We, 4.10.2023

UN migration mine explodes

Urmas Jaagant
, reporter
Photo: Reuters / Scanpix

Approving the UN Global Compact for Migration preparations for which span over two years was supposed to be a routine process similar to dozens of other nonbinding UN documents. Despite two years of political work and public coverage, the topic only exploded last weekend.

The blast was so strong that the government will likely decide against joining the global compact. Minority coalition partner Pro Patra is unanimously against Estonia signing the pact, while the ranks of the Center Party also include skeptics.

Inconspicuous fall of 2016

The UN General Assembly approved a declaration for refugees and migrants, tasking the organization with negotiating a global migration pact. The aim was to bring countries of origin and destination together on concepts of migration.

Officials and politicians spent the following months writing up countries’ positions. An event involving the Estonian Refugee Council, human rights center, Estonian Red Cross and the human rights institute was held in September of 2017.

Active spring 2018

A year and a half had passed. Estonia’s positions were largely set by March 13 which is when Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser presented them to the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee. Three items on the agenda took about 40 minutes to cover. Records reveal a single question by Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform) after which members of the committee, including Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) MP Henn Põlluaas, acknowledged information presented by Mikser.

Mikser took the positions to the government a few days later. Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (Pro Patria) kept the government from deciding on the day even though it was planned. His main concern was whether the declaration could later morph into a presumed custom that countries would be obligated to honor. The discussion was postponed by one week.

Changes sought by Reinsalu were included in Estonia’s position by then. Clear demands that the migration compact would not introduce automatic obligations for countries and the latter could maintain sovereign border and migration policy were added. The government had no problem approving the positions after that.

Calm summer 2018

Another four months had passed. The final text of the compact, including the positions of more than 190 countries, was completed in the UN on July 11. Some European countries had decided they would not go along earlier. The latter included Hungary, Poland and Austria by fall.

Volatile fall 2018

EKRE tried to put the migration compact on the agenda in October but failed. Henn Põlluaas questioned Mikser during Riigikogu Question Time but was told the pact would in no way violate Estonia’s sovereignty. EKRE tried again in the middle of last week. Martin Helme questioned PM Jüri Ratas but was also told the document entails no obligations.

Everything changed on Friday. A social media post by Reform Party MP Jürgen Ligi, criticizing President Kersti Kaljulaid, made the weekend news, as did Reinsalu’s opinion that the matter requires more deliberation.

Coalition politicians still hoped a compromise was possible after Kaljulaid told public broadcaster ERR that she would not go to Marrakesh without consensus in the government and professor of international law Lauri Mälksoo said Estonia should remain impartial regarding the migration compact. Mikser met with the foreign affairs committee again yesterday and said an agreement was still possible.

Information available to Postimees suggests the solution would have entailed adding a separate government declaration to the decision, according to which the compact would not constitute obligations and would leave countries in charge of their migration policy.

After Pro Patria chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder said in the name of his parliament group that Estonia should not join the UN pact on migration, Postimees was told by politicians that the government will likely back out of the compact for lack of consensus.

Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu admitted as much yesterday. “We shaped a position on the starting point for negotiations in March. Now that the document (the migration compact – U. J.) has taken shape, we can discuss its merit,” he said. Reinsalu found the compact raises many questions, including how it will be implemented. “Could there be any compromise? There is great uncertainty there. The message of the Pro Patria faction to the government delegation is clear – there is no sense in Estonia joining the compact at this time.”

Politicians who do not perceive the document as dangerous believe looming elections, before which material that includes the word “migration” becomes extra sensitive, to be the cause of recent developments.

MPs also admit that while there is no such requirement, the final text of the compact could have landed on the tables of the parliament and government once more in summer.

Today, it is almost certain President Kaljulaid will not have to fly to Marrakesh on December 10 to express support for the compact. There is no consensus.