Smooth ratification of the Reform Treaty expected

University of Tartu

Estonia regards the ratification of the Reform Treaty as the most important priority for the Slovenian presidency.[1] Although the government had been strongly in favour of the Constitutional Treaty and continued to defend it throughout the reflection period, it now regards the quick ratification of the Reform Treaty by all member states as the best solution. Agreement on the treaty, Prime Minister Ansip argues, allows the EU to „conclude disputes over the procedural rules and concentrate on solving real problems.”[2] Considering that member state governments have worked on amending the treaty already for six years, it is „time to finish this process now, ratify the treaty and move on.”[3] The Estonian government has repeatedly expressed hopes that all member states will manage to approve the treaty in 2008 and that the new agreement will enter into force on 1 January 2009.
The government approved the draft law for ratifying the Reform Treaty on January 31, 2008 and forwarded it to the Riigikogu (the Estonian Parliament) for ratification. The ratification process will face few obstacles in Estonia and in all likelihood, will be completed this spring. Given that the Reform Treaty can be regarded as a weaker version of the Constitutional Treaty which was ratified by the Riigikogu on May 9, 2006, the conventional arguments against further integration (e.g. loss of sovereignty) will not work well at this stage.[4] The European Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu discussed the Reform Treaty on December 10, 2007 and there was agreement across all parliamentary parties that ratification should take place already in the spring of 2008.[5] Indeed, the chair of the committee, Marko Mihkelson, emphasized the need to look beyond ratification and start figuring out the practical arrangements related to the treaty, especially with regard to the CFSP and the creation of the EU foreign service.[6] When meeting with the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in December 2007, the speaker of the Parliament, Ene Ergma, similarly expressed hope that the Riigikogu would ratify the agreement in the first half of 2008.[7]
Strong public support for the EU will facilitate the ratification of the treaty and reduce incentives for political parties to problematise the agreement. Support has grown consistently and is now at a significantly higher level than at the time of the preaccession referendum.[8] Popular approval of EU membership reached record heights after the Bronze Soldier crisis in April 2007.[9] Since then, about 85% of voting-age citizens in Estonia support EU membership.[10] The increase in support has been attributed to heightened threat perceptions (Russia) and to strong EU support to Estonia during and after the crisis.[11]
Opposition to the Reform Treaty appears to be limited to marginal political groups. The Estonian Nationalist Movement, a non-parliamentary group founded in July 2006, issued a statement in December 2007 which claimed that the ratification of the Reform Treaty would amount to „treason” against the Estonian state and nation. As a secret deal threatening the independence of Estonia, the conclusion of the treaty is „an unforgiveable crime” comparable to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. In response, the chair of the European Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Marko Mihkelson said that the Nationalist Movement was just „making noise” in an attempt to gain „very cheap popularity” and that the statement did not merit broader discussion.
Others have criticized the decision-making process at the national level for lack of transparency, debate and deliberation. An article by Toomas Liiva in Postimees, one of the main dailies, calls attention to the fact that the December 6th meeting of the government where the Lisbon Treaty was approved lasted for only 2 minutes and 40 seconds.[12] Given that a total of 14 issues were decided at that meeting, the time allocated to the approval of the Reform Treaty was a mere 11 seconds. He dismisses the Prime Minister’s explanation that extensive debates on the issue were carried out at previous cabinet meetings and expounds on the fact that with this 11-second decision, Estonia gave away veto-powers in 68 policy areas.
The creation of the nine-member Reflection Group (“Committee of the Wise”) has received limited attention in Estonia. The media focused mostly on personalities: the fact that the two Vice Chairs, Vike-Freiberga and Ollila, come from Estonia’s neighbouring countries (Latvia and Finland, respectively) was a source of some excitement. However, there has been very little discussion of what the Group’s mandate should be and what contribution it can actually make. The Estonian government has made brief but supportive statements. It appears to appreciate the fact that the Group will not focus on institutional issues nor try to determine the future borders of the EU. According to the Prime Minister, it is a good thing that the group will focus on concrete topics such as economic competitiveness, sustainable development, global security, migration, energy, climate change, fight against international crime and terrorism.[13]

[1] Press conference of the Government of the Republic of Estonia, 17.01.2008, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[2] Government Press Release, 13.12.2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Prior to the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty in May 2006, the Riigikogu had commissioned an extensive study examining the compatibility of the treaty with the Estonian constitution and analysing its legal effects. This study will remain an important reference point and can be used to quell any legal or constitutional objections to ratification. A popular referendum is out of the question on the grounds that if the Constitutional Treaty could be ratified by the Parliament, the Reform Treaty certainly can as well.

[5] European Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, Press Release, „ELAK toetas valitsuse eesmärke Sloveenia eesistumisperioodil”, 21.01.2008, available at: www.riigikogu/elak (last access: 04.03.2008).

[6] European Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, Press Release, 10.12.2007, available at: www.riigikogu/elak (last access: 04.03.2008).

[7] „Ergma loodab ELi reformileppe kiirele heakskiitmisele Riigikogus”, Postimees, 20.12. 2007.

[8] Speech by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip in the Riigikogu on the European Union policy of the government, 09.10.2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[9] For an overview of the crisis, see the previous issue of EU-25/27 Watch: University of Tartu: Estonia (Current issues and discourses in your country), in: Institute for European Politics (Ed.): EU-25/27 Watch, No. 5, September 2007, Berlin, p. 224.

[10] Government Press Release, 19.12.2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).

[11] However, it is interesting to note that ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers do not differ in their level of support for the EU. This casts doubt on the interpretation that links high support rates to the Bronze crisis. 

[12] Toomas Liiva, ”Otsustamise mehaanikast”, Postimees, 13.12.2007.

[13] Government Press Release, 14.12.2007, available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).