TALLINN - Hundreds of politicians converged in Tallinn this week for the bi-annual Council of Europe conference of parliamentary chairmen. More than 313 members from 45 countries met at the Kumu Art Museum on May 30 and 31 to discuss building bridges between national parliaments. President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell opened the meeting, and expressed hope that Estonia would resolve the cultural conflicts that had led to tensions over the Bronze Soldier monument.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Borrell said he hoped authorities were able to keep the situation surrounding the Bronze Soldier under control.
"I do not think these events should be dramatized or torn out of context," Borrell told the local media.
"I believe the authorities will be able to keep the developments in check and will take the necessary measures for the integration of minorities and the achievement of mutual respect."
On May 29, Borrell met with Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, and the two discussed the EU's plans for further enlargement.
"Above all, it is important to share common values and secure positive developments. It is also necessary to keep promises once given," Paet said.
Yet Borrell didn't seem to share the foreign minister's optimism. Although he agreed that the last enlargement was economically successful, the European President pointed to recent public opinion polls, which show that many EU citizens are pessimistic about further enlargement. Borrell and Paet did agree that the EU Constitutional Treaty should be decided before the next Europarliament elections in 2009. Speaking about the common European currency, Borrell expressed certainty that Estonia would soon switch to the euro. "From an economic point of view, Estonia is like the Ireland of Eastern Europe," he said.
Hundreds of police were summoned to patrol the Kadriorg Palace during the conference, and traffic restrictions were set up around the Kumu museum.
Along with the Council of Europe's 313 members, representatives from the parliaments of Canada, Mexico and Israel also attended as observers, and leaders of the Nordic and Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) Councils also took part.
An Estonian parliamentary spokesman said the conference would focus on the topic of parliamentary diplomacy.
"The goal is to discuss many important issues for the parliament, such as how parliamentarians can better resolve problems and discuss issues with other institutions in their countries and at an international level," the spokesman said.
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel was scheduled to close the event on May 31 with a reception at Kadriorg Palace