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Address of the President of the Republic to the Estonian people on the eve of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union

01.07.2017

In just about three hours, Estonia will assume the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Presidency. To preside. These words describe exactly the role we are taking on at midnight. The Presidency means assuming responsibility for the functioning of the European Union.

The Presidency is assisted with a large team from EU institutions. But in the hall where their colleagues, ministers from other Member States, are sitting, the President is in charge of the quality of the decisions made as well as the feelings of the decision makers. The feelings they have after making a decision are not a matter to disregard.

The wheels of the Council of the European Union make what is so important to us happen – every Member State has a say and is heard. Each and every state. From Malta – a Member State with a population of less than a million, from whom we are taking over the Presidency – to the biggest ones. The greatest achievement of the Presidency is when, after a decision is made, all Member States feel that their vote counted. This is diplomacy at its best.

The European Union we are a part of is not ideal. It will not be ideal after our Presidency either. The democratic system of decision-making also provides technically imperfect results in a single state, where we balance our own differing desires. The same applies, albeit in a more complex way, to international cooperation based on democratic values.

These values, and respect for them in international negotiations, are even more important than the technical content of the decision. Because these values form the basis of the understanding that small states, too, have the right to self-determination and the right to have a say. Observing the geopolitical developments of the last decade, I do not want to even think about the alternatives we might have been faced with had we not been able to become part of the European Union at the right time.

Although the EU is not ideal, it has never let us down. Not in terms of economics, politics or security. We are wealthier than ever before. We are better protected than ever before. And our word counts much more than our geography and demography would otherwise allow us to presume.

Bigger countries may choose whether or not to be in the EU. We cannot allow ourselves to choose not to be in the EU. Can anybody imagine us having bilateral free-trade negotiations and achieving results as good as other regions with greater purchasing power? Do we even remember how currency risk used to affect the financial performance of our companies? It is unimaginable that we could provide our students and workers with similar free mobility options here in Europe without the general freedoms of the EU. What options would we have to support Ukraine or Georgia in their efforts to be free and democratic states? We take all of this for granted. But ensuring this 'boring, ordinary life' means hard work to keep the EU strong. This, however, requires development and change depending on the changes in the world around us.

Dear Estonians, and everyone else who considers Estonia their home,

our Presidency will bring a lot of people to our country who have never been here before. We know they will be positively surprised by our urban space, by our restaurant scene and by our beautiful natural environment. Hosting these guests will bring economic gain, but moral gain is just as important. Everybody will see that Estonia is part of Europe geographically, politically and spiritually. In the next six months we will be at the heart of Europe. This is a unique opportunity for us all to imprint Estonia in the hearts and minds of the rest of Europe. May Estonia enjoy a successful Presidency in every respect.