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Address by the President of the Republic at the Opening Session of the Riigikogu on 8 September 2003

Dear People of Estonia,
Honourable Members of the Riigikogu and Government of the Republic,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Five months ago, each Member of the newly elected Riigikogu by taking oath of office committed him- or herself to working for the benefit of the Estonian state and people. This work has to be carried out observing our people's main values and our state's Constitution.

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia provides for the separation and balance of powers. Yet, it deserves stressing that although the Riigikogu, the President of the Republic and the Government have each their own responsibilities they still have a shared sphere of responsibility related to the development of our society.

We bear this shared responsibility of the constitutional institutions towards the people and the yardstick of this responsibility is the people's trust both in the state and the institutions exercising the state authority. A clear vision of the future, mutually supportive cooperation considering each authority level, and the ability to make together choices based on the people's interests help us to bear this responsibility. It would be hard to speak of shared responsibility in cases where the people's interests are sacrificed to party policy or personal ambitions.

At the today's opening session of the Riigikogu, I would like to proceed from here to the central areas of our shared responsibility.

It is an indisputable fact that Estonia has an increasing say in the regional cooperation both among the Baltic Sea States and the Nordic Countries. Moreover, we are poised to influence also developments in Europe and world politics. This is due to both our membership in various international organisations and our single-minded foreign policy. As a result of our joint efforts and shared responsibility, we have achieved a remarkable success in the past 12 years of independence.

The Estonian people began to strive for independence spurred by the wish to make decisions and choices themselves, to live in a society where democratic values are respected and protected, and where conditions for a stable development are in place. Having restored our independence, we also wanted to regain our place in the family of European nations, to share this family's common values and to reach an equally good quality of life. By now, we have covered a long stretch of this way, however, we have paid for our rapid success a high price.

Now, we are facing a choice of paramount importance: on 14 September, the people have to decide how we should move on. The referendum will not only determine amendments to the Constitution and accession to the European Union but its outcome also will contain an important message about the future of our nation. It will tell us if we should continue on and strengthen our chosen way of advancement or admit abandonment of some of the goals set in the course of restoring our statehood.

Their hard fate has taught the Estonians a host of tough lessons that have instilled conservatism and a flickering hope for a better future, but also a strong feeling of togetherness emerging in decisive moments. I believe that what we have learned from those lessons will govern our choices in the forthcoming referendum too. A people having a memory and knowing the price of independence in any case will make the right choice. This people have understood that one of our independence's guarantees is mutually supportive cooperation within the community of nations respecting democratic values.

The abandonment of the goal set during the restoration of Estonian statehood - to join the European Union - would force us to search for new development ways. Yet, while searching, we might reach a dead end, but the cost of finding the way out might significantly exceed the price paid so far. Not only we but also our posterity were to pay for this decision.

However, we should honestly admit that during the negotiations the general public has not sufficiently been enlightened about the pending choices and our new opportunities in the European Union, and now we have to undertake a hasty correction. To the institutions bearing shared responsibility towards the people it is also a lesson for the future.

As the second essential area of shared responsibility, I would like to deal with our security policy and guaranteeing our national defence.

Today, we can note that our preparations for the accession to NATO have been successful. At the same time, it would be irresponsible and politically shortsighted if we regarded Estonia's accession to the European Union and NATO as two separate processes. For it is obvious that both the stable economic environment provided to its members by the European Union and the collective security system constituted by NATO give the development and security of small countries guarantees complementing each other.

But countries themselves have to create the prime guarantees. And they have to do it in a situation where the threats of globalisation pose more and more challenges to the security of nations and global stability.

The obligation set out in the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia - to guarantee the preservation of the Estonian nation and culture through the ages - concerns among other things security policy as well. Here our foreign and economic policy, internal and security policy, and national defence, too, are intertwined.

Yet the national defence does not mean military defence only. As decided by the Riigikogu, the Estonian national defence shall be built up as a total defence system incorporating the whole society. This will create prerequisites for deterring and fending off potential aggressors.

