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President of the Republic at the opening of the autumn legislative session

10.09.2018

Distinguished President Arnold Rüütel, President of the Riigikogu, honourable members of the Riigikogu, members of the government, esteemed Excellencies!

In the year of our national centenary, no one has spoken of Estonia more aptly than Rein Taagepera did in addressing you: "This government we have is too big, for compared to the population, it requires a greater share of civil servants than larger countries. Yet at the same time, our social fabric is too thin, because it is not able to cover all special needs. If we did not need to preserve a culture founded on our own unique language, no one would be so foolish as to go to the trouble of establishing so small a separate country. But we do have such a culture. And it is a culture that is astonishingly robust, to have made possible what seems impossible: a country that is both too thick and too thin and yet still functions."

How have we managed to accomplish this? The more I reflect on it, the more clearly I discern one thing in which we are more clever than other countries. Looking back on the constitutional assembly period and then moving closer to the present, we see the following:

- the tensions between different institutions that are hard-coded into the Constitution, which makes it difficult to govern the country, yet also provides stability – no one can get their way without their will being tempered by the other parties' bidding;

- an electoral system that brings sufficiently many different viewpoints and ideas to parliament so that all societal groups feel that they are represented in the Riigikogu;

- monetary reform legislation, which was rapid, risky and original but which, being balanced by strict budgetary requirements, gave us a secure currency up until the time we joined the euro;

- a tax system whose simple elegance could be understood by a society where citizens had not previously earned real income or actually paid taxes;

- the joint platform of the digital state and private sector – the X-road;

- Estonia's gene research legislation and the Genome Project;

- all of the necessary legislative acts for acceding to the European Union;

- consensus on increasing defence spending to 2% at a time when many deemed this NATO principle a pointless formality.

What does this list tell us? It says that Estonia's success story is not founded only on the brains of our people and companies but also, to a great extent, on the wisdom, courage and readiness of different Parliaments to do things differently from international practice, current fashion or outside recommendations.

Estonia stands out from other countries specifically in terms of its clever and inventive legislative drafting. We have constantly shaped a legislative space that favours the inclusion of new ideas and technologies, giving the economy a chance to develop, for people to earn a regularly increasing income and hold a stake in the technological revolution worldwide like no other country before it.

Now we need to continue to move forward and build on a foundation that has supported us well. No need to be modest about the fact that we have a professional parliament whose optimum size – the cube root of the population size – has allowed to represent the entire people and different opinions while making progress and holding on to a secret known only to our parliament – if it is possible to outdo those who have often considered themselves smarter due to their wealth, then we have always found the courage and done so.

It is hard to divine decisions whose long-term impact might become evident only years later. Looking back, we see that the Riigikogu has left a very clear set of tracks – a permissive legal space it has shaped through smart legislative drafting. As we press on incrementally into the future, it can be hard to discern these tracks before the outcome announces itself. Now the results are already making themselves known. Only 33 countries in the world have an average wage higher than Estonia's.

Of course, the path you have taken has not always been straight and true, sometimes the tracks double back on themselves. Certainly the state currently does things that were never needed or are not needed anymore, but which it can be hard to stop doing. Such activities can probably be found in every ministerial jurisdiction. However, it seems to me that even these twisty manoeuvres are something that occurs only on the surface of the state's otherwise secure foundation and solid walls.

The problems are expressed more in the wallpaper pattern than the load-bearing structures themselves. If we take a wrecking ball to the support structures, we will clearly also do away with the annoying wallpaper pattern, but such an approach can never be considered a wise one. The wallpaper has to be replaced if there is an error in the pattern, but let us leave the solid parts of the construction untouched. The way the state is governed is also a tradition, a tradition that has served us well, and which abides by all democratic principles, which should not be interfered with without a very good reason.

My dear Riigikogu, I wish you a continuing ability to discern what exactly is the foundation of our legislative space, which are the load-bearing walls, what is the successful superstructure and the faded wallpaper pattern.

My dear parliamentarians, I wish you the fortitude and understanding to discuss whether our secure foundation and load-bearing walls are strong enough to support a superstructure that economically successful countries like us can allow themselves – the system we know in the broader sense as the social welfare state, a caring and compassionate state. Our GDP has caught up to where Finland was in 1994. Just think back to how we marvelled at the opportunities the Finns had to create an environment, which cares for their people!

It is high time to enjoy the fruits of your work, the work of the entire Estonian people. For the good of all people in Estonia. It would be shabby now, when our possibilities are not that far off the European average (yes, 75% means one-quarter is still lacking but it is still on a same order of magnitude as the European average) – to start less equitably distributing the fruit from the tree we have planted and raised to maturity, patiently and collectively, often in the face of hardship. Competition is an economic concept and the economy should continue to be as free as possible in Estonia, untroubled by inessential restrictions. But as for the benefits, the blessings of liberty that keep society cohesive and lead it forward - they must be distributed more equitably.

Education, healthcare, social support, protection against violence and assistance in the event of misfortunes – all this must be available without prejudice to a person's address and salary figure. Only then can our society and its members cope with the inevitable flash of envy that we experience when our neighbour is doing better than we do. The consolation is that at least our children attend the same good school and will go off to an excellent university, and that if we need a heart surgery, it will be performed by an equally skilled surgeon, that the police and fire department will arrive at my house just as quickly as they would in the case of my wealthy neighbour.

In a free society, inequality and economic stratification are just as natural a phenomenon as the emotion we experience when we see the neighbour's fancy new car or lawn mower. But in a socially compassionate country that gives people the essentials so that they could preserve hope for a better future, at least for their children if not for themselves, envy can be a force for progress rather than a destructive urge. If hope fades, people will feel hurt and embittered toward their state. Then every government decision can seem like a personal slight and politicians will not understand why taxes are trickling into Latvia or going unpaid, because the tax authority does not know how to look into the envelope. It is not that much about actual financial losses, but a feeling of disillusionment in one's country and government, which produces alienation. And alienation gives rise again to anger and disgruntlement, not caring and noticing.

I wish you fortitude, my dear members of the Parliament, both for refreshing the wallpaper pattern and for your work to build a higher superstructure! An election year is also time, the same kind of time we never have too much of. It is a time to offer schoolchildren that which will make them smarter and perhaps continue the work you have done here in this hall shaping our legislative space. For entrepreneurs, a time to offer them encouragement to look to physically implement their ideas in countries with a more favourable cost base, while keeping the truly productive intellectual assets at home. For scientists, to offer them what we and ambitious nations around us crave: the chance to generate such results in their work so that economic success will no longer come at the expense of the Estonian environment or the global climate.

In the year of Estonia's first national poetry festival, it is only fitting that I close with a line of verse from Ain Kaalep in describing what kind of Estonia we want and have always wanted:

Friend, if you're building a house, give it big windows so that the clear bright rays of the sun will never cease shining through!

Let us follow the poet's counsel. Thank you for listening!