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Trying to minimize Baltic losses

  • 2002-12-12
At the EU's Copenhagen summit this week, Estonia is likely to get an invitation to join. Politicians are already hailing the development, yet many local experts have said that Estonia is on the verge of a historic mistake. Uno Silberg, author of several books, lecturer at two Estonian universities and head of the Estonian movement "No to EU," explained to Kristjan Teder why.

You and other skeptics have often compared the EU to the Soviet Union.

I am not a skeptic. In my opinion, our state is solid and successful, and it would be much better off independent than in any union whatsoever. As for the EU - which really is a "new and improved" Soviet Union - it is a ship that can and will sink. So why get on board in the first place?

An EU referendum has been set for next autumn. Polls indicate a 60-40 split in favor of accession.

Results of the referendum depend on several things: The exact question that will be put forth, campaign financing, access to relevant information. The Estonian constitution doesn't provide for a binding vote on this issue, but its first article says Estonia is an independent, sovereign state. This provision can only be changed by national referendum, and until that all steps toward EU accession are unconstitutional and even criminal.

Estonian politicians do not seem to think so.

And for this, they will be judged, be it tomorrow or after a generation or two. Communism was also condemned only recently. And like the Soviet Union, the EU is essentially totalitarian. Only the means and ways have changed.

However, don't you see a sunny side to the EU? Friendship of nations, economic growth?

The EU strives to somehow stand up to the United States. The difference is, the United States is a democratic nation, founded virtually on an empty spot. In Europe, with its ancient divisions, a superpower can only be built upon dictatorship, which is essentially what the EU is.

Many say the EU may not be perfect, but the remaining option is lagging under Russia's influence?

This is common tactics - claiming there's no alternative when, in fact, there are many. The first and foremost is independence, as provided by our constitution. We should also remember that today, EU is comprised of 15 countries. Most European countries are still out.

There is no real benefit [to EU accession]. This is quite obvious. I've never seen any official paper that would outline Estonia's gains from acceding. All we have is massive communist-style propaganda on things getting better and the future looking bright.

Are you saying that we have nothing to gain from the Union?

It's not about gains, but minimizing the losses. Estonia is a loser already, just look at the massive trade deficit. There is no fair trade with the EU, and according to the free trade agreement annexed to the potential accession treaty, there will never be. Our quotas will increase, but there are other barriers. If your factory does not comply with EU rules, you can sell nothing.

My calculations put EU-related losses and expenses at some 16 percent to 19 percent of GDP.

Speaking of resources, Estonia is per capita among the richest nations in the world. We have no shortage of land or fresh water, the climate is good, lots of forests, even independent energy resources. EU policy is minimizing the economic potential and then buying up cheap. We mustn't forget that most things can only be sold once. After you spend the cash, you'll have nothing.

Still, what about the much-feared Russian influence?

The Soviet Union was and the European Union is about uniting Europe. So who are we running from? The fear of Russia is even bigger in the EU, it even forced [Chairman of the Commission Romano] Prodi to specifically declare that Russia would never be taken in the boat. Well, we'll see about that in 10, maybe 20 years. Even today, Russia's cooperation with, say, NATO is sometimes closer than ours.

And what about NATO, would you view Estonia's membership as positive?

We obviously value NATO much higher than the EU. The NATO deal is a transparent one: Spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, participate in operations and get collective defense in return. As for the EU, we'll spend some 20 percent and never know what we'll get.

What if Estonians don't approve EU accession on the referendum next fall?

This would change a little. After a year, there'd be a new referendum, with a rephrased question and better campaigns. EU propaganda in Estonia is actually very simplistic, founded on three pillars: security, economic gains, the assumption of no alternative. Sadly, this is all very untrue. And discussions on whether, say, 50 percent or 70 percent of sovereignty will be delegated to the EU, are useless. Eventually, nothing will be left. Our Foreign Minister [Kristiina] Ojuland may well tell reporters that she hasn't seen any loss of sovereignty in, say, Finland or Sweden. Well, I've been around and never saw people having sex. Does this mean there isn't any?

You admit your battle is lost?

It was lost a long time ago. On paper, Estonia has already been united with the [EU]. Further decisions do not really depend on us and today, everyone is already trying to cover his back. But I'm pretty sure that someday they will be judged.