Kersti Kaljulaid told DW she has no doubt the EU will stay together. The Estonian leader also called on politicians to call out "fake news" that targets their political rivals rather than take advantage of the lies.
DW: There have been many discussions on defense spending and NATO's two percent of GDP target. Estonia is one of five states that have achieved this target. What is your assessment of Washington's ultimatum to increase defense spending across the alliance?
Kaljulaid: I didn't hear this as an ultimatum, I have to say. Estonia has been at two percent even before NATO agreed to stop cutting budgets and start increasing spending in European states. I listened today to Secretary General Stoltenberg, who reminded us all that the decision was made in 2014 to start increasing defense spending throughout Europe and to reach the two percent goal within ten years. The road map is already there, and the United States is reminding us of it and reinforcing it. But all presidents before Donald Trump also reminded us that this is a NATO obligation. We in Estonia take it exactly as such. It is Article Three first. You are a NATO ally. You are responsible for keeping your own territory safe. We spend two percent towards this. Then, you rely on leverage from your allies, which for us is host nation support above two percent.
There has been a lack of discussion concerning Russia's relations with the Baltic States at the Munich Security Conference. Do you still believe that Russia poses a threat to Estonia's security and the Baltic States?
I think [the lack of discussion] shows that the decisions NATO made at its summits in Wales 2014 and Warsaw 2016 are taking effect. NATO countries are calmly building deterrents and considering the adequacy of the alliance. We are thinking of the risks surrounding NATO - risks in the east and risks in the south. We always need to take a 360 degree view; we should not limit our focus to one area. The lack of this discussion shows we are going in the right direction. However, there is quite a lot of discussion about cyber threats and hybrid. It is interesting that cyberwarfare is developing into something conventional and attacking objects, infrastructure, and critical services.
But there is something even less tangible than cyberwarfare -this is "false news" and how it influences democracies. I have been thinking about this for several months. Let's say you have an election situation: you are a politician standing for election, and someone puts out fake news about you. It may not be merely compromising material - it could be simply false. If you deny it, the current climate makes it difficult to get your message across. Every cyber threat always needs a patch before a final solution, so as a patch, it would be really good if the top candidates ("Spitzenkandidaten") going into election debates throughout Europe - and I am not thinking of any country in particular, just in general - could make a pledge saying: if my opponent, not me, is attacked by false news, and I am convinced it is false news, I will not smugly sit in the corner but will come out and say it is false. If candidates in all elections did that, I think we might solve half the problem, or at least patch it. It would take a lot of the power away from the creators of false news. We need this promise from every side: if I see my opponent attacked, I will not take advantage of him.
Has Estonia had this experience with false news?
During the election process? Frankly, no. Because Estonia only has local elections this autumn, I am not too worried about our country. But there are some vitally important elections coming up across Europe. While I always respect the democratic decisions of other nations - and I will never comment on any results or express views on any candidates either before or after elections - we have to recognize there are risks for our democratic process in general. This process knows no geographic limits or boundaries - it is everywhere.
At this moment, there is a lot of discussion about Europe and the future of Europe in the wake of Brexit. What are some of the steps Europe can take to dispel this idea of crisis?
I try to take it as simply as Nigel Farage would! I don't know of any problems countries in Europe are facing - environment, infrastructure, markets, market development, the fifth freedom being digital freedom, border security, terrorism, migration - that can be better solved alone. These problems do not exist [in isolation]. They are always better solved within the framework of the European Union. Therefore, I am quite sure the European Union will always survive.
The interview was conducted by Lewis Sanders.