Prime Minister of Estonia

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Mr Agramunt, thank you for your very kind introduction. Dear Secretary General, dear members of the Parliamentary Assembly, dear Prime Minister of Greece – hopefully Alexis is here somewhere – dear excellencies and dear ladies and gentlemen, I am truly honoured to address the plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly here in Strasbourg. Mr Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, once rightly said that “freedom is a timeless value.” The United Nations charter calls for respect for fundamental freedoms, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions freedom more than 20 times. The European Convention on Human Rights has reinforced the universal declaration by making many of its principles legally binding, therefore giving our citizens the right to challenge their governments at the European Court of Human Rights.

I commend the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers, which are working in synergy to expand freedom and create stability by protecting human rights and the rule of law, which are fundamental values to which no exceptions apply. Through the monitoring mechanism, and through dedicated and professional rapporteurs, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has played a remarkable role. Before I address international co-operation and issues of particular importance to my country, I stress the essential role of national parliaments and parliamentarians as advocates and defenders of human rights and the rule of law.

The importance of co-operation between the Council of Europe and other international organisations such as the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations on issues such as promoting tolerance, fighting terrorism, extremism, radicalisation and cybercrime, addressing the migration crisis, supporting elections and providing assistance, and many others, cannot be overestimated. There are three issues of particular importance to Estonia. First, more than two years have passed since Russia illegally annexed Crimea and started fuelling the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine, thus eroding the post-Cold War security environment across Europe. The situation on the ground reminds us daily of the need for a viable political solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I am concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea and in the eastern part of Ukraine. The conventional and regular human rights monitoring missions of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as the relevant bodies of other international and regional humanitarian and human rights organisations, should be granted immediate and full access to all the affected areas of Ukraine.

“Estonia remains committed to supporting the active role taken by the Council of Europe in developing a useful framework for the protection of human rights, either online or offline”

The Council of Europe’s position on the illegal annexation of Crimea is firm and effective. The non-recognition policy is fully legitimate. The ban on the Crimean Tatar representative body, the Mejlis, is deplorable, and this Organisation should continue to address it. It is our duty to support Ukraine in its structural reforms, but at the same time we should not forget that those reforms are being implemented while the country is fighting a de facto war. We will continue to encourage and assist the Ukrainian leadership to stay focused, and we will work together in delivering the sovereign, democratic and prosperous Ukraine that the Ukrainian people expect and deserve. We cannot ignore the other ongoing conflicts in Europe – Georgia, Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh. We must find solutions to those conflicts, which are fuelling instability and uncertainty in Europe.

Secondly, whereas several years ago refugees arriving by boat from the Middle East and Africa were a concern for just a few, today migration concerns all of us. It has laid a particularly heavy burden on some member States of the Council of Europe. We cannot leave Greece, Italy and Malta to feel alone in this global crisis. We also have to provide more support to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the front-line States that carry the main burden of the Syrian refugee crisis. We must show solidarity within Europe and beyond and work hard for a common, dignified solution.

Thirdly, over recent years we have been horrified by terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The attacks targeted not only those countries but the values that unite us in fighting terror, and in fighting crime more broadly. We need to be determined and united so that we can stand up to such hatred. We cannot let our societies be split up, and we cannot be paralysed by hatred or fear. I welcome your #NoHateNoFear initiative, Mr President, which was launched this Monday.

The Council of Europe has a substantial role in the fight against terrorism. Its Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, and its recent additional protocol – the Riga protocol – address the important issues of the prevention of terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters. Estonia is in the process of ratifying the protocol, and I call on all member States to do the same.

All these problems demand our attention. We must act together – there is no other way to address the crisis comprehensively and find sustainable solutions. Solidarity is the key, and Estonia is determined to carry its burden in tackling the crisis.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, Estonia recently started its second chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which is dedicated to supporting and fostering the Council of Europe’s work on the protection of human rights both online and offline. Our priorities include human rights and the rule of law on the Internet, gender equality and children’s rights as an integral part of human rights.

We are all living in a digital era, and we know from our own experience the great role that information and communication technology (ICT) solutions can play in the development of the economy and society. The comprehensive use of ICT, and especially e-government solutions, has contributed significantly to the development of Estonia. Solutions such as digital signature, e-tax administration and e-health services have helped make the Estonian public sector considerably more efficient and transparent. They have also made our private companies more productive and the business environment more attractive.

