On 31 December 1991, President Lennart Meri said in his address at the end of what he himself called “our first constitutional year” that the most beautiful thing is a smiling Estonia. During those difficult times, and with a very new experience of a different sort of Estonia, those words contained a great deal of magnanimity and ambition. I sincerely believe that a great deal of our success thus far is based on the fact that we have managed to be positive and smile at the right moments.
Our Constitution states that the Republic of Estonia is founded on freedom, fairness, and justice, in order to ensure the preservation of our people and our culture. All of us together perpetuate this freedom every day with our work and activities. Fairness in turn, is when every one of us feels they are important, cared for, and valuable. Justice is our Constitution, the fundamental principles of which cannot be selectively applied. By applying conditions to any of these principles, we weaken them all.
Two weeks ago, I had the great honour of hearing President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid speak here in the distinguished hall of the Riigikogu, when, at the inaugural sitting of the XIV Riigikogu, she called upon us to reflect on what is going on in society:
“Estonia’s democracy works. Still, we should ask why, a month after the elections, a large portion of the people feel as if something has been broken in our society. Certain agreed limits no longer seem applicable. It is not a matter of worldviews but often of elementary politeness and respect. Of respect towards each other and the people.”
I would think even further beyond this.
On 20 August 1991, 69 members of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Estonia voted in this same hall in favour of restoring Estonia’s national independence. The contribution of those stateswomen and statesmen has allowed us to build our state as we have best seen fit.
Since then, members of all compositions of our Riigikogu, all of our ministers and governments, and all of our parties have wanted to build for all of us the best possible Estonia. The only differences have been in specific decisions and visions of how to reach this best possible state.
Things have gone well for us in the Estonia that restored its independence. We have felt this ourselves, seen the constant progress of our daily lives, and acknowledged our state turning into a European welfare society. This has also stood out in various international rankings and indexes.
At the same time, throughout this time, there have been very many people living among us for whom something has been broken in society. For some, the trasition to a market economy social structure or ownership reform proved difficult. Many experienced an increasing gap between incomes and prices. Jobs disappeared in rural areas, and stratification increased in cities and towns. We have not always been able to help the most vulnerable in our society — children, the elderly, people with disabilities, or others.
Taking an honest look in the mirror, we also came to understand that integration has not been a complete success, and native speakers of Estonian and other languages have often remained strangers to one another.
We likewise know that our gender pay gap is one of the biggest in Europe. We often fail to understand the habits of those living among us — or their thoughts or actions. To this day, we are witness to conflicts between innovation and conservatism.
We should not be in conflict
Very many different values are represented in our society, but they should not be in conflict with one another. Our people should not be in conflict with one another. We have to rely on what unites all of us — the people of Estonia — not stress differences.
Despite all of our efforts and best intentions, painful divides have developed over the decades. We have not intentionally created them. These discrepancies surely aren’t unique to Estonia either; rather, we see them among our friends in Europe and throughout the world.
It is all the moreso that I appreciate the experience I have gained in more than two years of sitting at the table at the European Council. Countries always have differing positions and interests, but the awareness always exists there of everyone’s joint efforts. Bigger countries could take advantage of their positions of power, but instead they seek common ground.
Instead of demands and ultimatums, compromises are always sought at the table. This is something that we should take into account more in states’ internal politics as well. It is the duty and responsibility of all of us here in this hall as well as elsewhere that all of our people are brought together and differences reconciled.
The Centre Party, the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa have agreed in our wish to jointly bear the responsibility of government, based on the interests of the Estonian state and people.
At the three parties’ negotiations, we discussed very many challenges of Estonian life, as well as their possible solutions. Here I would like to acknowledge our partners, who in the course of negotiations were interested in compromises and focussed on seeking solutions.
We wanted and managed to find common ground on even the most difficult of issues. As a result, we ended up with a concise document of 15 chapters, the central axis of which is the desire to keep and develop Estonia so that it may last forever for our descendants.
Five main priorities
With our three parties, we formulated important principles in the social and healthcare fields, in education, in research and development activity, in foreign and security policy, in internal security, and in the business environment. Likewise highlighted are matters connected to cultural, environmental and energy policy, the development of the e-state, governance and civil society, and transport and infrastructure.
Going forward, we will continue to stand for a cohesive, strong country with a growing population, and we will support local life in both Tallinn and Tartu, Kärdla and Kanepi, and Rakvere and the island of Ruhnu. In so doing, we will pay more attention first and foremost to those who also need the most help.
All of this serves our most important and constitutional duty, which is to ensure the continued existence of our Estonian people and an independent and defended Estonia.
Together, with the help of all of society, we want to build a family-friendly Estonia, whose society is cohesive, whose economy is successful and knowledge-based, which is governed effectively, and which is free and defended. These are the five main priorities of the government coalition we are establishing.
