Vivid EU debate wanted

  • 2001-05-10
  • TBT staff
TALLINN - Estonian officials and public figures continue promoting the positive side of EU membership, while the media tend to focus mostly on the more pessimistic aspects of joining the European Union.

Tunne Kelam, an MP and one of the key figures of the Pro Patria Union, said that informing people of the country's movement toward the EU has reached a socio-psychological blind alley. One-sided propaganda would not improve the situation, he said.

"Entry into the EU is being identified with only the government's and officials' interests. People fear price hikes and bureaucratic trouble, but what should be explained as well is what we stand to win in the end," Kelam said at a meeting of the Parliament's European Affairs Committee.

"The central notion should be benefits from accession, be it security, stable economic development or improvement in the agricultural situation. Also, the possibility of missing out on these benefits," said Kelam.

A May 7 committee meeting concluded that coverage of the EU in the media mostly carries negative overtones.

Finland generally supports Estonia on its way to the EU. According to a survey carried out by European Finland, a public organization promoting the EU, only 14 percent of the respondents oppose the Baltic states' entry into the EU while 34 percent do not care one way or the other.

However, 53 percent of respondents regard the speedy accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the European Union as important for Finland.

Back home, the Reform Party updated its position on EU problems. In an official statement released on May 6 it stated that an EU accession referendum should be carried out after the parliamentary elections of 2003, and that the Constitution does not need any changes for the accession.

"The Reform Party calls on the EU accession talks team to defend matters that are important for Estonia in order to reach a suitable accession agreement that is acclaimed by the people," reads the statement.

The Pro Patria Union, which shares the ruling coalition with the Reform Party and the Moderates, wants the referendum on entry to be held before the signing of the accession agreement, while President Lennart Meri has suggested not holding the referendum until Estonia has been a member of the EU for at least a couple of years.

Meri said people would then be able to evaluate whether the EU met their expectations and decide to leave the union if they so wished.

Peeter Tulviste, the Pro Patria Union's presidential candidate, a psychology professor and enthusiastic supporter of accession, said that growing anti-European Union sentiment in Estonia is troubling and called for a substantive debate on accession.

"The absence of a public discussion has led to a vacuum in society, and precisely because of this vacuum the voters have been deprived of the opportunity to think over the pros and cons that are going to shape their future and the future of their children and their grandchildren," he said.

"The man in the street wasn't remembered until it was no longer possible to ignore the negative attitude of a majority of the public," Tulviste pointed out.

According to the latest public opinion survey by Emor, as many as 53 percent of Estonian voters are against entry into the EU and only 36 percent back accession. An accession referendum will probably be held in 2003.