prevents it from getting mired in internal disputes concerning relationships with other countries and allows it to present a unified Estonian foreign policy to its neighbors and the rest of the world.

IV. Domestic Political Oppositions

Considering that the ruling group is a coalition of different parties, with different ideological orientations and long-term objectives, the possibility of fragmentation is always high. Yet the positive growth in the Estonian economy, and its positive and non-hostile relationships with respect to froreign policy leaves little in terms of fierce political debates that could break up the coalition. Instead, each member of the coalition seeks to exert influence in the larger government and the direction of Estonia as best it can.

B. Wider Opposition to the Ruling Group

While there is some opposition to the lack of a welfare state and large government benefits for the most vulnerable sections of the Estonian population, there is not much in the way of outright opposition or a movement which seeks radical change in the status quo. There are however a large variety of political parties and groups operating in the country, many of which have significant following. Yet due to the dispersed and varied nature of these parties, they do not come together in any substantial way, allowing the four main parties of the coalition to effectively dominate domestic and foreign policy.

V. Summary Point: Your State’s Core Foreign Policy Position(s).

Estonia as a whole, seeks to maintain its security and promote its national interest through a variety of means. It is now formally part of the European Union, with adoption of the Euro slated for 2011, and it is also a formal and active member of NATO. This allows Estonia to benefit from the technological, economic, and political capital that more powerful nations bring to the table within the organizations that it is a member of. As a small country, with a small population and military force, it has had to do this in order to protect itself against Russian designed against its sovereignty. It is likely to continue this path of Westernization and openness to international cooperation for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

Antonenko, Oksana. “A War with No Winners.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 50.5 (2008): 23. Web.

Berg, Eiki, and Piret Ehin. Identity and foreign policy. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2009. Print.

“Estonia.” CIA The World Factbook 2010. Web. 15 Apr. 2010.

Galbreath, David J., Ainius Lasas, and Jeremy W. Lamoreaux. Continuity and Change in the Baltic Sea Region. Rodopi, 2008. Print.

Hannula, Helena, Slavo Radosevi?, and G.N. Von Tunzelmann. Estonia, the new EU economy. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006. Print.

Kortmann, C.A.J.M. et al. Constitutional law of 10 EU member states. Kluwer, 2006. Print.

Trenin, Dmitri. “Russia Reborn- Reimagining Moscow’s Foreign Policy.” Foreign Affairs 88 (2009): 64. Print.


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