(Event) Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet joined IERES at the Elliott School of International Affairs on Tuesday, March 27, for an interesting discussion about the status and future of the European Union. Paet opened his remarks by challenging the idea that Europe is at a crossroad today, arguing that Europe has always emerged stronger than ever after each challenge. The true greatness of Europe was revealed by achieving the seemingly impossible task of reuniting and building a strong community during and after the Cold War, he said. The idea of war between EU members has been reduced to absurdity, something that was looked upon with near-certainty in the dark days of the Cold War. In addition to Europe’s resilience, Paet stressed Europe’s economic credentials. The EU is not usually seen as a competitor to the US, China, or BRIC. But the EU’s combined GDP is larger than the US, and has a population of half a billion. Paet argued further that Europe also maintains large foreign aid programs and serves as a humanitarian beacon in geopolitics.
Beyond stating Europe’s economic, political, and ethical credentials, Paet challenged the beliefs that Europe faces either complete assimilation into a super-state or dissolution into its component parts. Membership continues to grow, Paet stated, and this growth is evidence of Europe’s relevance. At least 11 countries are actively seeking to join the EU. Paet then made a somewhat strange comment in comparing Europe to Asia, stating that the 21st century has already been called the Asian Century, but Asia does not have the "wholeness" of Europe. Here he meant the cultural, religious, and political community of Europe, but it still felt out of place in a discussion of the continued relevance of the European Union. He then transitioned to a clearer comparison between BRIC countries and the EU. American investment in Belgium is the same as investment in China and India combined. American investment in Ireland is larger than all BRIC countries combined. These statistics were used to bolster the argument that the EU continues to be relevant as a source of international commerce. The 750 billion Euro reserve has assuaged fears in the market and is beginning to provide financial stability and solidarity. BRIC economies are not necessarily impressive because of their US investment, but because of their GDP growth rates, rising standards of living, and diversifying economic portfolios. Minister Paet concluded his remarks by outlining what Europe needs to remain a relevant actor on the world stage, and how Estonia serves as a model for austerity and prosperity. Europe needs innovation, small and medium sized enterprise, and the common market to survive and prosper. In order to achieve some of these items, Paet suggested that Europe could look to Estonia for ample examples of innovation, such as e-governance, Skype (invented in Estonia), and ease of small and medium enterprises set up. The question and answer session touched on Estonia-Russian relations and how bilateral relations between those two countries are progressing. It seemed, however, that Minister Paet never really touched on the headlining topic—why the EU still matters. His attempts to reframe the Euro crisis as a debt crisis to be solved through increasing austerity measures as executed in Estonia does not seem ready-made for the Greek crisis. At the conclusion of the event, it was clear that Estonia’s trajectory within Europe looked bright, but lingering doubts about the EU’s solidity remained.