January 15, 2020

Estonia is Punching Above Its Weight in the EU

Presentation of the research project “The Impact and Image of Estonian Foreign Policy in the European Union” on 15 January 2020 at the ICDS in Tallinn.
Presentation of the research project “The Impact and Image of Estonian Foreign Policy in the European Union” on 15 January 2020 at the ICDS in Tallinn.

In general, Estonia is perceived as a pragmatic and constructive partner in the EU. Estonia’s good reputation is based on paying attention to the interests of other member states and their priorities while pursuing its own goals. As a small state with limited resources Estonia is punching above its weight by being innovative and energetic.

This was concluded by the authors of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute’s (EFPI) latest research project “The Impact and Image of Estonian Foreign Policy in the European Union” presenting the results of the study on 15 January 2020 at the ICDS. The project was conducted together with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Estonia has been successful in bringing to the table and shaping the EU’s Russia policy, Eastern Partnership, and digitalisation and cyber security.

The research project “The Impact and Image of Estonia’s Foreign Policy in the European Union” made use of a broader study by the ECFR, The EU Coalition Explorer 2018, which placed Estonia 12th in the ranking of 28 EU Member States in terms of influence. Finland was ranked 11th, Lithuania 21st and Latvia 22nd.

Josef Janning, former head of the Berlin office of the ECFR noted that for any policy to be effective in the EU, it has to be perceived as a priority by the heavyweights. “If you don’t get Germany and France on board, it is difficult to get any policy in the pipeline,” Janning told.

Janning also pointed out that Germany tries to take under consideration the interests of all member states, while France’s interests match the most with Italy and other southern European countries.

The EU Coalition Explorer 2018 findings were supplemented by 52 anonymous interviews conducted by the EFPI/ICDS researchers during July-November 2019, of which 24 were conducted with Estonian diplomats and officials, 18 with EU member state diplomats and 10 with officials of EU institutions.

The interviews looked at diplomatic practices, working methods, image and partners of Estonia, and issue-based cooperation. The focus was on qualitative analysis, but in addition, the study presents eight quantitative indicators of Estonia’s position and contribution in the EU.

Kristi Raik, Director of the EFPI at the ICDS highlighted that the study also showed some concerns: Estonia’s strong image so far is overshadowed by domestic political turbulence and conflicting signals from the government.

“Solidarity is not a one-way street,” Raik stressed. “If Estonia is not willing to share the burden in migration policy, why should other member states show solidarity with Estonia on other matters. Estonia positioning itself in the same group with Hungary and Poland on some occasions has also raised questions among partners.” Raik said that there is no dramatic impact so far, but it is important not to lose the image of a pragmatic partner in the EU.

The authors of the research project:

  • Kristi Raik, Director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the ICDS
  • Josef Janning, former head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations
  • Piret Kuusik, Junior Research Fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the ICDS
  • Rein Oidekivi, ICDS Research Fellow
  • Kalev Stoicescu, ICDS Research Fellow

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