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Welcoming remarks at the Christmas reception to diplomatic corps

07.12.2017

Excellencies, dear friends,

Glad to see you all here tonight and I hope that today's reception is one of the last firewalls before your Christmas break.

Having worked and lived abroad myself, I know very well the feeling many of you have at this time of the year. There is still plenty to do but the thoughts start to get distracted by the warm feeling of either getting home for Christmas or having your family over, spending time together and cherishing what is most important in life. Quite often, we appreciate these occasions even more when serving our countries abroad as you do here in Estonia.

Occasions like today are first and foremost festive ones. It is an opportunity to be among friends and partners. An opportunity to thank you all personally for the hard work you have done away from home and quite often from family to further strengthen the relations and cooperation between your countries and Estonia. I personally appreciate it a lot.

Christmas and the end of the year comes with traditions. Reflecting how the past year has gone being one of them. 2017 has been yet another extraordinary year when developments in the world did not go often as planned or predicted. And therefore we constantly need to adapt ourselves. The past year has further convinced me that during the unpredictable and turbulent times we live doing things alone does not pay off. It has equally demonstrated that in the 21st century small countries can be bigger than defined by the mere number of square kilometres and punch above their weight.

Highlighting something specific is always a tricky thing to do. Nevertheless, I would mention two developments that have made 2017 an exceptional one for Estonia. First, the deployment of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence to Estonia that helps to defend NATO's borders. Thank you all who have made this deployment go smoothly. I promise we will work on it together also in the future that every single soldier feels welcome, feels valued, and feels like they can spend their time usefully in Tapa. We make sure that exercising together with our first infantry brigade is useful for all, and helps NATO to understand better what it means to be able to deter and if necessary, defend its eastern flank. The lessons learned have already added enormously to our common understanding on how eFP's capacity to defend can be further developed.

And secondly, our first EU Council Presidency that has clearly been both challenging and rewarding experience which has broadened our horizons. My personal thank you to everybody in Tallinn and Brussels who has contributed to the success of the Presidency. When it's time to look back at this half year, we will be able to do it in the words of James Joyce – once upon a time – and a very good time it was...

This first time presidency, for which some infrastructure like the tram terminal in Tallinn Airport could only be deployed at the end of the presidency, showed that there are more important factors for this undertaking than the physical presence. For me, this Presidency was best in this sense that we all in Estonia made a contribution. Across party and coalition lines, across private-public divide, interdisciplinary issues were held collectively by different ministries and finally, Estonians and you, dear EU ambassadors, all together. My special thanks goes also to the EU officials, who never missed an opportunity to inform, but even more importantly, encourage and cheer. This approach led to a Presidency, which, as I hoped when speaking to you on the 8th of May, broke a lot of ice. The ice of negativity about our EU in general, is also cracking.

I have personally had many chances to find out that we stand together in our worries about the status of the union, but also in our willingness to state the problems, propose solutions and not worry about individual political consequences for each and every leader more than is needed to carry out the preparations for our future. Last week I heard in one Member State that it might be necessary to form quickly a new government in order to keep this newly found drive to change and develop our union alive. This was said in truly European spirit, I have to say. There are more and more of us who come out and are ready to formulate also uncomfortable truths if necessary, to turn them into opportunities for our children and grandchildren.

We have also adamantly stood together in the face of external challenges, and there are many. The EU, which has always lacked a common Foreign Policy and in theory still lacks one, while moving into closer defence and security co-operation, has despite the lack of adequate treaty provisions, spoken clearly with one, unified voice. This concerted effort means we do not end this year in despair, but in hope. In the hope that Ukraine may still see the end of occupation. In the hope that through co-operation with African Union the EU may have a more holistic approach to the problems of that continent. In the hope that our ability to project stability and prosperity will keep our neighbours on the road of democratic development.

2017 demonstrated that despite our multilateral communities and our will to implement UN charter about human rights through them, we keep failing. While we speak about resilience, preventive action in order to avoid atrocities – they still keep happening.

I hope that P5 will in 2018 be able to agree that veto should lose its power in the case of immense human suffering. I hope that consolidation of the UN makes it at least as flexible and agile as our EU is. That, and here I am a really proud European to say, would be quite an achievement.

Please accept my warmest wishes for the coming holidays and do use the opportunity to take time off and to spend it with your close ones.

I will end again with James Joyce, my favourite Irish writer – because he can draw with words, a rare talent I so enjoy:

My book was closed.

I read no more.

Watching the fire dance

on the floor.

May many of you have a moment like that in this festive season! I wish you some peaceful and quiet time, or noisy and boisterous, should that be what you crave! As Joyce continues:

I have left my book,

I have left my room.

For I heard you singing

Through the gloom.

Happy holidays!

Häid pühi!