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President of the Republic at the Dinner Hosted by the President of Italy in Rome on March 26, 1998

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you all, thank you, Italy, for your friendliness and your attention, which we have encountered ever since the state visit began. Thank you for the amiable and eloquent words spoken at this table.

A state visit, Ladies and Gentlemen, is never but a festive and ceremonial event. I am well pleased that our recurrent meetings have always occurred with matter-of-factness and concreteness.

Only this can explain the rapid development of relations between our countries. When you, Mr President, came to Tallinn last spring, we talked a lot about the European Union and about Estonia's prospects of being engaged in EU enlargement. We must admit that at that time both the future of the European Union and the prospects of Estonia's membership in it were pretty vague.

Today is different: the big decision has been made, the accession negotiations are beginning in a couple of days, and Estonia is among the first negotiators. Italy's vision of the future of Europe as well as her practical actions have played a significant role in arriving at this solution. Italy deserves our respect and gratitude for her clear, methodical approach to the shaping of a harmonious Europe.

Our mutual relations, characterized by a fine contractual basis, a conspicuous interest for business, and the traditional attachment Estonians feel to the Italian culture, which they manifest in various ways in literature, art and music - these mutual relations are transformed into international politics, into a model of exemplary relations between a small country and a great power. True, a friend of mine has said that no country opening to the sea can be small.

Anyway, there is no doubt that Italy is a great power. She has played the role in the Mediterranean region with dignity. As I welcomed you in Tallinn last year, Mr President, I said that in Italy we have the most dynamic country of the Mediterranean. Today I am even more convinced of that.

And Estonia is certainly a small country. Yet there is no reason to keep back that Estonia is the carrier of dynamism in the Baltic region. We indeed want to be ''a small, swift fish in accession to the European Union'', as Prime Minister Prodi lately advised us. I am glad that Italy has become conscious of our country. We want to be worthy partners, and I believe we are capable of being them, because the deepening relations between the Mediterranean and the Baltic contain an economic potential which is important to all Europe.

In the nearest future Estonia will be a member of the European Union. Still closer relations between Estonia and Italy, with increasing Italian economic presence in Estonia, will therefore be mutually beneficial; it is our shared duty.

Of course, as a founding member of the European Union Italy may feel concerned about the sum and substance of the new aspiring members. However, Estonia's steady pursuit of the course of reform, her economic success and her traditional multiplicity of cultures allow me to assure you that Estonia will not bring along any new problems to Europe. Yet I have no intent to affirm that Estonia's accession might pass unnoticed. The Nordic dimension will definitely grow stronger, but as one of its keywords is Estonian information technology, which advances with giant strides, it will do good to all Europe.

And finally: of course Estonia will also stand to benefit from joining a strong and potent European Union. There is still a lot to be debated in the European Union in terms of institutional development and budgeting. But EU enlargement will not hinder the successful implementation of domestic reforms: rather, it will propel them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to assert that our numerous contacts and the actual policies of our countries allow us to speak of our similar attitudes to the shaping of the European security structure.

It is easy to see that national security is crucial to Estonia. It is more difficult to grasp - and this is where our bitter historical experience comes in handy - that the survival of Estonia and other small countries is an existential question for all Europe. Italy's gaze has reached beyond her nearby regions, indeed embracing all Europe. This gives us reason to believe that NATO, like the European Union, will continue to enlarge, for it is just this dynamism that will guarantee stability in Europe.

There are forces in the world expecting only others to learn. Estonia is not among them: we are open to new experience and new mentality. But this presumes change everywhere, as well as understanding and readiness for cooperation.

Looking up to Italy as a great power whose inherent features include dynamism and quest, alteration and a cooperative spirit, I would like to say with a ceremonial air of a state visit as well as with a Nordic matter-of-factness: this is the kind of philosophy of life, the kind of understanding of the world that gives Europe the chance it needs, gives the world the hope it craves.

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you on behalf of my wife and myself, thank you on behalf of our delegation and on behalf of all Estonia watching our stay here with keen attention. I wish you success and happiness, Mr President, and through you I wish the same to the Italian people.

On behalf of the Republic of Estonia, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the Italian Republic! To your health, Mr President!


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