Free and defended Estonia
A free and defended Estonia foremost includes the three parties’ main, agreed upon positions on foreign and security policy. Estonia will continue firmly on its current foreign and security policy direction, a crucial element of which is our membership in the EU and NATO. When it comes to foreign and security policy, we will proceed based on Estonia’s national interests, state sovereignty and international law, complying with international agreements and the principles of the UN.
We support a strong and united EU, even as we move forward with the necessary preparations for Brexit. We consider important maintaining and developing close ties with the UK, which throughout history has been an important ally to Estonia. We will likewise stand up for the rights of our residents and businesses following the UK’s likely departure from the EU.
It goes without saying that we will continue developing our independent defence capabilities, and continue to maintain defence spending of at least 2% of the GDP. Of continued key importance to our national defence are conscription, officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs), reserve forces, and a robust Estonian Defence League, as well as constant exercises, allied presence, and the principles of broad-based national defence. All of this has served our Estonia well thus far, and it will certainly continue to do so in the future as well. Thanks to our allies, Estonia can be more protected and defended than one may think based on our size.
The government coalition in the making considers important the development of transatlantic relations as well as international cooperation in general. A good example of this is the UN Security Council campaign, which has been led commitedly by President of the Republic Kersti Kaljulaid. Through this, Estonia has made new friends throughout the world, and gained recognition along both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
In addition to national security, we will also offer people necessary reassurance by means of developing the interal security field as well. The clear wish of all three parties is to contribute to increasing our people’s sense of security. This means necessary wage increases, but also expanding the rights of local governments’ law enforcement units and multilateral prevention efforts.
Keeping, developing and protecting our Estonia is work that has been done by all of our governments over the years, and all of our parliamentary parties have stood firmly by these principles.
On that note, I would like to sincerely acknowledge both the Reform Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) as well, which have stood strong on behalf of our shared foreign and defence policy principles, and developed them over the course of many years.
A cohesive society, in turn, means that we are a democratic legal state in which core values, human rights, the freedom of speech and personal freedoms are ensured. We have to respect all people living in Estonia, their views, and their opinions, and everyone has to have the opportunity for self-realisation.
Together with our partners, we stressed at the beginnign of our talks already that we will promote a cohesive, tolerant and secure society in which there is no place for expressions of hatred between ethnicities, antisemitism or socially divisive rhetoric. Estonian life will flourish better supported by kind words and good sentences than with the help of sharp interjections and offensive remarks.
We all can and must strive in our political activity to mitigate our people’s fears and placate society. We will prove that we stand for the development of Estonia as a whole as well as every person’s well-being.
In so doing, we will also work every day for the benefit of those who do not yet support the government in the making. The prime minister is prime minister for all people of Estonia, not just those who have supported or elected them. The government must likewise work in the name of the best possible future for all of our people. For me there is not, nor will there be, our Estonia and your Estonia. There is only one — our Estonia.
We must without a doubt smooth out rifts that have formed between communities here — between the wealthier and the poorer, between rural areas and cities and towns, between people with liberal worldviews and people with conservative worldviews.
Social cohesion also means more balanced and coherent regional development. The government has to view our local governments first and foremost as good partners and colleagues, and support rural life and development together. It is for this reason that we will continue relocating state jobs from Tallinn to the counties.
Cohesion also means reducing the gap between the wealthier and low-paid. A solidary healthcare system and social policy that takes every person’s needs and opportunities into account. We know, unfortunately, that a large number of the elderly in Estonia live in poverty. Our role and duty is to bring our parents and grandparents of a dignified age out of this poverty. We hve to thank all generations for their life’s work and contributions, and offer our elderly a dignified old age and a decent life.
A family-friendly Estonia is a country in which our people want to support our shared future and start a family right here. I am glad to see that increasing children’s and family allowances and making parental leave more flexible has provided many Estonian families in recent years with more confidence in having children, including third children. This is the right path, which we should continue to follow.
Everyone who has found more opportunities away from the homeland are always welcome back to this Estonia. Home and diaspora Estonians. Young people who have received an education elsewhere in the world. Workers who have found better employment elsewhere meanwhile. The elderly who wish to return to their homeland.
All of them have experiences and worthwhile knowledge that serve to make our Estonia stronger. They are all our people whom we await home. No doubt it is good news for all of us that Estonia’s net migration has been positive in recent years. Estonia’s population has grown by more than 8,000 people in two years.
For this, we will support increasing our society’s welfare and sense of security, ensure the accessibility of public services, shorten waiting lists for medical care and reduce social inequality. We must continue to contribute to the fight against domestic violence, which is one of the most painful points of concern in our society. We can and must maintain zero tolerance on this matter.
I consider it essential that we cooperate more with our communities both at home and abroad. Establishing the position of Minister of Population and launching the Global Estonia programme are only the first steps. Valuing our people and the experiences of returning Estonians serve to improve and strengthen our Estonia.
Knowledge-based, successful economy
An Estonia with a knowledge-based and successful economy is a state that contributes to the economy, that supports research, development and innovation. We have to strive to increase funding for the public sector in this area to 1% of the GDP and maintain it at at least this level in the future as well. This is strategically of decisive importance for the welfare of the people of Estonia and the sustainability of our society.