Today, Estonia is among the most digitally advanced countries in the world. Many call us e-Estonia because of the great extent to which digital means have entered people’s everyday life, saving them time and trouble. I draw attention to the fact that we have opened our good digital services to the outside world, inviting everyone – including all of you – to benefit from them as e-residents of Estonia. We have become a country committed to helping others make a similar digital transformation and leap.

Let me be clear that we are willing to share our relevant experience and best practices to offer guidance to countries that are planning relevant effort or already have it under way. Our experts can help with the implementation of concrete bilateral projects aimed at reforming State governance and public services, fighting against corruption, implementing the principles of open governance and increasing transparency, reporting and efficiency. Our goals are more extensive acknowledgment of the potential of ICT and e-government as promoters of European Union policy development, and active participation in the relevant discussion in many international forums.

At a time of the fast development of ICT, and the accompanying impact on the lives of most individuals in Europe, the protection of human rights and the rule of law online is needed more than ever before. It is extremely important that human rights be guaranteed in cyberspace. We are satisfied with the extensive work that the Council of Europe has done with regard to the Internet, and Estonia continues its active work within the Council of Europe framework to make the Internet a “safe, secure, open and enabling environment for everyone without discrimination”, as stated in the Council’s recently adopted Internet governance strategy for 2016 to 2019. That can be achieved by scaling up the global value of its legally binding conventions, such as the Budapest Convention on cyber-crime and Convention 108 on data protection.

To strike the right balance between measures and safeguards, we should engage in dialogue with major Internet companies fighting terrorism and radicalisation online and step up efforts to protect children and empower young people online. We commend the Council of Europe for starting a process to include major Internet companies in the Organisation’s international legal frameworks dealing with human rights and the rule of law. Making businesses part of the solution, not the problem, has to be the way forward.

To quote Benjamin Franklin, “There can be no freedom without responsibility”, and the same applies to the use of the Internet. It is important for countries to fulfil their obligations and condemn clearly any breaches of international law both in cyberspace and in the physical world. In the core group of the coalition for Internet liberty, we continue to work towards further global protection and promotion of human rights on the Internet. Let me be clear that nothing can excuse hate speech, which should be assessed on the human rights standards of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and criminalised equally offline and online.

In addition to the Internet’s trans-border nature, many factors shape the level of free expression on the Internet. Various policy approaches exist, with implications for freedom of expression. We need fully to exploit the potential of the Internet while not compromising civil liberties, including the right to freedom of expression. The Internet must be guaranteed to everyone and available without any restrictions.

We also have to prevent the abuse of children’s rights on the Internet and ensure their protection in the digital world. That is our unconditional obligation. During the Estonian chairmanship, we wish to highlight a few themes in the Council of Europe’s new strategy on the rights on the child, placing emphasis on three key areas: child participation, children’s rights in the digital environment and children in migration. I completely agree with the Secretary General that there must be a zero tolerance approach to child abuse. The prevention of and fight against the sexual abuse of children will remain one of the priorities of the children’s rights agenda. Estonia will also ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which is well known as the Lanzarote Convention, and promote better implementation of the convention throughout the Council of Europe’s member States.

Estonia will be the next host of EuroDIG (European dialogue on Internet governance). We are aware of the wider role that the Council of Europe plays in the EuroDIG process. We will continue our joint efforts to strengthen freedom online in the digital age and I am convinced that our chairmanship and our role as the next host of EuroDIG will complement each other.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion let me stress that our common security and respect for human rights are closely interlinked, and based on our ability and willingness to fulfil international obligations and agreements. Estonia remains committed to supporting the active role taken by the Council of Europe in developing the instruments that provide us with a framework for protection of human rights, either online or offline. Respect for human rights, the rule of law, democracy and international law is an integral part of European identity and our shared values. In that respect, Estonia holds the Council of Europe in high regard as an organisation that continuously sets international norms and standards. The Council of Europe’s impact on the legislation and conduct of international politics in my country since our accession in ‘93 cannot be underestimated.

I am convinced that Estonia’s second chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will be carried out in the same spirit of leadership, solidarity, inspiration and innovation that helped my country to become a successful and responsible member of the international community. Let me assure you that, particularly for small countries, respect for public international law in general, for human rights laws in particular and for the convention system of the Council of Europe is both a valuable security guarantee and a moral obligation.

