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My Letter to All of Estonia


Last Saturday, when ballots for the two candidates who made it into the final round of the presidential selection process were counted at the Estonia Concert Hall, and it turned out that no winner would be declared in spite of a campaign lasting over six months, people were disappointed. I shared in that disappointment, and I still feel it now. No doubt everyone had a personal candidate preference. As did I.

This certainly is not a constitutional crisis, nor is it bankruptcy of the democratic system. The election will now simply go back to the Riigikogu. Therefore, the Riigikogu Council of Elders began seeking a new candidate post-haste. It was clear that no matter who would become the candidate, their moral capital for taking the office would be quite scant. They would be a backup president. A porcelain figurine on the mantelpiece.

That is what people were saying even before the Riigikogu had the chance to start looking for a candidate. The brunt of this displeasure will inevitably be transferred to the new candidate. I understand. However, a solution to this situation must be found.

Having been away from Estonia for quite some time, I am not well known. Although my positions might be familiar from radio programmes and newspapers, I am unfamiliar to the majority of the Estonian public. I understand those, for whom the Riigikogu factions’ decision may come as a surprise or seem entirely unfathomable.

However, a strong cooperative desire in the Riigikogu to find a president is certainly understandable. It is a step forward in the presidential selection process. However, I believe this step is in fact even greater, because all parties involved are talking to one another. At last! My own conversations in the parliamentary factions were sincere discussions on Estonia’s future.

I wish to justify the trust of the Riigikogu Council of Elders and the parliamentary factions. If I am chosen to be president, I wish to preserve and promote this culture of open communication. I wish to discuss Estonia with the candidates who have been held in the tumbling barrel of the campaign for nearly half a year. To speak with the members of the Electoral Council who went to the Estonia Concert Hall on Saturday and left with empty hands. To hear those who live all around Estonia and since Saturday have been disappointed in the Electoral Council, the political parties, politics, and leadership more broadly.

For, what can a president do? What is his or her role? Much of the role of the President of the Republic of Estonia is to be wherever things are presently becoming complicated. The role of the president is laid out in the Constitution of Estonia. However, the president always has the force of his or her words, which the Constitution does not mention. The president cannot offer a solution to every problem of life in Estonia, but the formulation of a problem and its statement aloud are, in and of themselves, a very large step towards a solution. This, the president can, and must, do. Demandingly, responsibly, and without bias. Though not always publicly. It must always be done according to need, so that we may make progress towards a solution.

For the last 12 years, I have been working in Luxembourg, but my heart and my home have always been in Estonia. I have always been in Estonia in my thoughts, and as an active citizen, I have also often stated these thoughts aloud. I’ve done so upon request, but also when I’ve seen it is necessary. Please allow me to remind you of the positions I’ve expressed earlier.

First of all, however, I ask you to note that this is not my agenda. The president does not have an agenda: political parties do. Prior to an election, political parties are obligated to consider how exactly we will move forward. The president, on the other hand, must have positions. These make the president’s actions understandable and foreseeable. They give the people a clear understanding of the basis, upon which the president makes their statements about developments in Estonia and the world.

Most recently at the Opinion Festival in Paide, I remarked that confident citizens and an ethical state are the cornerstone of a strong democracy. Confident citizens are easy to pick out: they are those who have an open mindset and are curious about others. A confident citizen is backed by a supportive, but also trustworthy state that does not limit the freedom of its citizens to carry out their dreams.

A state that supports citizens in their choices is an ethical state. An ethical Estonia will boldly use its budget to help the very weakest before spending money on those who should be strong. On those, whose opportunity it is to actually utilise the freedoms offered by the state and to help themselves. Support is for those who are unable to capitalise on their freedoms because they are children, unwell, or uneducated for some reason.

Freedoms are meant for all the rest. Wide-ranging entrepreneurial support is not necessarily essential. But what is essential are schools, nurseries, athletic schools, sporting opportunities, and health promotion. An ethical Estonian state is up to its neck in what it must do to keep, defend, and foster its people. To create a confident Estonian. A confident and ethical state is modest: it doesn’t try to get its hands into everything, but it is available when truly needed.

Our understanding of the state and what it can offer must shift as society develops. Twenty years ago, we were talking of a lean country, low bureaucracy, and austerity. Western European countries have caught up to us: the overly high costs of public services are a problem almost everywhere.

We ourselves, however, have already entered a new age. Our country has developed into one of civic organisations.

All of us are the state. In addition to tax revenue, the people of Estonia are contributing more and more to the country with their time, acts, and words. It is time to put this resource to use. We must find ways for the community sector to take over a part of public services in the areas where we are few or highly specific support is necessary. I do not presume they will do so for free. I asked the question of how to organise this at a TEDx conference in Tallinn, and I will continue to ask it in the future. Public-sector innovation has begun from Estonia; has made us into e-Estonia. Now, we will move forward.

Only by developing faster than our competitors, who are simultaneously our close partners in politics and business, can we improve the welfare of our people. The easy part is over. We’re stuck in an average-income trap, which we can escape with solutions suited especially for Estonia. It’s no longer enough to follow trends: now, we must break them! A state with a one-thousand-euro average salary no longer needs simple solutions like technology offered by foreign investors or a well-constructed marketing channel. Now, we must join the leaders of innovation. And we are about to; I am certain of it.

The president has a very important role in Estonia. If I am to be made President on Monday, then I will set out without delay to do away with my greatest shortcoming: the fact that the Estonian people do not know me. I will do this as much as possible and as quickly as possible without neglecting the duties and obligations of the office.

You, who are reading this, are very well aware of my duties, such as the president’s role in Estonia’s foreign affairs. Toomas Hendrik Ilves has done this fantastically. It is a very high standard, which I intend to keep. The shoes that were left to be filled in Kadriorg are no doubt very large. I will need to find my own, and they will certainly be a little different in style. I trust you understand!


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