In the case of Estonia, the presence of a whole-of-government approach (WGA) is difficult to discern. WGA has not been formulated as the explicit policy response to external crises. On the one hand, certain elements of a WGA (e.g. policy coordination between different national actors and coherence between different levels of policymaking) are clearly present. On the other, the extent to which this is a deliberate policy decision and not simply one born of situational necessity is unclear.
There are at least two structural explanations for this situation. First, the implicit presence of WGA principles in Estonian policymaking can be explained by Estonia’s overall integration into Western policy structures over the past 20 years. The most impactful has been its accession to the European Union with the adoption of the EU acquis, which resulted in significant ‘downloading’ of EU policies to the domestic (member state) level. Joining the EU required significant efforts from Estonian policymakers, such as expanding or developing expertise in various policy fields. This affected the institutional structures, existing policy networks and policymaking practices. It also influenced Estonia’s method of formulating its foreign policies and enabled Estonia to benefit from the EU’s policymaking networks and structures. In short, horizontal structural changes and policy alignment already started taking place at that time.
Similar, although much less extensive tendencies could also be observed when it came to other international organisations (NATO, the UN, the OSCE and, later, the OECD). Indeed, gradually increasing Estonia’s contribution to the settlement of external conflicts and crises has been one of the implications of joining these organisations, and this contribution has been developed by and large in accordance with the expectations of Estonia’s partners and allies in the framework of the EU, NATO and other institutions.
The second structural explanation for this situation is related to the need to realistically assess Estonian policymaking against the backdrop of its resources. As a relatively small country, Estonia has had to balance active participation in international organisations and limited resources within a small government structure. While this requires effective governance and clear policy preferences, it also means that Estonia has directed its capabilities at select policy priorities and that, in doing so, few people have often had to carry out several tasks. As a result, responses to external crises may vary depending on both policy priorities and available resources.
While a WGA is not explicitly present in the Estonian policymaking framework, there is a clear tendency towards more engagement between various national actors as well as active participation in various international organisations, especially in the recently altered European security environment. In any case, WGA-based thinking is clearly more discernible and elaborate in addressing national security and defence than in the area of external crisis management.