A joint statement issued by 13 EU countries on Wednesday calling for coronavirus emergency measures to be temporary and in line with rule of law principles showed that while Estonia and other states formerly shrouded by the Iron Curtain have been members of the European Union for nearly 16 years, a dividing line between so-called rich and poor Europe remains.
“Emergency measures should be limited to what is strictly necessary, should be proportionate and temporary in nature, subject to regular scrutiny and respect the aforementioned principles and international law obligations. They should not restrict the freedom of expression or the freedom of the press,” the 13 countries wrote.
The statement was issued by member states that belonged to the EU before the 2004 enlargement, and foreign affairs ministries of newer member states were not notified about such a document having been prepared.
While not naming Hungary, the statement indirectly addresses the controversial provisions of giving the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban the right to rule the country by decree without a set time limit.
Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden signed the statement. All said states were EU members prior to the Union’s 2004 enlargement, with Austria being the only one from the group not to back the document in addition to the United Kingdom that is no longer a member after Brexit.
Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu from the Isamaa party said that the statement may indeed give the impression that older members of the EU are wagging their fingers at newer members.
“Hopefully, that is not what the signatories to the statement meant. It would be very inappropriate if some EU states attempted to draw a line between states in such a way or play games. I have requested for Estonia’s envoys in these states to inquire why this distinction has been made and asked them to relay that Estonia regards itself as having notionally joined the statement. Pointing this out in a friendly manner is appropriate in this case. No reason for us to start building walls within the European Union, on the contrary – unity is what’s important now, not confrontation, particularly in this context,” Reinsalu said.
The foreign minister opined that exclusive statements only involving a handful of states are not reasonable in the present uncertain time. Reinsalu also expressed this position in phone conversations with several foreign ministers of signatory states to the document on Thursday.
“The text of this statement does not contain a single thing we couldn’t subscribe to. The content is accurate – the rule of law must be followed also in crisis situations. It is odd that half of EU member states should state that the rule of law must stand, while the other half has not even been invited to join this statement. My opinion is that this statement, insofar as it has been made by member states that joined the EU earlier, has not turned out very well. To avoid giving the impression that Old Europe is teaching the so-called new member states the principles of democracy, it would be reasonable to adopt such a joint statement in the European Union Foreign Affairs Council,” Reinsalu said.