At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu heard Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’s report on the work of the Government in implementing European Union policies. In his speech, the Prime Minister focused on the climate neutrality challenge.
Ratas noted that an analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre had provided the knowledge that Estonia was capable of achieving the climate neutrality goal. This means that Estonia’s carbon emissions will have to be equal to carbon capture by 2050. The Prime Minister said that that goal could also be seen as a great opportunity. “An opportunity to save on natural resources, an opportunity to create new jobs and new technologies, as well as an opportunity to reduce dependence on certain energy carriers and the suppliers of such carriers,” Ratas said. He called on young technologists in Estonia to meet the challenge of the ‘green shift’.
In the Prime Minister’s words, the transition to climate neutrality should be technology-neutral and as market-based as possible. He confirmed that the whole Estonia was grateful to the people who had worked and were working in the oil shale industry in the East Viru county and that their contribution would not be forgotten. “The Government has made efforts to ensure that oil shale and the East Viru county would have a firm place in the new European Commission fund regarding a fair transition from fossil fuels to clean fuels,” Ratas said. He noted that Estonia needed to continually strengthen its energy security and supply security with the help of cross-border connections. Ratas said that the Estonia-Finland gas interconnection BalticConnector would be opened in Paldiski that week, and with it, the single market of the three countries would start functioning. He added that the construction of the Lithuania-Poland power line connection Harmony Link had begun in the previous week which was a very important project for synchronising the Baltic power systems with Europe. The Prime Minister noted that Rail Baltic was also a strategic connection with European centres and that, moreover, rail connection was a more environmentally friendly alternative to the polluting road transport of goods.
Ratas said that the Baltic states had sent a joint communication to their colleagues with a message that due to the volume of climate investments it was not right to reduce the overall volume of the long-term budget of the European Union or to reduce the funds that would enable the Baltic state to achieve these goals. The Prime Minister added that an impact assessment on the following steps would be completed in the following year, and then specific proposals would be made that needed to be realistic and feasible in order to really achieve climate neutrality in Europe.
In her report, Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Anneli Ott said that the new long-term budget of the European Union had to support an innovative, sustainable and future-oriented economic model, and the competitiveness of Europe on the global scale. Ott noted that, in the new period, Estonia was joining the group of regions in transition. She added that that would bring about a certain decrease in subsidies compared to the ending period, but Estonia’s annual per capita subsidies would remain the highest in the European Union over the following period, too.
The chairman of a committee said that agricultural subsidies continued to be one of the crucial topics for Estonia in the negotiations on the new budget framework. “We will need to persist in our efforts at every level to speed up the harmonisation of the direct payments because our farmers are competing with the farmers from other Member States in the same market. At the same time, we support creating a more flexible system that would take into account the particularities of each Member State in supporting their agriculture and rural life, and would ensure better preparedness for contingencies,” Ott assured. She admitted that the Union’s budget negotiations were different this time round: a large net contributor, the United Kingdom, was leaving, and the budget priorities and challenges had changed as well. In her words, internal security, education, young people, digitalisation, innovation and climate policy need larger support.
Ott noted that 31 January 2020 had currently been set as the date when the United Kingdom was due to leave the European Union. In her words, the goal is to maintain a close relationship, and well-rounded cooperation particularly in economy, foreign policy and security and defence with the UK. She noted that an intense period of negotiations over the terms and conditions of the future relations and a free trade agreement was ahead. “The United Kingdom will have elections in two days’ time and then we will have a clearer picture of what lays ahead. One thing is clear: Estonia’s main interest in the process of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union is that the leaving take place in a regular manner under an agreed withdrawal agreement that meets the interests of the parties,” Ott said.
During the debate, Raivo Tamm took the floor on behalf of the Faction Isamaa and said that the private sector played a great role in meeting the climate goals. It would need to make large investments into the energy and transport sector in cooperation with the European Union Member States. Tamm said that the mechanisms to support such green investments had to be made more simple and available.
When speaking on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, Ruuben Kaalep said that the membership of any international organisation had to strengthen Estonia’s national independence and sovereignty. In his words, it is important that Member States retain the right to make decisions for themselves in climate neutrality matters,
Enn Eesmaa who took the floor on behalf of the Centre Party Faction said that the European Parliament focusing on climate problems was only logical, and for the first time the European citizens had prioritised climate change in a Eurobarometer survey in as many as 11 countries. The global human rights situation is also one of the most burning issues, Eesmaa said.
When speaking on behalf of the Reform Party Faction, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus said that the European Union was the world leader in climate policy and a pioneer in defending privacy, human rights and freedoms. In her words, the ageing population of the European Union was a challenge, and a model was needed that would encourage people to pursue happiness by saving up more and being active for longer, instead of consuming.
Riina Sikkut took the floor on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction and said that Estonia could and had to stand firmly for the enlargement of the European Union and the Eastern Partnership. In Sikkut’s words, Estonia had an experience of what it meant for a society to have a great cause and to move towards a European Union that ensured human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Two Bills passed the first reading:
The Bill on Amendments to the Environmental Charges Act (109 SE), initiated by the Government, will provide for a specification under which the pollution charge is not imposed where the substances and compounds specified in subsection 17 (1) of the Environmental Charges Act are emitted into a water body, groundwater or soil as a result of aquaculture activity, and the annual quantities of pollutants emitted into the environment provided for in the water permit are not exceeded thereby. Since the Estonian aquaculture sector is small, the environmental burden arising from breeding farms is also low.
The explanatory memorandum notes that Estonia’s neighbouring countries do not apply such pollution charges on aquaculture and this puts the Estonian aquaculture companies in an unequal competition situation. The situation is particularly complicated at the times when the global market selling prices are lower than the cost price. The aquaculture sector is connected with food production, and in a situation where agriculture is exempt from the pollution charge on fertilizers, the specification regarding the aquaculture sector creates an unequal situation between the two primary food production sectors. Aquaculture is a sector where setting up new companies is connected with large investments and risks. The development of the sector is facilitated by avoiding a taxation policy diverging from those of the neighbouring countries.
Peeter Ernits (Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction) took the floor during the debate.
The Bill on the Ratification of the Investment Protection Agreement between the European Union and its Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Singapore, of the other part (104 SE), initiated by the Government, will improve the investment climate between the European Union Member States and Singapore. The explanatory memorandum notes that the agreement will benefit Estonian investors because it will ensure investment protection and help settle disputes. The agreement will establish an investment tribunal system of two instances which will aim to ensure better legal protection to investors and to consider their disputes more quickly and transparently. The agreement will also ensure the protection of Singaporean investors in Estonia.
The draft agreement was approved at the sitting of the Government on 4 October 2018. Estonia signed the agreement in Luxembourg on 15 October 2018. The EU and Singapore signed the agreement at the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Brussels on 19 October 2018. The agreement enters into force after all countries have ratified the agreement according to their national procedures.
At the beginning of the sitting, the new Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller took his oath of office.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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