Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Opposing the European Union or Looking for More Reforms: Different Facets of Euroscepticism in Estonia

Academic journal article Romanian Journal of European Affairs

Opposing the European Union or Looking for More Reforms: Different Facets of Euroscepticism in Estonia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Analysing the manifold facets of Euroscepticism in Estonia contributes to a better understanding of its role in the European Union (EU) as well as the country-specific interests at the European level. On the one hand, the influence of Eurosceptics in society affects a country's willingness to move forward with European integration. On the other hand, the EU-wide topics that face strong criticism at the national level often reflect country-specific vulnerabilities and challenges. For example, criticism towards the EU institutions could also speak about a country's own limited ability of promoting its interests at the EU level, or the opposition to cross-border projects could be related to a country's peripheral location or its low competitiveness in the international arena.

Estonia has experienced drastic changes not only during the transformation process from the planned economy to the market economy, but also during the recent global economic and financial crisis and Brexit debates. This has also shaped what the country expects from the European integration and how Estonia sees its role in the EU.

Most of the agents and groups with economic Eurosceptic views in Estonia could be classified as soft Eurosceptics, combined with some Euro-populist views. However, as regards the economic perspective, the Eurosceptic views and arguments in Estonia are often based on pure economic rationality, which could in principle refer to the origins of "Euro-pragmatism" in Estonia. The current article focuses on the most prominent agents and groups holding Eurosceptic views in Estonia and an analysis of the origins - ideological and otherwise - of these attitudes.

The first section provides a background for the analysis by describing the latest trends in attitudes in Estonia towards European integration compared to the EU average and the other Baltic countries. This helps ascertain the extent of potential support for a strong Eurosceptical movement in Estonia. The second section focuses on the main themes in Eurosceptic debates in Estonia. A particular attention is dedicated to economic argumentation of the groups with Eurosceptical views and the background of these arguments. However, since the economic aspects are often intertwined with a critique towards the EU institutions and decision-making process, over-bureaucratization, lack of reforms, vague long-term visions and other issues, these topics will also be discussed. The third section analyses some interesting trends among the leading Eurosceptic parties in Estonia and compares some general patterns of public opinion with the other Baltic states. Overall, even if often in a reverse mode, the discussion could also give some hints on Estonia's role and strategic interests in the European Union as far as the future of the EU is concerned. The paper concludes with the analytical part, debating the reasons and preferences of Estonia in the wider Central and Eastern European pattern of Euroscepticism.

1.Latest trends in public opinion surveys: Are there reasonable grounds to expect the spread of Eurosceptical views in Estonia?

The latest developments in the European Union such as the recent European debt crisis, the refugee crisis in the EU, the conflict in Ukraine, uncertainty related to Brexit and constant disagreements between the EU Member States have seriously challenged the credibility of the Union. Whereas at the outset of the financial crisis in 2007-2008 about 45-50% of the respondents of the Eurobarometer survey tended to trust the EU, in 2016 the share of this category of the respondents reached only 32-36% (see Standard Eurobarometer 2007, 2008, 2015, 2016). Trust in the EU has declined to relatively low levels even in the EU Member States having traditionally boasted with strong pro-European views. This has also contributed to a recent rise in Eurosceptic movements across Europe.

Against this backdrop of the EU average, it is somewhat intriguing that in the Baltic countries the attitude towards European integration is rather positive. …

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