Two embassies spared by skin of teeth

Dagne Mihkels
Dagne Mihkels
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Estonia will close no embassy in EU or NATO nations, foreign minister Marina Kaljurand said last Thursday. 24 short hours earlier, however, a document had arrived in governmental information system in which Ms Kaljurand proposes closure of Estonian embassies in Prague and Lisbon. 

Last Thursday, the cabinet was discussing plans for rearrangements of foreign representations. Following the session, foreign minister Marina Kaljurand personally explained to all media channels why the state decided to close down the embassy in Brazil next year (which is Estonia’s only representation in Latin America) and economise a little on the Chinese embassy and why the embassy continuing in Kazakhstan is seriously in question. By the way, the Estonian embassy in Astana is also the only Estonian embassy in the region.

The reason? Budget cuts at foreign ministry. By such plans, €1m to €1.5m could be saved. «Regarding EU and NATO states I do not consider it an option to close any representations; to the contrary, we desire to strengthen these as we will now save,» Ms Kaljurand told Postimees on Thursday.

«We have not looked into the more distant future at the moment; what I can tell you, however, that naturally as foreign minister I do not consider it a possibility that in the current security situation we would discuss closure of foreign representations in EU or NATO allied nations,» Ms Kaljurand told the Public Broadcasting (ERR).

Even so, on Wednesday just before 5 o’clock in the afternoon and as known to Postimees, foreign ministry send a document into the governmental information system containing three proposals for the cabinet meeting on Thursday.

«To agree with proposal by foreign minister to close down Shanghai and Brasilia representations in 2016, Astana representation in 2017, and Lisbon and Prague representations in 2018,» reads clause one of the document.

Still, foreign minister Ms Kaljurand categorically claims that she did not propose to the government on Thursday to close down embassies in Prague and Lisbon. Her words are confirmed by sources of Postimees, according to whom Ms Kaljurand indeed said at the cabinet she was not in favour of closure of the Lisbon and Prague embassies.

How then did the minister explain the document sent to the government 24 hours earlier, in the which she proposed quite the opposite?  

«This is some confusion with the papers. Unable to answer you,» said Ms Kaljurand. «In principle, this was the original proposal which was on the table before Brexit. But I did not present such a proposal to the government.»

Ms Kaljurand admitted that the government had been working for a while with plans to close embassies in Prague and Lisbon. And, had Brexit never happened, the plan would have been enacted and reached the government.   

«After Brexit, in the current security situation, I do not deem it possible to close down embassies in Prague and Lisbon,» said Ms Kaljurand. «But I do not exclude returning to the issue [closure of Prague and Lisbon] after the presidency.»

Estonia holds EU presidency from January to June, 2018.

As underlined by Ms Kaljurand, all options for closing down embassies arise from austerity requirements by the government stating that public staff must shrink according to the dwindling population – thus, by about 750 people laid off yearly.

In light of the new lay-offs, the ministry will no longer be able to maintain the current volume of foreign representations.

Namely, the foreign ministry data says such institutions currently employ an equal number of people to 2003 before Estonia joined EU and NATO. Meanwhile, Estonia has since added eight foreign representations.

«If they decide to continue with the cuts, Then Prague and Lisbon will be on the table as potential variants after the presidency,» said the foreign minister. «If no further cuts are needed, the picture will be different.»

As underlined by Ms Kaljurand: had there been no Brexit, they would probably have closed down Prague and Lisbon. Curiously, though, the document containing proposal to close down embassies in Prague and Lisbon arrived in governmental information system five days after Brexit.

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KeywordsBrexitembassyLisbonmarina kaljurandPraguepresidency
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