On that note, I thank you for your attention and I am ready to take your questions.


Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have questions to put to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.

Mr KOX (Netherlands), Spokesperson for the Group of the United European Left

Mr Prime Minister, it was an honour and a pleasure to be in your parliament in Tallinn for the Standing Committee, and it is an honour that you are now chairing the Committee of Ministers. One of the core elements of the business of the Council of Europe is convention making. Your country and many other countries have signed a lot of our conventions. Under the chairmanship of Estonia, what could be done to promote this convention-making system, with which we can solve problems that we perhaps could not solve in the context of the European Union?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

First of all, let me say that the best thing we can do is make sure that all of our countries are actually in accordance with the agreements that we make here. If we look at the Estonian experience, we see that the vast majority of international agreements, including the conventions, have been beneficial for my country. These conventions are not made by anyone else, or done for the rapporteurs here in Strasbourg; we understand that we need to make them in order to have a better society. There needs to be commitment to such agreements by all of us.

Mr TRENCHEV (Bulgaria), Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party

My question to you, Mr Rõivas, is about what you frequently refer to as the fifth fundamental freedom in the European Union – the free movement of data. In these times of big data, hybrid wars and ever more evasive technology, how do you see freedom of data operating amid the realities and challenges that confront the European Union? Do you think that it can help to prevent the disintegration processes in Europe and give new meaning to the very essence of the word “unity”?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

Let me start by saying that freedom of movement in Europe has made all of our countries more prosperous in many ways, and not just in the fiscal sense of being prosperous. Digital is one of the areas where there should not be any State borders. We know that, in practice, it is still not fully possible to provide digital services from my country to your country. There still exist some kinds of legal barriers, which I believe are actually keeping us from mutual development, and I am a strong believer that abolishing those virtual borders between our countries will give us the opportunity to provide cross-border services for our citizens. That might extend to public services and it will definitely extend to all kinds of private services, including telecommunication, banking and so on. As we well know, digital is the easiest way to go global and our challenge as legislators and decision makers is to make sure that we do not create virtual wars between our countries, which would prevent us from experiencing these kinds of developments.

Mr JENSEN (Denmark), Spokesperson for the Socialist Group

Mr Prime Minister, in light of our experience of Russia’s behaviour vis-à-vis its southern and western neighbours during the last few years, I would like to hear your opinion about the current situation of your country’s safety and security.

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

First of all, as there are countries involved in war in Europe, we cannot speak about business as usual, or a secure environment, anywhere in Europe. That is the most important aspect. Estonia, just like Denmark, is a NATO country and of course the direct military threat against NATO is not very big – let me put it that way. However, in order to keep it like that, it is very important to demonstrate that NATO, in addition to the rock-solid agreements, the treaty and Articles 4 and 5, also has the capabilities to react if necessary. In that respect, it is very important not only to increase the presence of allied forces on the eastern flank of NATO but to have exercises, so that we really have an interoperable force and so that we can really demonstrate that nobody should even think of picking a fight with NATO, which in essence, of course, is an organisation of defence; that must be made very clear.

Having the presence of allied forces in several NATO territories should not be provoking in any way to anyone who has peaceful intentions. Remember that many decades ago the United States became a guarantor of European security by bringing some of its forces to Europe, for example in Germany – the biggest contingent of American forces in Europe today is still in Germany. I do not think that anybody here believes that that is provoking anyone in any way. I think that the same applies to all the other countries, including those that are closest to the most aggressive country in Europe currently.

Mr DAEMS (Belgium), Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

Freedom House consistently ranks Estonia top of the world for freedom on the net – a top liberal result worthy of a liberal Prime Minister. Congratulations. However, cybercrime and terrorism are a brutal reality of the net. What do you regard to be the right balance between freedom and limitation of freedom in order to fight crime and terrorism?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

That is a very important question, because the more digital a society becomes and the more Internet freedoms and online services it has, the more important it is to deal with the threats. In a way, becoming more digital leaves us more open to digital threats. The right thing to do is not to stop becoming more digital, but to realise what the threats are and to deal with them. I know of European governments that have hesitated to go digital because of the risks. The Estonian experience shows the opposite to be true; you can become a very digital country, but you need to evaluate the risks and be ready to fight them. Estonia was the first country in the world to experience a full-scale cyber-attack, back in spring 2007. The positive point is that Estonia was able to defend itself. Following that experience, we created the NATO centre of excellence for cyber-security in Tallinn, and many of the countries represented here are also represented there – it is actually bigger than all the NATO countries. That has made us safer and better prepared for potential risks in future. My message is clear: Internet freedom and going digital is an opportunity and we should not hesitate because of the risks but deal with them.

