Parliament committee: Estonia should keep its consulates in the US open

The foreign affairs committee of the Estonian parliament finds that the diplomatic representation of Estonia in the United States should not be reduced, proposing to the country’s foreign ministry to revoke the decision to close the consulates general in New York and San Francisco.

The Estonian foreign ministry announced in September that it would close the country’s consulates general in New York City, NY, and San Francisco, CA. The NYC consulate general operated throughout the Soviet occupation of Estonia and can be regarded as a monument to the continuity of the Republic of Estonia.

In the wake of the news, the Estonian community and business organisations in the US as well as several important cultural figures such as the conductor Paavo Järvi called the ministry to revoke its decision. The foreign ministry, however, refused to change its plan.

“In conflict with the Estonian foreign policy”

The parliament committee convened on 16 November and took the position that to ensure adequate diplomatic capacity in the US, it is necessary to continue the work of the consulates general in addition to the Estonian embassy in Washington.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee finds that the decision to reduce the diplomatic presence in the US is in conflict with the Estonian Foreign Policy Development Plan 2030, which includes among its goals the development of comprehensive and deepened cooperation with the US, making consular services easily accessible to Estonians living abroad and greater involvement of Estonians living abroad in the promotion of the foreign economy in order to ensure the best possible protection of Estonia’s interests abroad,” the committee noted in a statement.

“To achieve all these objectives, it is important to have a broad diplomatic presence in the United States, and this task is fulfilled by the Consulates General in New York and San Francisco,” it added.

The Estonian foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna. Photo by the Estonian foreign ministry.

The committee took its position after two sittings where the closure of consulates general was discussed. Last week, the committee heard the justifications of Estonian foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna, and on 14 November, the committee met with the representatives of the Estonian American National Council who presented their proposal for the continuation of the work of the consulates.

Important role in defending Estonia’s security interests

Representatives of the Estonians living in the US believe that the closing of consulates would be harmful to Estonia, reducing the country’s presence and influence in business, cultural and international diplomacy. They highlighted the relevance of the Consulate General in New York in the continuity of Estonian diplomatic representation and the significance of the Consulate General in San Francisco for the promotion of business diplomacy. They also explained that diplomatic missions had an important role in preserving Estonian identity and culture and promoting Estonia in the US.

After discussions, the committee concluded that the arguments of cost savings or reorganisation of work do not outweigh the damage to the interests of Estonia that would result from the loss of two bases at an important ally. “The Committee also considers it regrettable that the opinions and proposals of the organisations representing Estonians in the United States were not taken into account when the decision to close the consulates general was made,” the parliament committee pointed out in a statement.

Inside the Estonian consulate general in San Francisco, located at 101 Natoma Street, in the SoMa neighbourhood of the city. Photo from the consulate's Facebook page.
Inside the Estonian consulate general in San Francisco, located at 101 Natoma Street, in the SoMa neighbourhood of the city. Photo from the consulate’s Facebook page.

The members of the committee underlined that Estonia’s diplomatic representation, especially considering the current highly tense situation in Europe and around the world, had a very important role in defending our security interests. “Instead of downsizing, we need extending and strengthening of diplomatic representation so that Estonia’s positions could be consistently explained to our most important allies. Therefore, the funding of diplomacy as the frontline of security policy and deterrence must be guaranteed in the long term,” the commission said in its position, and made a proposal to the foreign ministry to revoke the decision to close the consulates general.

The foreign minister Margus Tsahkna “ignorant” on the work performed by consulates

Jaak Treiman, Estonia’s honorary consul in Los Angeles, told Estonian World that there is, however, limited ability for the foreign affairs committee to effectuate a change in the foreign ministry’s position. “The committee may also call an open meeting, asking the foreign minister, the media and representatives of the Estonian American National Council to participate,” he said.

Treiman said that the foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna, “may have a global view of Estonian foreign policy but he is ignorant of the on-the-ground work performed by the consulates” and the closure process and decision making has been “opaque” and “reflect a failure of the democratic process.

Jaak Treiman. Private collection.

“As a best guess, given the importance of the consulates and their geographic locations, within five years the foreign ministry will move to re-open the consulates. When it does so, the costs will double. It would be better to keep them open with at least a skeleton crew,” Treiman noted.

Treiman also noted that the foreign ministry’s offer to erect a plaque or other recognition to the diplomat Ernst Jaakson who was based in Estonia’s consulate in New York City, and during the Soviet Occupation maintained Estonia’s legal continuity with his uninterrupted diplomatic service, was intended to make the Estonian community in the US less angry about the consulate closure, but was an taken as an insult.

Treiman said that in addition to the Estonian communities, the country’s 13 honorary consuls in the US had sent a private letter to the foreign minister Tsahkna, in which they all said the consulates should not be closed.

Read more:

While closing consulates in the US, Estonia pays $30k a month for an ambassador’s residence
Jaak Treiman: The consulates in the US are crucial for Estonia’s security
Sten Hankewitz: By closing the NYC consulate, Estonia is eliminating its own history
Estonians in the US shocked over consulate closure
Renee Meriste: Estonia should open rather than close consulates in the US
Estonians in the US appeal against the NY consulate closure
Estonians in the West Coast protest against the SF consulate closure

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