Prime Minister Andrus Ansip gave an overview of the activities of the Government in implementing the European Union policies to the Riigikogu. The report was based on the document “Estonian European Union policy 2011–2015” drawn up by the Government. In Ansip’s words, any kind of planning starts with an assessment of the current situation. He spoke about the current situation in the European Union and the fact that the debt crisis has exposed what is the European Union’s greatest weakness. In Ansip’s vision, some states have taken EU membership as a membership to that of a cosy club where they not only enjoy numerous rights and few obligations, but even fewer checks on whether they are fulfilling these obligations. He admitted that the consequences of the oversights of these states are collective, and by turning a blind eye to them for so long, in a sense, the European Union for quite some time has been a cosy club. “Thus the aim is clear – we have to bring the European Union out of this convenience zone. In order to do this, we need to enhance the sense of responsibility among Member States (including Estonia), reinforce the rules and bolster the sustainability of both the union and the Eurozone. That, in brief, is the main aim of the Government’s European Union policy for the next four years,” Ansip stressed. He noted that there is no quick-fix solution to the national debt problems swamping Greece but it is not in our interests – politically or economically – to redraw the map of Europe with new ‘grey zones’. The Prime Minister continued by saying that, in future, the Eurozone cannot stand by if irresponsible spending of one Member States threatens the stability of all. “If necessary, Treaties must be amended to avoid such a threat and to enable intervention. President of the European Council Mr. Herman van Rompuy will be giving an overview of the need for change and the ways in which it can be implemented at the next summit in December,” Ansip said.
Ansip said that, in shoring up our economic and financial union, we must also bear in mind the internal market. In the words of the Prime Minister, the operating principles of the internal market as well as the market itself should be upgraded. Appropriate steps could, for example, include more use of directly applicable legislation for regulating internal market. This would reduce legal fragmentation in Europe – a situation wherein national legislation guaranteeing market freedoms is adopted differently or with delays in Member States, or not at all. This remains the main obstacle hampering the smooth running of the single market. We also need to boost the role of the European Commission in the supervision and implementation of the four freedoms – the free movement of people, goods, capital and services – so that these freedoms will be taken into account in legislation at pan-European as well as the national and regional level. We need to increase cross-border freedom in the provision of services, particularly in areas where opening them up to free competition might bring about new growth. One of these areas is health care. A special focus is the creation of a single digital market. The Prime Minister was hopeful that a new e-signature directive would enter into force during the term of this Riigikogu which would make digital cross-border identification a reality. For companies and consumers, this would open up a market of tenders and e-services that is many times larger. Ansip: “Estonia’s physical integration with the internal market is of course also at the core of the Government’s attention: infrastructure that shores up the flow of information and the flow of energy; land, sea and air connections with Europe.” The Prime Minister stated that Rail Baltic is no longer science-fiction, but a high-speed train connection which will soon become reality. The government has already taken the first steps towards achieving this. During a meeting last Thursday in Tallinn with colleagues from Latvia and Lithuania, it had been decided that a joint venture would be established and spatial planning of the route would be launched.
Ansip expressed his delight that the draft of Estonian European Union policy framework 2011–2015 had received much attention and a large number of motions to amend had been submitted to it: of the 181 motions, the Government had taken into account 132. Amending the document on the basis of those ideas makes the policy broader-based and gives the Government more assurance in what it does. In Ansip’s words, the policy document maps more than a hundred initiatives, draft directives and projects that Estonia is seeking to guide and influence within the European Union.
The Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Taavi Rõivas also made a report. He shared the opinion that the economic crisis had brought out the greatest problems of Europe – living beyond means and building up a social state denying economic and social realities which had been going on for decades. “It is an objective fact that a country that is by one third richer than Estonia cannot afford to have several times higher salaries and pensions. It is also a harsh truth that borrowed wealth has to be repaid and making expenses that are beyond one’s means cannot continue endlessly,” Rõivas stated. He stressed that discussions and arguments had been held in the European Union Affairs Committee all through summer which had helped the Commission to reach a unanimous decision that Estonia cannot stay away from solving the problems of debt crisis. “I assure you that we use with very great responsibility the mandate given to our Committee, to assess the observance of programmes agreed upon with other countries and keeping of promises. We understand that a strong mandate also means strong responsibility,” he promised. The Chairman of the Committee said that, besides the debt crisis, the budget plan is another wide range of issues that the EU Affairs Committee has dealt with very thoroughly and will continue to deal with in the future. In summer they had met with almost all ministers to get a detailed overview of how finances had been used until then. They have now devoted themselves to get the greatest challenges of Europe reflected in the next budget plan, and already in the nearest future they will deal with planning the using of finances in Estonia in 2014–2020. Rõivas called the Members of the Riigikogu to participate in this process with total commitment and to offer their ideas and steps for creating a maximum connection between the structural funds and the development of the society. “Our greatest challenge is to use wisely the experience we gained in implementing the existing budget plan and to make the next plan such that it would even better meet the challenges Estonia is facing. The European Union Affairs Committee is ready to lead this discussion and we are thankful for the contribution of all factions and committees,” Rõivas explained.
Rõivas acknowledged the Riigikogu committees for their contribution in formulating the European Union policy. He said that this document includes several issues that are of importance to both the European Union and Estonia, and enables us to be more proactive in shaping Estonia’s positions than before. Rõivas said that he would not rule out the need to review the part concerning the European Union in the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act, first of all in connection with the changed Europe and including the existing practices and ways of proceeding in the Act. Here he had in mind a large part of important decisions made by the ministers of finance or prime ministers of the Eurozone to whom a parliamentary mandate has to be given before these meetings. Rõivas also saw a partial alternative to amending the Internal Rules, namely, even better informing of the work of the Riigikogu and the EU Affairs Committee. The Chairman of the Committee stated that he wishes to make the Committee more open to the media and its work more transparent.
Rõivas further spoke of the need to develop the internal market but he also highlighted more acute issues of social and environmental fields. As an important point, he also touched upon issues relating to the enlargement of the European Union.
In the conclusion of his report, Rõivas turned to his colleagues with a proposal to start thinking of the Estonian presidency in 2018. “This time may seem far, but much can be done for a successful presidency already during the term of office of the current parliament. Let it be said that the Government has been preparing relevant plans already since 2010, and we should coordinate and draw up our plans during the coming years. Good coordination and European Union awareness are the keys to the success of our presidency,” the Chairman of the EU Affairs Committee explained. He noted that another great burden of planning and preparations in getting ready for the Estonia’s presidency lies on the Chancellery of the Riigikogu. “I am sure that, already today, the Chancellery can start planning and discussing the issues connected with the Estonian presidency. The issues connected with the staff need the longest time for development: training, necessary structural reorganisation, foreign contacts and study trips,” Rõivas concluded.
On behalf of factions, comments were presented by Marko Mihkelson, Kalle Palling and Rannar Vassiljev.
Due to the end of the working hours of the sitting of the plenary assembly, the discussion was adjourned and comments will be resumed tomorrow, at the sitting beginning at 2 p.m.
See the verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian):
The Riigikogu Press Service