France and Estonia have maintained close links from the first Estonian Declaration of Independence in 1918. Diplomatic relations were established in 1921, when Estonia became a member of the League of Nations. Bilateral relations were thriving until the Second World War. Diplomatic relations were immediately established at the time of Estonia’s restoration of independence in 1991. The creation of the Estonian Institute in Paris in 2001, Estonia’s accession to the European Union in 2004 and its adoption of the euro in 2011 marked further cultural, political and economic milestones that have brought the two countries significantly closer together.
Bilateral visits have taken place at a steady pace. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip was received in Paris on 7 October 2011, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Estonian cultural festival “Estonie Tonique”. The two culture ministers had a meeting in the margins of the festival’s inauguration. On 20 December 2011, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Urmas Paet, visited Paris where he was received by his counterpart Mr Alain Juppé.
Mr Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister Delegate for European Affairs, visited Estonia in September 2012, for meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.
The Estonian President, Mr Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was received by the President of the French Republic at the Elysée Palace on 7 January 2013.
The Estonian Prime Minister, Mr Taavi Rõivas, was received by the French President on 8 July 2014. Diplomatic relations on both sides have been deemed “very good”.
The Paris attacks were condemned by the Estonian authorities. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, joined the republican march of 11 January 2015.
Estonia has undertaken, under the implementation of Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), to increase its participation in MINUSMA by two staff, bringing the total of troops in Mali to 20 staff.
France is Estonia’s 13th-biggest supplier, with a 1.9% market share in 2014. However, these figures do not take account of exports to Estonia through subsidiaries of French firms in the Nordic countries and Central Europe.
In 2014, French exports to Estonia dropped by 18.7% and imports by France from Estonia increased by 2.4%.
In 2014, there was a sharp decline in the surplus of the French trade balance with Estonia (-78%). In addition to refined petroleum products and coke (-81%), the largest decrease was in mechanical equipment, and electrical, electronic and computer equipment (-24%). Within this heading, there was nonetheless a sharp increase in the category of computer, electronic and optical products (+40%). Our main export sector, which includes various industrial products, is more resilient (-9.7%), like transport equipment (-7.2%).
Our main export sectors are motor vehicles (€42.9 million, -0.8%), distilled alcoholic beverages (€23.2 million, -9.1%), grape wines (€11.7 million, +9.9%), perfumes and toiletries (€7.2 million, -12.6%), agricultural and forestry machinery (€9.8 million, -12.1%). The sale of mechanical equipment, and electrical, electronic and computer equipment.
French investment in Estonia grew in the late 2000s and has now stabilized (17th place among investors on 1 June 2015, with a stock of €143 million). In total, by reintegrating the investment made via third countries (including Scandinavian ones) as French investment, our FDI stock can be estimated at around €200 million. In January 2011 a major contract was signed for the production of electricity: Alstom, which had already signed a contract for the installation of desulphurization processes in the old plants for the production of electricity from oil shale, installed in Narva in north-east Estonia, has secured a contract with Eesti Energia (Estonian producer of electrical energy) for the construction of two new production plants at the Narva site, worth a total of €1 billion (an unprecedented amount in the region), i.e. 6.5% of Estonian GDP. This contract should help Estonia strengthen its energy independence while limiting its greenhouse gas emissions.
Other French investors in Estonia are: Dalkia (district heating networks in Tallinn and 13 other Estonian cities, 100% takeover of a biomass cogeneration plant in 2009); Saint-Gobain (7 subsidiaries, including 3 industrial glass and mortar production plants, and 4 distribution companies, including ABC Ehitus, the leading Estonian distributor of building materials); and Lafarge. The JC Decaux company has a contract for the management of street furniture in Tallinn. Finally, the company Eolane acquired the Estonian company Elcoteq (electronics industry) in early 2012.
The old walled city of Tallinn concluded a twinning with Carcassonne, which includes a component of vocational training (hotel business) and cultural cooperation activities (installation of three stained-glass windows made by an Estonian artist, inside a chapel in the Aude Department, in summer 2015). Furthermore, the competitiveness clusters in Grenoble and the Rhône-Alpes Region appear suitable for developing exchanges with Estonia in the digital field, which could be based on inter-university agreements.
The 38th Annual Congress (INTA38) of the International Urban Development Association (INTA), founded in Lyon, France, in 1975, was held in Tallinn in January 2015. The executive structure of INTA predominantly consists of political officials from Lyon and region seeking to develop relations with Tallinn in the field of digital cities.
French administrative and technical expertise is recognized by our Estonian partners.
Inter-university research partnerships have been established between the University of Tartu and the universities of Tours and Lille, between the Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) and the French National Institute of Applied Sciences (INSA) in Lyon, and between Tallinn University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (IEP) in Dijon. A Hubert Curien Partnership (PHC) – G.F. Parrot programme – is intended to support joint research projects, in particular in the fields of biology, health and medicine. The cooperation budget of our embassy in Tallinn was €245,000 in 2015.
France welcomes some fifty Estonian students per year and thus ranks behind Russia, Germany, Finland, the United States and Sweden.
Estonia also joined the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) as an observer in October 2010 and participated in the Montreux Summit. French is the second language learned in the public service through an educational programme that provides for the training of 400 officials a year.
The start of the school year 2013/2014 was marked by the opening of the first French teaching class in Estonia, in nursery school at the Tallinn European School (TES).
Mr Michel Raineri has been the French Ambassador to Estonia since September 2013.
Mr Alar Streimann has been the Estonian Ambassador since September 2015.
Mr Jean-Claude Pérez, a deputy for the Aude Department, chairs the France-Estonia Friendship Group at the French National Assembly.
Mr Jean Desessard, Senator for Paris, chairs the France-Baltic States Friendship Group at the French Senate.