The President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, gave a great speech in the European Parliament yesterday. I admit that I am biased, Ilves is a good friend and ex-colleague, whom I have admired for many years.
He is a foreign policy guru, an intellectual who is not afraid to say what he thinks. As a former academic, journalist, diplomat and foreign minister, Ilves has the nack to bring foreign policy alive. Not only that, he writes his own speeches.
Yesterday’s speech was a good example of Ilves at his best. It was encapsulating from the start. It had had depth and vision.
It started off by reminding everyone that Estonia is about to enter its fifth year as a member of the EU. The first applause came with the statement that ”it is time now to put aside the term ’new member’ as an anachronism with no heuristic value”.
The first part of the speech painted a picture of Europe’s history. Ilves used the term ”European civil war” to describe WWI and WWII. I like the term. He reminded us that a third of the curent EU members came into their own as modern political entities in the aftermath of WWI. These countries include my own, Finland. And many others such as Estonai, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Austria.
He looked ten years ahead. This fitted neatly, not least because in ten years time Estonia will hold the EU Presidency.
Ilves talked about the twin threats of global warming and declining availability of fossil fuels. At the same time he was quick to point out that these are not the only challenges we face.
Many protectionists must have felt uncomfortable with his economically liberal views. He praised the single market and Jean Monnet, and called for the EU to focus on competitiveness and opennes. He was not happy about lack-luster implementation and an increase in protectionism. He called for an end to protectionism in the EU’s energy markets.
All of it was music to my economically liberal ears. At the same time he stressed the need for a more ”social Europe”. I have no problem with that either. On the contrary. A responsible market economy is what we should strive for.
His views on the EU’s foreign policy was vintage stuff, a bit like his speech at Humboldt University a few years back. He simply wants Europe to speak with one voice. That is the only way we can punch above our weight.
All in all I recommend that you read the speech. And please let me know what you think.