We have to ensure that our economic growth is inclusive, competitive and sustainable. In drawing up the state budget, we consider it important to ensure good and responsible fiscal policy. We have to contribute more than before to retraining and other measures to ensure that our people are competitive on the labour market and quality labour is ensured.
The government has to support businesses operating here. Estonia is definitely not a cheap labour country anymore, and so we have to stress other advantages that we have in comparison to Nordic and other nearby countries. One solution here is certainly competitive energy costs, which the state could influence by introducing exceptions for energy-intensive production, for example.
In developing the economy and entrepreneurship, we cannot forget the principles of sustainable development. It gives me great pleasure to see that, following the global example, our own children and young people are demonstrating increasing climate change and environmental awareness. This means that we have also been able to pass on a meaningful system of values to new generations at home and in school. Young people perceive the effect of their personal behaviour on global processes and are prepared with their behaviour to take responsibility for all of our future.
I also consider it very important to offer our businesses even more support in establishing contacts abroad and entering new markets. We can support our export opportunities by increasing the number of economic diplomats and advisers on markets important to us.
Estonia is often associated abroad with our e-state in particular. The building of a digital society has made the lives of our people immeasurably simpler and more convenient. In maintaining this calling card, it is very important to contribute to the improvement and development to a new level of services. We must also move forward with the building of the e-Residency 2.0 programme and high-speed internet connection.
It is without a doubt very important to the government to take advantage of experiences and knowledge that we have in sector associations. As prime minister, it was my honour to reinstate trilateral meetings with the Estonian Trade Union Confederation (EAKL) and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation (ETTK). I consider it very important that such broad-based discussions on matters related to the labour market continue in the future as well.
Let us think more boldly than before in infrastructure development as well. Let us consider involving loans in implementing infrastructure investments. It is important, however, that as primary highways are developed, smaller highways and gravel roads are not left without the necessary funding. We have to contribute to a quality road network throughout Estonia.
An effectively governed Estonia means that our people’s voice affects state governance between elections as well. Likewise that the state is efficient and the resources at our disposal are well and responsibly utilised.
As one important principle, we will take the views of the people of Estonia into account to a much greater extent on various national issues, and we will strengthen direct democracy. We consider experts, business and civic associations and political forces represented in Estonia to be constructive and equal partners to the government.
We will definitely continue developing the zero-bureaucracy project, which makes communicating with the state simpler for our people and entrepreneurs, and reduces the amount of time and work spent on doing so.
I consider very important work on the state development strategy “Estonia 2035,” which summarises other state strategy documents and provides a unified direction for policy- and decision-makers in various fields. This work will result in a values-based agreement on how to ensure the balanced development of our natural, social and economic environments. The role of the state is to use it to create opportunities for the people of Estonia to contribute to increasing our collective welfare.
We will also make state reform a political priority during the next four years. We want to move forward in this field, cutting unnecessary red tape and reducing the size of the public sector. We will establish in our government action plan the contents and deadlines of the stages of state reform, and pass relevant resolutions in the Riigikogu. I will certainly expect input and cooperation from all parliamentary parties, the private sector and civic associations on this front.
We also support increasing the role of the Riigikogu on the organisation of national issues, one example of which is the establishment of special committees on the development of Estonian language learning and the solving of the population crisis that were agreed upon in our coalition agreement.
We will also conduct a broad-based audit of the state budget, in the course of which we will review all of the state’s sources of revenue and costs and evaluate whether they are being purposefully used.
In its everyday work, the government relies very much on our good officials and very much on specialists working for the benefit of the state. They all do their jobs with a great sense of mission, and put their hearts into it, and the state can rely on them. Naturally very many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) likewise contribute a significant amount, whose work and often volunteer efforts are likewise aimed at the development of our society and the improvement of everyone’s welfare.
Our shared value is created for Estonia by entrepreneurs active here, the activity of many of whom clearly reflects not just personal success, but also responsibility for the good fortune of our entire society. Naturally I’d also like to acknowledge our press, which by all accounts is dedicated, free and responsible.
I sincerely thank all people of Estonia for their everyday work and contributions. The sum of all of our actions is far greater than its parts. Our Estonia is a smiling Estonia!
I worked in the Riigikogu for nearly ten years, not one day of which my party was in the government. This is why I understand very well what it means to contribute in the opposition and know what differences of opinion with the coalition can turn into.
In my work as prime minister, I want to be the kind of partner to you that I myself would like to see as a solution-oriented opposition MP. I am always prepared to exchange ideas and work together with you. Outside of parliamentary work formats, speaking directly, as well.
Strength to our dear Estonia!
After formally being tasked with the job by President Kersti Kaljulaid on Tuesday, Mr Ratas was granted the authority to form the next Estonian government in a 55 to 44 vote in the 101-seat Riigikogu on Wednesday evening.
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