It is obvious that the Riigikogu, the Government of the Republic and the President as the Supreme Commander of the National Defence share the responsibility for the security policy. And that's where we have to start from while making choices and decisions concerning defence scenarios and development of Defence Forces. While building our national defence we must, first of all, follow the valid resolutions of the Riigikogu, taking at the same time into consideration recommendations of our future allies.

Our Defence Forces like any other state structure in the world of new challenges and chances must be capable of cooperation and development. Building the Defence Forces in this context means our capability to cooperate with our allies, which, in turn, means that we are obliged to adapt our standards and procedures. At the same time, we must not forget our independent defence capability maintained by the defence will of the people.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The third area of shared responsibility concerns the consolidation of our legal system.

The Riigikogu beginning its second session today has given several important promises to develop the legal system. I would deal with the work ahead considering two dimensions. First, we have to continue integrating the principles of EU law into Estonian legal system. In addition, it is crucial to analyse the applicability and practice of established judicial precedents and, if necessary, to revise hastily created regulations.

Secondly, there are several areas where the legal regulation lags behind life or even puts brakes on progress. The first session of the 10th Riigikogu was just a prologue introducing extensive work. I very much hope that your campaign pledges during the beginning session became enshrined in law.

At this point, I would emphasize the need to develop our administrative organisation and, by that, the administrative capacity of the state. I am pleased to note that the work on the new model of regional administration having started from harmony brings us closer and closer to unanimity. I do hope that also the Riigikogu will reach an agreement and create a model ensuring greater balance in the regional development of Estonia. The organisation of regional administration must enable local governments to take part in deciding the matters related to the development of regions. Incapacity of administrative organisation to no extent whatever must prevent us from functioning as a successful Member State of the European Union.

Our shared responsibility for developing the legal system is linked with securing compliance with the Constitution. The yardstick of the legitimacy of our legal system is the system's compliance with norms and values of our Constitution. Both the Riigikogu and the President are obliged to follow the latter. Both while passing laws and promulgating them, we must ensure their compliance with the Constitution and develop the legal system in accordance with the values enshrined in the Constitution.

Only a stable environment of development can guarantee success, moreover, it is a sine qua non of well-balanced development of any state. Favourable external factors can find in it an expected environment of growth and negative factors can be neutralized more rapidly. Thus we can say that a safe and secure environment, as well, is our shared goal and responsibility.

With a view to reaching a stable environment of development, it is crucial that members and institutions of our society recognized certain common values and, thereafter, also adhered to them. By now, we are almost through the process of mapping our common values - by that I mean drawing up our national agreement.

Nobody can have priority in this process and all its participants have an equal share of responsibility. Just in this process our sense of togetherness and, above all, our responsibility for the future of our nation have once again an opportunity to manifest. Since the centrepiece of our first national agreement is to create an environment supporting children's development, to give sense of security to families and preference to education.

The goal of the agreement - by 2015 to at least double living standards along with significantly cutting social and regional inequality - is comparable to those challenging goals we set while restoring the Estonian state. We coped with them then and I believe we will cope with it also now signing the new national agreement. I would like it not to be put off until the indefinite future, for I am sure that the conclusion of the agreement - considering the referendum on the most important issue for our future - would strengthen the people's sense of security.

However, the process of national agreement is meant to demonstrate also other future dimensions, which are no lesser important than what I just said before. The conclusion of the national agreement will prove the possibility of concord in Estonia. If we can agree on the most important things among ourselves then we can successfully protect our interests in the whole world, beyond all doubt, in the European Union too.

Honourable People's Representatives, I wish you to work wisely and energetically! May the conviction that the work for the benefit of Estonia is of everlasting importance continuously stimulate all of us, and that is the very reason why we must not get tired. All we do and all we decide must contribute to the preservation of the Estonian nation.

Thank you for your attention.

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