Speeches
Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Buzek's address to the Estonian Parliament

Tallinn -
Monday 21/11/2011

It is a great honour to be able to address the Riigikogu within the grounds of the beautiful Toompea Castle. Your parliament is one of a kind!  The history of Toompea also tells the story of Estonia’s difficult past. Time and again, Estonia’s blue-black-white flag was taken down from the castle tower - by Swedes, Danes, Germans and Russians.

You were destroyed by Nazi occupation and then swallowed by the Soviet Union. It was not too long ago that a portrait of Lenin watched over your parliament. Like many of you, I grew up in a country where freedom of expression was limited. Where our dignity was robbed. Yes our region has been bruised by history.

Today you are an invaluable member of the European Union and NATO. You are the first of the Baltic States to join the Eurozone and are one of the most integrated nations in Europe. You are a model for others - not only for democracy but in becoming a successful high tech economy and the first country in the world to introduce e-voting.

As Estonia celebrates the twentieth anniversary of regaining independence – and Poland holds the Presidency of the European Council – let us not forget how far we have come.

 

Dear colleagues,

The European Union is at a crossroads. What we are seeing is a crisis of enormous sovereign and private debt. A crisis caused, in the most part, by poor economic governance. But Europe’s crisis is not just a financial one. It is also a crisis of trust.

Fuelled by frustration of the lack of jobs many Europeans are angry with austerity measures. They think their future has been stolen from them. Many of our citizens feel that the EU is not working. Or at least not working effectively. They think now that the EU is part of the problem and not part of the solution. So what do we have to do to restore the confidence of our citizens? How do we convince them that they have a European future?

We politicians need to do a better job at explaining our current crisis. We need to show how we are making the EU more efficient, more capable of solving problems to safeguard that future.

EU institutions and national governments have been so overwhelmed with putting out fires, that we haven’t taken the time to explain what is actually burning. And why. We need to convince our citizens that this is the time for more Europe, not less. Perhaps we should show them more often the example of Estonia. I know that President Meri once said "that he is not always happy with the compliments Estonia receives" in this case it deserves that praise.

But, most importantly, we need to reinforce the value of European solidarity.

Estonia has nothing to gain if Greece or a large part of Europe’s economy were to collapse. But it has much to lose. Like Poland, Estonia understands the power of solidarity better than most. Your commitment to this value and core European values such as freedom and democracy led to one of the most remarkable uprisings history has witnessed.

Who can forget that day in September 1988 when 300,000 people – more than a quarter of all Estonians – came together in Tallinn to call, and sing, for Estonian independence. Who can forget August 1989, when two million people stood side-by-side in a human chain that stretched 600 kilometres from Tallinn to Vilnius. That was solidarity in action!

But solidarity alone is not enough. One of the main lessons I learned during the Polish Solidarity revolution in 1980 was that you need discipline and responsibility to succeed. Solidarity without responsibility is just an empty slogan.

Estonia has shown that difficult –and often painful – choices pay-off. Estonians have shouldered the economic crisis with courage, pride and determination. Your economy entered recession in mid-2008. And one year later contracted by more than 14 percent. But you did your homework. You understood what you had to do in order to survive, to attract investment, to cut the budget deficit and to become competitive again.

Your government introduced an ambitious savings program – cutting the budget by 10 percent while private companies cut salaries by 20 percent. You brought your budget deficit under control while staying on course to join the Euro zone. Today, Estonia has bounced back from economic collapse and is Europe’s poster child for responsible economic governance.

You have the lowest debt in the EU. You have pushed down unemployment levels by an incredible amount. Your growth in the second quarter was the EU’s highest. The world has noticed and acknowledged your efforts.

Your success is a breath of fresh. Because it shows not only the importance of responsibility and austerity, but it also gives heart to the rest of Europe. And the world.

Despite the bad press it is getting at the moment, the euro is a strong and stable currency. The euro is an anchor of the single market from which we all benefit. It has enhanced our standing in the world. And it is an essential factor in ensuring our security. We need to sing the virtues of the euro. To remind people of the currency's powerful role as a symbol of a continent united, from north to south.

 

Dear Friends,

Regional cooperation is also vital. It is in all our interest to create a healthy and comprehensive relationship with Russia, based on mutual trust and respect, but most importantly - on common values. I am also glad that in recent years Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have boosted their cooperation in many sectors – including transport, innovation, energy to name just a few.

I strongly believe that the EU's Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, prepared by the European Parliament and the European Commission, with President Ilves being one of its founding fathers, can become a regional cooperation model for the whole EU. Its potential is endless.

 

Dear Colleagues,

Securing energy supplies for the future is perhaps the most important test of regional cooperation.  We have to live up to the solidarity enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty.

Our energy security situation remains fragile – the EU imports over 60% of its gas and more than 80% of its oil. The situation of the Baltic States is the most worrying - you are 100% dependent on one single supplier of gas. Our strategic aim should be to develop energy reserves so that when a country runs into difficulty we can survive any crisis. We cannot accept a situation where there are still isolated energy islands in the EU.

That is why I launched, with Jacques Delors, a proposal for a European Energy Community in May 2010. The initiative was meant as a political umbrella for all existing and future actions in energy policy.

What does this mean in practice? It means completing the single market for energy by creating an integrated and smart network. It means the capacity to negotiate as a bloc with energy suppliers and transit countries. It means the diversification of Europe's energy mix and the capacity to have autonomous financial resources to fund energy projects. But it also means that we must not forget about the sun, wind, crops and the fossil fuels in our own soil. They should all remain an important part of this energy mix. Together we can make it happen.

 

Dear Friends, 

But you also have an important role to play in sharing your experiences with countries from our Eastern neighbourhood. Especially in increasing transparency and openness in government, in promoting democracy and safeguarding human rights. From Minsk to Kyiv, from Tbilisi to Baku. The door to Europe was opened for our countries; today it is our duty to hold it ajar for others.

Thank you.

 

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