Ilves postures as 'spokesman of the East'

  • 2006-11-01
  • By Joel Alas

GOOD AS NEW: In his first month as president, Ilves has already given Estonia an impressively eloquent voice.

TALLINN - Only three weeks after taking charge, Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered a stern speech that foreshadows a radical new direction for the office of president. On Oct. 30, Ilves called on the leaders of "Old Europe" to abandon their undue concern of the new and aspiring members of the European Union.

"There is no reason for arrogance or complacency," Ilves stated.
Commentators said the speech showed Ilves was posturing as the champion of the new EU countries.
His statements, although tempered, were perceived as far more fiery and outspoken than anything uttered by his predecessor, Arnold Ruutel, during his term in office.
"These words were more progressive and more provocative than Ruutel's," said Rein Toomla, a political analyst from Tartu University.

"From one side, most Estonians and politicians are sure that Ilves is and will be a very good speaker for the Baltic countries, and also for all of Eastern Europe," he said. "But from the other side, the problem is that if Ilves is the speaker of this region, we don't know how his ideas will be accepted in Western Europe."
Toomla said it was possible that Ilves was trying to position himself as a "revolutionary."
"The question is, is Europe listening?" he asked.

As a former foreign minister and European Parliamentarian, Ilves is no doubt acutely aware of the dialogue of diplomacy.
On Oct. 30, he delivered a speech to a parliamentary conference entitled "Values and Interests in International Relations," (see text Page 14) during which he called on the politicians of Europe to become "less selfish."

"Today European values have come under serious pressure inside the European Union, and even more so in our immediate neighborhood," Ilves said during his speech.
The president added that there was undue concern toward the new members of the EU, and called on the union to assist nearby countries struggling for democracy and freedom, a thinly-veiled reference to Georgia, whose cause Estonia has supported.
"Nearby, in Europe's immediate neighborhood, there are people risking their lives and their freedom in order to defend fundamental European values. They are threatened by forces that are stronger than they, forces that are more stable, with whom it is always easier to strike a deal, invite to our country, and to whom we can sell our goods," he said. "We have no right to look down on others if they don't express themselves as well and as diplomatically as we would wish."

Ilves underlined that the EU's continued development depended on the new members injecting "contribution, creativity and acting" into the bloc.
"We, the politicians of Europe, must become less selfish. Both in the so-called 'new' as well as in the 'old' member states. It is true for all of us… also for those for whom the European Union simply means huge injections of money from the Brussels budget," Ilves said.

"But the so-called 'old members' also need to realize that the departure from their Eastern borders of the tank divisions of the Warsaw Pact does not mean that what happens on the other side of the border of the European Union no longer concerns them."
The conference was attended by past and present leaders, diplomats, government officials, and academics from across the EU.
Meanwhile, Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip also stepped up as a spokesman in favor of EU enlargement.
During a meeting of Baltic and Nordic prime ministers in Copenhagen on Oct. 30, Ansip said it was essential for the EU to press ahead with enlargement goals.

"We believe the enlargement of the EU has been a success story. We consider it important for those positive impacts to be taken into account," Ansip told his fellow leaders.
"The enlargement must not be sacrificed to the union's own internal reforms. The EU's absorption capacity is an essential consideration but should not be a separate admission criterion," he said.