With the focus on March to end of May 2020, this study analyses the new challenges to Estonia’s foreign policy caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic and the opportunities to strengthen crisis management and post-crisis international cooperation, from which it is important to learn in preparation for future crises. The study covers the crisis management measures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, cooperation with the Nordic-Baltic countries and Poland, the role of the European Union in crisis management, as well as global crisis management and the role of China.
Examples of lessons learned and policy recommendations
- Estonian authorities provided consular assistance to its citizens more extensively than many other European countries. The Covid-19 crisis demonstrated the importance of consular networks and crisis preparedness. The need to bring citizens home quickly can arise in various crisis situations, such as a military or environmental crisis. In the future, regular training, maintaining strong consular network and strengthening crisis preparedness in Estonian missions abroad is needed.
- Strengthening the analytical capacity to support decision-making in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of the key challenges in improving crisis preparedness.
- The coronavirus crisis proved the importance of relations with close neighbours in Estonia’s foreign policy. Successful cooperation in a crisis situation requires regular communication in normal times. Poland’s unexpected behaviour at the onset of the crisis showed how necessary security cooperation with Poland is for Estonia, but also forced to consider potential negative surprises in future crises.
- From Estonia’s point of view, both the EU’s crisis measures, and the budget talks were effective. Repatriation flights and economic and monetary policy measures, including the adoption of the new long-term budget (2021–27) together with the European Recovery Instrument of an unprecedented scale (EUR 750 billion), can be highlighted as successful EU crisis measures.
- It is in Estonia’s interest to contribute to the strengthening of the principles and procedures for closing the EU’s internal borders in order to preserve vital connections and avoid unexpected restrictions in the future.
- Covid-19 demonstrated China’s irresponsible behaviour, but also its increased global influence. Estonia should therefore invest in monitoring developments in China and improving language skills. The crisis highlighted the dependence of European supply chains on China, which means that the EU and its Member States must take new measures to diversify supply chains and reduce dependence on critical products of Chinese origin, including in the medical field.
- At both regional and global levels, there has been growing interest in Estonia’s experience and know-how in developing the digital society, using digital solutions in international cooperation and strengthening cybersecurity. Estonia should therefore continue to be active and seek to maintain a positive reputation in the digital and cyber fields, especially in the EU and within the framework of the United Nations and its Security Council.
Download and read (report in Estonian, summary in English): The Covid-19 Crisis and Challenges to Estonia’s Foreign Policy (PDF)