Mr OBREMSKI (Poland), Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group

My question is similar to Mr Jensen’s. What is Estonia’s response to aggressive Russian propaganda, but at the level of the Council of Europe and the European Union, not at the level of NATO? Also, will you comment on Mr Steinmeier’s opinion that NATO’s Anaconda military training is unnecessary, artificial and can only annoy and irritate Russia?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

The best weapon against propaganda is not anti-propaganda, but free media. If you look at the media sphere in the Russian language, you will see that in most of our countries it is very difficult to find a good-quality channel that is free and is not sending messages that come directly from the Kremlin. In Estonia we give finance to channels that are free to publish local news in the Russian language, but we give them no content or directions. As with Estonian public broadcasting, and as with the BBC, the government cannot give any content, but we do give finance so that they are ready to act as journalists in a free media context.

With regard to Mr Steinmeier’s comment, I think that in many countries it was emphasised a lot, and perhaps too much. I do not think that there should be any doubt that Germany is very much committing to the security of NATO, including of our part of NATO. My position is that weakness is a much greater provocation than strength. If we look at what Russia is doing, with its constant large-scale military exercises, we see that the biggest provocation would be to stand still and never exercise together. I also think that having different countries exercise together in that way is very practical, because we can see how the interoperability actually works. It shows that we are ready to defend all of NATO. I believe that the more exercises we have, the more certain we can be that nobody will ever try to challenge our unity and strength.


Thank you. We will now have three questions at a time from members.

Mr POZZO DI BORGO (France) (interpretation)

It is estimated that Russian sanctions cost Europe 0.3% of GDP in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, and more than 900 000 unemployed. French and German leaders have talked about the possibility of modulating sanctions depending on the level of implementation of the Minsk agreements, with the possibility of lifting sanctions if substantial progress is made. What is Estonia’s position on that?

Lord BALFE (United Kingdom)

Having followed Estonia and been there in recent years, I think that the greatest defence of a free society is a happy population. My briefing states that in late 2014 an amendment to the law was proposed that would give Estonian citizenship to children of non-citizen parents who had resided in Estonia for at least five years. Was that adopted, and have there been any other recent events?

Mr GOPP (Liechtenstein) (interpretation)

I would like to comment on the situation regarding Russia. Here in the Parliamentary Assembly the Russian delegation have refused to enter into any dialogue. I regret that deeply. Baltic States also find themselves in a situation characterised by tension with Russia. As a neighbour of Russia, how would you describe the situation? Is it your intention during your chairmanship to enter into new initiatives to move toward dialogue within the Assembly?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

First, it is clear that the sanctions that Russia has imposed on Europe have a price. The security of Europe also has a price. But freedom is priceless. Ukraine, as a European country, deserves to be a free, democratic State whose people decide what it should do just as much as all the other countries represented here. It would be immoral to say that we value 1% or 0.5% of GDP more than the freedom of one of our countries. Estonia has first-hand knowledge of what it is like to lose our freedom. It took us 50 years to become a free and democratic country once more. We will never close our eyes when another European country is threatened with losing its freedom. Russian sanctions probably cost us more than they do many other countries, because we are physically quite close to the Russian market, but Russia does not want the good-quality food produced by Estonian farmers; that is felt, and the farmers are angry. But I am certain that the knowledge that we were doing nothing about an ongoing war in Europe would be much costlier and would have a much greater long-term effect on our society.

Secondly, the 2014 change in the law means that a child in Estonia born to parents who do not have Estonian citizenship will by default become an Estonian citizen. The father and mother can say that they do not want that and choose that the child does not become an Estonian citizen. Before that, the default position was that such children needed to apply for Estonian citizenship; if they applied they got it. In general, getting Estonian citizenship is rather easy. Applicants need to pass a language exam and an exam testing basic knowledge of our constitution and how our society works.

