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Remarks by the President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid at the Lennart Meri Conference dinner on 12 May 2017 in Tallinn

Remarks by the President of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid at the Lennart Meri Conference dinner on 12 May 2017 in Tallinn © Annika Haas/LMC


Welcome to Tallinn, to Kultuurikatel, to this year's edition of the Lennart Meri conference, to the premier foreign and security policy conference in Northern Europe. A free exchange of minds, where competent people do not read out their speeches but express their true thoughts.

Indeed, discussions at the Lennart Meri Conference are open, frank and do not beat around the bush. Many of the ideas put forth at the conference are refreshingly provocative. And if you want to know how things are in this part of the world and what people really think of them, this is the place to be.

The spirit of this conference is very much the spirit of Lennart Meri. Lennart Meri – his government, his colleagues, his people – was an expression of smart security. Lennart was quick to spot and grasp opportunities. He was also smart to see the grey elements on the horizon from quite afar. In many speeches since 2001, he drew attention to the fact that the security environment around us is getting much more nervous, while urging Estonian politicians to take the last remaining steps for our integration into western structures extremely seriously. Thank you, dear Lennart, you were so right! Although I wish that you had been wrong about the deteriorating security environment.

It is also, I hope, a good place for coming together to discuss what the future might bring and what we, as policymakers and policy shapers, can do to bring about positive change, despite the overall climate of global unpredictability and uncertainty.

It is obvious that we will not succeed in predicting future events exactly, but just by going through various scenarios, we will be able to better react to any development that we might face. That is the value of this conference – to serve as a situational awareness exercise, where everyone can contribute to the awareness part. This is the place where those who need to take decisions, can either openly or in their minds, prepare their reactions.

To be better placed to decide when we really must decide.

The Lennart Meri Conference is an Estonian conference. It, therefore, has to reflect Estonia in some way. As you, our friends from abroad, have told us, we Estonians, for the past 25 years, have defied all logic of transformation and development, luckily mostly outperforming everybody's expectations. A friend of mine, former Prime Minister Mart Laar, likes to use the metaphor – Estonians are like a lizard running on water – to explain our phenomenon. A lizard doesn't actually know that it can run on water, it simply does so. This is very Estonian.

The Lennart Meri Conference is very Estonian. The Lennart Meri Conference is also unconventional. Its trademarks include an absence of ceremony – well, as soon as I finish here, that is – hierarchy and seniority. Everyone can weigh in, present arguments. And so unsurprisingly, a lot of new talent from the region, but not only, has surfaced from these conferences. Look at the flying career of Mrs Federica Mogherini, she spoke at the conference some years ago.

The Lennart Meri Conference also adds value to Estonia's own debates on foreign and security policy issues. As those of you who know us well know, a somewhat peculiar characteristic of Estonians is that they believe the analysis about themselves much more if it is delivered by foreigners. On the positive side, this shows that we clearly value the peer review approach. On the other hand, one might see this as a lingering inferiority complex from when we were isolated from our European friends. Events like this conference, spark surges of self-confidence, as others show us their support and understanding, therefore validating our own view of our country and its surroundings.

In these trying times, we have seen and welcomed the upsurge in the attention given to defence and security issues in Europe. The NATO Warsaw decisions are being implemented and NATO's current deterrence posture reflects adequately the risk profile of our region. But given the current volatility of the global environment, more discussion on the future is needed. And so I am pleased that so many top security experts are at this year's conference. And especially glad that I don't have to explain to you, unlike the international media, that being security-conscious, which Estonia no doubt is and always has to be, is not the same as being insecure, let alone afraid.

I am encouraged by the fact that an entire panel of this year's conference will be dedicated to NATO-EU relations. We clearly need fair burden sharing among NATO and EU member states. We need more that more Allies invest more in defence. And we must keep up the momentum of the Defence Investment Pledge made at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014 in order to stop the cuts, gradually increase and then move towards spending 2% within a decade. This is important for the strength of NATO, as well as for the strength of the EU.

This year's conference also concentrates on many other European issues including the future of the European Union, the Eastern Partnership, the EU in the democratic debate, this is logical given that in less than two months' time Estonia will assume the EU presidency for the first time in its history. In foreign policy terms, a true milestone. We of course take on our presidency with a strong sense of responsibility, but also with enthusiasm. And we have set ourselves some ambitious goals, notably the horizontal digital aspects of basically all EU core policies.

Finally, let me finish by sincerely thanking the organisers of the conference – Riina, Jüri, the entire team at the ICDS. As always, you have done a wonderful job! Or actually, we Estonians say - this is normal. I wish all of you a successful conference and a wonderful stay in Estonia. Let's keep up the normalcy.