Ilves warns against "wishful thinking"

  • 2007-07-26
  • By Mike Collier

IN REFLECTIVE MOOD: Ilves asked western politicians to avoid generalising about the Baltics (Photo courtesy European Parliament)

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has stressed the importance of treating every EU member state on an individual basis rather than talking about "the acession states" en masse.

In an interview for the European parliament's website, he also warned against western "wishful thinking" with regard to Russian relations.

Ilves was an MEP for over three years, and believes that the experience has colored his approach to the presidency.

"I understand the EU much better now. I found the work of the European Parliament differs from the work of national parliaments, maybe because good working relations between colleagues in different political groups are considered more important there.  In the latter, emotions can sometimes get high," he said.

"Many in the EP found it hard to get used to the new members. Their focus was often directed towards the Union's new neighbours. For example the question of Ukraine was not very important before enlargement because the EU did not have borders with it. Also, the states that had direct experiences with Russia have a different approach towards Russia than the ones whose experiences were more theoretical.

"The countries which joined EU in 2004 had to go through extensive changes to achieve the transformation necessary for membership. They have maintained the readiness for change. Very often, the new EU members are open for bigger changes than the old ones," he explained.
Asked whether Estonia has any special advice to offer the EU on Russia, he replied: "It is important to listen more to countries that have had practical experience with Russia. Many of the ideas I have heard were built on wishful thinking.

"Reading the statements of Russian officials, it is clear that they are trying to decrease the influence of the new members. A recent study concluded that one of the main goals of Russia is to minimize the influence of the new members in the decision-making of the EU."
But Ilves wasn't only critical of Russian diplomacy, urging many of Estonia's EU partners to avoid treating the varied countires of central and eastern Europe as one uniform mass.
"I am very satisfied but I would like to point out a general tendency," he said.

"Talking about the new Member States, I would warn of making too wide generalisations - there are large differences in their views, approaches and attitudes. Some of them are very sceptical towards Europe and integration. Others, for example like Estonia, are some of the greatest supporter of the EU and want more integration. There are also big differences among the Baltic States.  So, let us avoid generalisations."

Ilves also talked up Estonia's reputation as a centre of hi-tech excellence, saying: "Estonia has some positive experiences, like digitalised public services, that deserve to be explored by the others. We have gone far in reducing paper bureaucracy - it makes my life much easier to work with the computer. Our approach to facilitating computer use deserves to be examined by others."
"In Estonia you can use your computer anywhere and you have free Wifi. In the worst case, you pay one Euro for 24 hours. In most of Europe you can pay up to 8 euros for 30 minutes. 
"When I moved in Tallinn from one apartment to another and asked for an Internet-service, the company told me that they could come on the very same day between 2-3pm and how did this time slot suit me? When I moved to Brussels, I had to wait 7 weeks from when I applied for the internet service!"

The full text of the interview is available at