The third question was about the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe. I believe that you, here in this Assembly, are the decision makers on that matter. As I understand it, you have made very clear the conditions for the return of the Russian delegation with full rights. As a prime minister, I cannot intervene in what parliamentarians do. That applies in my own country, as well. Whenever a parliament asks for advice on what it should do I always say that it is up to that parliament, which is always the supreme power. I fully understand why the decision on the Russian delegation was taken and believe that, very much like the European Union sanctions, it is a values-based decision that the Parliamentary Assembly has every legitimate reason to have taken.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova)

Prime Minister, I was glad to hear you mention in your speech the post-Soviet frozen conflicts – Transnistria in particular, but also the annexation of Crimea. So far, there has been very little progress, and in some cases no progress at all. Since Estonia has the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, what else can be done to achieve some progress?

Ms STEFANELLI (San Marino) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, Estonia is noted for being the first country in Europe to adopt a system of electronic voting, or e-voting, in general elections. What major difficulties and concerns have there been in reconciling the secrecy of ballots with manipulations of or attacks on the IT system used? Does that present a major security risk or is voting on paper or by correspondence more risky?

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania)

Prime Minister, two countries in geographical Europe are not members of the Council of Europe, Belarus and Kosovo. Are their files on your political agenda during Estonia’s chairmanship?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

To answer first the question from the Moldovan delegate, it is very difficult for me to say what the key to progress is in all those frozen conflicts. But we should certainly stay united, keep up pressure and continue with dialogue so that we keep sending the message that intervening in other countries’ sovereign business is not the way to act in 21st century Europe.

I strongly believe that in 21st century Europe there should be no spheres of interest. All the countries you mentioned, including Moldova, have every right to choose democratically whether they take the path of becoming European Union members or take any other path. It is fundamentally wrong for any other country, big or small, so say, “No, that it not your decision. We will take it for you.” That is basically what has happened in several countries, and that is wrong.

On the second question, we have had digital voting since 2005. The important fact to recognise is that having a secure digital identification system is at the core of digital voting. Many European countries have ID cards that can be used digitally. The worry is that most do not use those cards digitally. In Estonia we have used a digital identification system with a cryptographic key since the year 2000. That has made it possible for all services to be available online, because we can know for sure that the virtual person at the other end of the Internet connection is the actual person. Digital identification systems are key. Secondly, with any elections, secrecy and the freedom to make your own choice are also key. Our system is very much like that for voting in embassies using an envelope system. Let us say a Spanish citizen living in Strasbourg wants to vote in a Spanish election. They can vote in the embassy using the envelope system. In Estonia, we used to do things that way. The e-voting system is very similar, but as it is digital it is much more convenient.

Over the past 11 years, from the very beginning, the system has been audited by international auditors to make sure that it is strong enough not to be attacked. So far, there has not been a successful attack, and there have been no serious attempts to falsify anything. But there have to be safeguards. In theory, should there be a serious attack on the Estonian system, we could cancel e-voting and people could go to polling booths to vote on election day. We need to have such a plan B, but it is great that we have not needed to use it during the past 11 years. In the last parliamentary elections, every third person voted by using the Internet. It is interesting that both old and young people in Estonia use digital identification. It is needed for everything – for social security, for banking – and once people use it for other things, it is much easier for them to use it to vote. That is especially true for old people living in the countryside and for people living abroad. In the elections, there were votes from 116 countries where Estonian citizens are living. I believe that many of the Estonian civil servants working in Strasbourg voted using their digital identification system, not the envelope system in the embassy, so it made participating in democracy easier for them as well.

On the question about two countries becoming members of the Council of Europe, it is clear that one of them – Kosovo – has not, if I remember correctly, yet applied for membership, but if it does so, its application can be processed by the appropriate body. As for Belarus, I know that the death penalty question still needs to be dealt with properly. I believe both countries know what to do to apply for membership.


Thank you, Mr Rõivas. As Mr Vovk is not here, I call Mr Flynn.

Mr FLYNN (United Kingdom)

How can the Council of Europe maintain its prime duty as the promoter of the best standards of human rights in the world if we tolerate flagrant breaches of human rights by our members? An investigation of such abuses was started in December, but little progress has been made. What can you do during your year of office, Mr Prime Minister, to ensure that every member of the Council of Europe supports the gold standards of human rights by example, not just by exhortation?

Mr NEGUTA (Republic of Moldova) (interpretation)

Estonia and Moldova are two former Soviet countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, our countries and our political and economic systems were very close, but there is now a major difference between our two countries. Your country, Mr Prime Minister, has very well run democratic institutions. Regrettably, the reforms in my country are not going so well. What are the root causes of this situation?

