Estonian president ahead of Bled forum: We need to prepare for world in 2050

Ljubljana/Tallinn, 25 August - Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid will be one of the main guests of this year's Bled Strategic Forum. Kaljulaid, who has many words of praise for Slovenia and Bled, expects the meeting to bring an in-depth debate on sustainable development and answers on how to prepare for a further global population rise and prevent the planet from suffering.

Estonija, Riga.
Predsednica Estonije Kersti Kaljulaid.
Foto: Urad predsednice

Estonija, Riga.
Predsednica Estonije Kersti Kaljulaid.
Foto: Urad predsednice

Estonija, Riga.
Predsednica Estonije Kersti Kaljulaid.
Foto: Urad predsednice

Estonija, Riga.
Predsednica Estonije Kersti Kaljulaid.
Foto: Urad predsednice

September's visit will come after President Kaljulaid already attended the Slovenia-hosted June summit of the Three Seas Initiative. She has also done some skiing in Slovenia and has walked along Lake Bled, she told the STA. Kaljulaid will couple the attendance at the Bled forum with a state visit to the country.

At the Bled meeting, running this year under the title of (Re)Sources of (In)Stability, Kaljulaid expects and in-depth debate on sustainable development and sustainable use of resources.

"The issue of resources is becoming more and more important for the whole world and Europe has been a leader in these discussions. I hope we can find a model of sustainable development in Europe which would also be economically more feasible than the previous or current industrial one," she said.

Kaljulaid is confident that "while Europe would be leading in finding the solutions and definitely benefiting from them, the rest of the world would simply follow, because these solutions should be actually also commercially feasible, cheaper than the current alternatives".

"So I really hope that we will discuss how to save the resources, how to be prepared for the world, let's say in 2050 when there will be even more people on our planet and make sure that our planet will not suffer."

The Estonian president noted that the digitalisation of society, a field where Estonia is a leader, is part of the same debate.

"Let's face it - 15% of electricity spent today is spent on the internet. But new technologies are not only consumers of resources. The internet and new technologies are a huge opportunity to save resources."

"We for instance don't need to travel so much, we can have conferences over the net, we can work over the net and don't have to travel to work any more," illustrated Kaljulaid, arguing the current living habits will be changed profoundly by digitalisation and new technologies.

"Jobs will be geographically neutral, so people will choose where they live according to the societies they like to live in, which means a new kind of competition between states."

Turning to Estonia's digitalisation experience, Kaljulaid stressed there were no universal recipes, with things playing out differently in individual countries, since each is an individual culture, meaning each needs to find its own solutions.

Still, once a country embarks on the path of digitalisation of public services, "people will expect you to keep the level of services up to the level of development of new technologies and make use of the new opportunities emerging", she pointed out.

"I feel this is a task governments have to undertake, because our people and our businesses are online anyway, so governments basically have an obligation to provide safe identity for example. And its not only technological solutions - it is only by the power of law that you can guarantee digital signatures for example."

Kaljulaid moreover noted the need "to teach people a lot and train them; to have cyber hygiene, for children to know that risks exist online etc.".

Meanwhile, the Estonian president also plans to use her visit to strengthen economic cooperation between Estonia and Slovenia. She argued there was far less economic cooperation "right now than I would expect between two like-minded EU countries".

Another major topic at the Bled forum will be the future of the EU, especially new institutional appointments after the May elections to the European Parliament. Kaljulaid disagrees with the view that most key posts were occupied by candidates from so called old member states and that new members got the short end of the stick.

She in fact rejects the "old and new members" terminology, arguing it was inappropriate to speak of such a divide 15 years after the last major enlargement, as there are also no common denominators that would justify such distinctions.

Kaljulaid does agree that the distribution of posts in the EU should be merit-based. She believes the decisions on the latest appointments were taken with "quite a lot of thinking about who would be able to do the job and also by keeping in mind the bigger balances, for instance gender balance".

Asked whether she felt the new European Commission team would be able to strengthen public trust in EU institutions, Kaljulaid said that this in fact should not be the responsibility of the Commission as "the most technical body of the EU".

"You cannot charge the European Commission with the liability to overcome democratic deficit. There is the European Council which consists of elected presidents and PMs, there is the European Parliament that is elected directly by the citizens of the EU."

Kaljulaid also rejects fears related to the rise of nationalists and populists and those pushing for a greater role of national states or even for leaving the EU.

"Who is advocating for leaving the EU? One country decided for this, but I think there is nobody else thinking of following this line. On the contrary, I see European citizens trusting the EU more than before. We also saw an important rise in participation in the European Parliament election.

"I don't see that there is such a crisis of democracy in the EU institutionally as you seem to be thinking. Quite the contrary, I think we have quite good opportunities to continue deepening our cooperation."

She argued that all the tasks faced by European politicians, "starting with climate change, or economic development, or even social development", can hardly be tackled more successfully "without the EU, by 27 members separately", in particular "nowadays when borders inside the union are not so important".

"We need to be responsible for the welfare of our global citizens," she said, describing the EU as "simply the more effective model, simply the rational way forward".

Kaljulaid also called for a strengthening of the EU's position in world, for a continuation of a common foreign policy strategy and "this harmonised thinking on European action globally".

She announced Estonia would also play its part in this as a 2020-2021 member of the UN Security Council, announcing the country would cooperate closely with its EU partners.

Kaljulaid said this was not only about ties within the EU, but also within NATO and part of "our common effort to defend Europe as a whole".

"Our security is very much based on democratic values. There are many ways where we can work together and then make sure that resources are spent together efficiently and effectively. So it is very good that we're coming together and synchronising our thinking for the future and this is also why the Bled forum is taking place in my opinion."

Commenting on relations with Russia, which she labelled a problematic neighbour for the whole of Europe, Kaljulaid highlighted the partial occupation of Georgia and in particular the occupation of the Crimea peninsula and war in the Donbass region in Ukraine.

"States that respect liberal democratic values also all respect the Helsinki Final Act and they make sure that when they sign any international agreements they do keep to these agreements. Unfortunately Russia has not been dong so."

A normalisation of relations between EU and Russia can only come when Russia does away with the reasons that led to the introduction of EU sanctions against it, Kaljulaid said.

"Of course economically this has a higher cost for those who traditionally and geographically had close economic ties, but I can tell you that Estonian businesses are not complaining. They realise the political reality and they do accept the current unfortunate state of play."

© STA, 2019