Free movement worries EU talks frontman

  • 2001-03-29
  • Aleksei Gunter
Alar Streimann, the vice chancellor of Estonia's Foreign Affairs Ministry, will be leading Estonia's EU accession team at the next round of talks on March 30 in Brussels. In an interview with The Baltic Times' Aleksei Gunter, Streimann revealed the Estonians' agenda.

The Baltic Times: Will the recent political scandals in Estonia, such as Mart Laar's taking shots at a photograph of political opponent Edgar Savisaar, the unsuccessful Estonian Railway privatization, and sleaze surrounding the Tallinn mayor, affect the accession talks?

Streimann: I do not see any reason why they should affect the talks. In general the parties at the EU accession talks do not discuss the inner problems of a particular country.

TBT: How do you assess Estonia's Euroskeptics? How serious are they?

Streimann: Without a doubt, if we support something there will be people who will oppose it. This is natural. The key question is that the discussion about the pros and cons of joining the EU should be open, objective and detailed.

Of course, nothing is perfect and neither is the European Union itself. Sometimes I see people here trying to propagate negative attitudes toward the EU by taking information out of context and presenting it in populist terms. This has the danger of easily influencing ordinary people who have not studied EU matters thoroughly.

TBT: This March, 77 percent of the Swiss said no to the EU. Can Estonia, as another small country, be compared with Switzerland in this context?

Streimann: We can't compare them. Switzerland is located in the center of Europe and Estonia is at the edge of Europe. If people take a glance at the map, it would be clear that Switzerland has considered itself a key part of Europe for centuries.

Even though we Estonians do not question our European origin, for some foreigners Estonia is still just a part of the ex-Soviet area.

TBT: What are the priorities of the Estonian accession talks team for the meeting in Brussels this Friday? What are the general goals for the next six months?

Streimann: I hope the discussion on labor force questions, which is one of the most important for Estonia, will become more active.

Our initial position regarding the free movement of labor was that Estonian workers would be able to move freely within the EU borders. This viewpoint has not changed, and during the coming talks we shall try to ease the emotional stress that some EU specialists suffer from this idea.

It is really hard to predict the final outcome of the talks over labor issues. This was also discussed at the European Commission's special session in Stockholm on March 23. It seems that the EU is still eager in a certain way to restrict the free movement of labor in the EU for transition countries like Estonia.

In general we'll pay a lot of attention to environmental questions. Some of these are linked to engineering problems related to our power plants working on oil shale.