Ms SCHOU (Norway)

Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for my visit, as a member of the Standing Committee, to Tallinn in your beautiful country. The refugee and migration crisis is serious. Yesterday, we adopted a resolution about refugees at risk in Greece, which is carrying a disproportionate part of the burden caused by the influx of migrants and refugees to Europe. How can Estonia contribute to alleviating the situation in Greece, and what measures are you taking to fulfil your obligations under the relocation agreement?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

Thank you for your questions. The first is perhaps the easiest to answer. We should not tolerate violations of human rights in any of our member States. It is self-evident that we should all lead the way by showing an example.

The second question was about the difference between the progress of Moldova and that of Estonia. I am in no position to tell any other country what to do, and can only speak from Estonia’s experience about what has been helpful in making progress. The determined approach to the reform of society since we first regained our independence has clearly been key. We established the rule of law and moved as far as possible from the planned economy, which we all knew did not work in the Soviet Union. There are still a couple of countries, such as Cuba, that are experimenting with a planned economy, but it does not work. Our approach was to move our system as far away as possible from it by bringing in a market economy, which is the best economic model.

We also pursued membership of various international organisations. Joining the European Union was the hardest task because so many criteria had to be met. Looking in the rear-view mirror, we can see that meeting the vast majority of the criteria we had to meet to become a member of the European Union was actually useful for us. As we keep telling our people – this is the best example of something I can share – we did not do so for Brussels, even though doing so was obligatory if we were to become a member, but for ourselves, and that has proved beneficial for us. In historical perspective, another difference was that the departure of the occupying military power – the Russian military left Estonia back in 1994 – was also very helpful.

The third question was about refugees. Estonia is fully committed to fulfilling our part under the agreement made in the European Council, which decided that all countries would participate in the relocation and redistribution mechanism. I think that all countries should respect that commitment, which we reached voluntarily, and that it is our duty to do so. The start was slower than expected because of technical difficulties, but I am glad to say that our work with the Greek authorities is now much more effective – we are very grateful to the Greek authorities for working so closely with us on this matter – and the pace has now picked up. I believe that the same approach should be taken by all the countries that have committed to the relocation and redistribution programme. From the Estonian perspective, we have improved the legal situation in relation to relocation from Turkey. Previously, as we had no experience of that, there were some legal obstacles, but we have now more or less overcome them and are ready to help Turkey as much as we can.

Ms HUOVINEN (Finland)

Mr Prime Minister, as members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe we are very often concerned about the state of democracy on our continent and often ask ourselves what we could do better to strengthen citizens’ trust. You have already emphasised the role of ICT and e-voting, for example, but how do you see the digitisation and the use of ICT promoting our democracy even more?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

The biggest thing that we can achieve with ICT is to make our public services and public registers more transparent. Transparency is one of the key words in promoting efficiency and in providing the services where you are effective as a government. There is a saying that you cannot bribe a computer. That is an essential saying in a way, because once you make services digital in a very transparent way there is much less room for corruption and much more room for people to see for themselves how things work and for them to be certain that things are working in the most effective way possible.

Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) (interpretation)

Prime Minister, you underlined the fact that in Nagorno-Karabakh and elsewhere we are talking about frozen conflicts that are still awaiting a solution, but the reasons for that are the failure to implement decisions taken by international organisations and United Nations resolutions. Resolutions of this Parliamentary Assembly have remained dead letters and are not being put into practice. Do you have any thoughts on what can be done to encourage the implementation of such resolutions, and are these items still on your agenda?

Mr Rõivas, Prime Minister of Estonia

The best solution is almost always to stick to what we have agreed. As we discussed in relation to other issues, if resolutions are taken and agreements are made we should work according to them. It is not a magic solution, but sticking to the agreements that we have made is definitely useful.

Of course, we would all like the conflicts to be solved. One thing that we as parliamentarians from very different countries can do is keep them on our agenda until they are solved, because parliamentarians have something very powerful: a public platform from which to speak about issues. All of you as parliamentarians, in my humble opinion, can make the best use of that platform and keep the important conflicts on your agendas, just as I have while addressing you here. Thank you.


Thank you, Prime Minister, for this most interesting discussion. I look forward to continuing our co-operation during the rest of the Estonian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.