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Tuleeko Virosta pian Euroopan Unioonin ja Naton jäsen? 01.09.2002

Muutoksen Kevät, ympäristövallankumouksellinen aikakauslehti, lehekülg 5

* translation into English to follow *

Dozen years after Estonia re-gained its independence it is most probably going to join both the European Union and NATO. While many in Estonia discuss if this means loosing of independence I think we have lost it already. Because of extreme liberal economic policy we have long ago lost control over the economy. Even not being in the EU and NATO yet, Estonia has never tried to find its own way and is simply following the mainstream policies of the EU.

Negotiations for enlargement of the European Union (EU) with first 5 candidate countries, including Estonia, started in December 1997.[1] What would entering to the EU mean for Estonia? There are generally two ways how EU accession would impact the environmental and social situation in Estonia: through obligatory transposition of entire EU legislation and through financial aid from EU Structural and Cohesion Funds.

Probably in order to avoid the situation where candidate countries would join forces and come with joint strong political vision the European Council decided to construct accession negotiations on a competitive basis. For every "candidate" it is politically very important to join the "club" ASAP and thus the one which creates less troubles during negotiations (including not having strong environmental and social demands) comes in first. Such "race for the bottom" is especially difficult for a small county like Estonia because it also makes the financial burden of accession quite big.

Mandatory transposition of EU legislation

Which environmental consequences would the transposition of the acquis communautaire (full package of all EU legislation) bring for Estonia? From one hand the environmental protection legislation of the European Union brings higher standards and will have positive impact in Estonian state of environment in long run. Higher standards at the same time mean that Estonian businesses need to do massive investments into environmental protection in short period of time which may decrease their competitiveness. As the entire environmental thinking of the EU is formed around West European countries with their specific traditions, landscapes, fauna and flora it is not very easy to adopt it in Estonia. Estonia has its own rather old, well-functioning and stable nature conservation system. Estonian traditional controlled hunting of bear, wolf and lynx is one example where there are strong disagreements between Estonia and the European Commission.

Impact of legislation in other sectors may not have that positive impact to Estonia. Often the legislation does not fit the situation and traditions of small Nordic country Estonia but it has to be nevertheless transposed before entering the EU. Very strong and strict regulations are often causing closure of Estonian small businesses, especially in rural areas which are already having difficulties to survive. Free flow of goods and capital makes it very easy for foreign big businesses to take over the market. The Government of Estonia has again not been very strong in EU accession negotiations, not demanding many transitional periods which would allow transposition of EU laws over longer period of time. It is probably because the fast EU accession is the key priority for the Government of Estonia and no cost of accession is considered unaffordable.

EU financial assistance to Estonia

Even more then the demand of taking over the entire EU legislation Estonian environment and social sector will be influenced by upcoming financial assistance from the European Union. Estonia has already received about total 400 million Euros of grant assistance for projects in various sectors from the EU. Until 2006 pre-accession financial instruments that were created to finance projects in EU accession countries will be main source of EU financial assistance to Estonia. In period of 2000-2006 over 50 million Euro might be received annually through those funds in Estonia.[2]

Similarly to the transposition of the environmental legislation the EU grant assistance to environmental investments in Estonia will mostly bring about the positive changes. Those environmental projects that will be financed by the ISPA fund are mostly for wastewater treatment and waste management.

The environmental impact of sewage systems' renovation projects that will be financed by ISPA is indeed positive. However, the conventional treatment techniques and facilities are preferred. In long run the maintenance costs of such facilities are very high and alternative solutions such as ecological engineering should be more seriously considered and financed. The construction of new regional landfills will also have a positive environmental impact. Newly constructed landfills will decrease the danger of leakages to groundwater, which  is currently a major problem with Estonian landfills. However, the replacement of hundreds of smaller landfills with half a dozen new big landfills will raise waste transport costs and the service will become more expensive for people. The higher waste handling prices may cause some people to start  dumping their waste in  forests and fields around settlements. Also, too much emphasis end-of-pipe solutions such as landfills instead of minimising of waste creation instead.

While the state of Estonia's  environment will definitely benefit from environmental projects that will be financed by the ISPA pre-accession fund, there are developments in other sectors such as transportation, energy and agriculture that may decrease this positive trend. In transport sector the EU financing will be mostly concentrated on road rehabilitation and construction which will bring negative consequences both for Estonian environment and social situation. The planned bridge to island Saaremaa may get financed by the European Union. Once constructed, the bridge would make it possible for large quantities of tourists to come to the island and destroy its unique and vulnerable nature. Investments into public transport which is almost collapsing in Estonia is not supported by the EU financial assistance at all. The EU assistance to Estonian agricultural sector comes through SAPARD pre-accession fund. Estonian environmentalists are worried that the result of such support will result in boom of intensive agriculture and will stop the traditional small family farm type of agriculture, causing big social problems for rural population.

Estonian public opinion on joining the EU and NATO

It is interesting that while almost all political parties fully support Estonia's accession to the European Union, the general public is very much split in this issue. There is some popular movement calling against joining the EU (like "No to the European Union") but it's not yet very strong.[3] It is very difficult to cultivate any scepticism against EU as official pro-EU propaganda is tax-free and well covered with finances. Although according to public opinion polls there have been moments when majority of Estonians would vote against joining the EU there is stable support of around 55% of population to join the EU. Yet the support of Estonians towards joining the EU is smallest amongst candidate countries. The Government of Estonia has promised to carry out referendum in 2003 on issue of joining the EU. Because of the ongoing massive and total EU propaganda Estonians probably vote for joining the EU and Estonia will become a EU member state in 2004. It has been estimated that due to larger resistance towards joining the EU, the European Commission is spending much more money per capita on EU propaganda in Estonia than in other accession countries.

Differently from the support of the EU the Estonian general public is much more unanimous in issue of joining the NATO. As opinion polls show, some 60% of Estonian citizens are constantly in favour of joining the NATO.[4] Differently to the EU there will be no referendum in case of joining with NATO, it will be just up to the Parliament to take vote. Differently to the case of joining the EU there is no visible groupings that would openly question Estonia's joining to NATO.



March 2000

May 2000

October 2000

February 2001

June 2001

October 2001

March 2002

For joining








Against joining








Opinion of Estonian citizens towards joining the NATO (according to opinion polls ordered by Ministry of Defence)

[1] See www.mfa.ee/euro/english

[2] "Unsustainable Theory - Unsustainable Practice?" CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe. Budapest, 2002. See www.bankwatch.org/downloads/billions3-susttheory.pdf

[3] See www.euroskepsis.ee

[4] See www.mfa.ee/eng/nato