At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu heard Prime Minister Jüri Ratas’s overview of the Government’s European Union policy.
The Prime Minister said that control had been gained over mass migration flows with purposeful efforts both in the European Union and in cooperation with third countries. “Estonia continues to consider it important that all countries should contribute to the wider assistance to those in need, but redistribution must be voluntary and it must be one of the possible measures in a crisis situation,” the Prime Minister said.
In regard to the withdrawal agreement with the United Kingdom, at the moment, the Union is waiting for the primary political assessment of the British parliament, Ratas said. Estonia holds the position that it is necessary to maintain strong ties with its close ally and to sustain the possibility that Brexit is still reversible in a long-term perspective.
The head of Government confirmed support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the further steps taken by the UN, the European Union and NATO. “Estonia is ready to support supplementation, extension or strengthening of European Union’s restrictive measures against Russia,” Ratas said.
The European Commission starting its term of office after the 2019 elections will definitely have to pay even more attention to European security, including to creating as close a security relationship with the United Kingdom as possible, in the opinion of the Prime Minister.
Ratas said that Estonia’s positions in European Union policy issues were formed in the cooperation and with the unanimity of the Government and the Riigikogu. Ratas also stressed that he, and supposedly also the heads and members of the future Governments, were always ready to come before the Riigikogu and the committees to discuss Estonia’s European Union policy.
In his report, the Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Toomas Vitsut underlined that it was up to the Riigikogu to bring the European Union issues closer to the citizens, in order to ensure the legitimacy of European Union decisions.
Vitsut suggested that, in order to raise the level of the proceedings on European Union affairs in the Riigikogu, appointment of lead presenters for EU initiatives could be considered. “The tasks of the rapporteur would be a deep analysis of specific EU initiatives, and acting as a spokesperson in shaping the positions handed by the Riigikogu to the Government before the negotiations.”
In Vitsut’s opinion, in order to make the work of the parliament with European Union affairs more visible, Estonia could also begin to hold formal discussions following the European Councils at the plenary sittings of the parliament in cooperation with the Prime Minister.
Vitsut stressed that the obligation to explain the European Union policy objectives to their citizens lied with national parliaments, and the ongoing parliamentary election campaign and the upcoming European Parliament election campaign provided a good opportunity for that. “I call on my good colleagues to use this opportunity for the sake of our better future.”
The Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee said that the Union’s energy policy was one of the sectors where the impact of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union could still be felt. Among the major breakthroughs, Vitsut pointed out the agreements on increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy, which had been achieved this June. A political agreement on synchronising the Baltic power systems with the frequency of continental Europe was also reached this summer.
Vitsut said that the European Union was a model in the fight against climate change, and part of the solution lied in innovation and new approaches. “Estonia has been one of the most vocal supporters of digital society in the EU. We must make every effort to hold on to this position in the future,” Vitsut said.
During the debate, Taavi Rõivas took the floor on behalf of the Reform Party Faction, and stressed how important it was that Estonian Government members participate in high-level meetings of the EU. Referring to a Eurobarometer poll, he said that the people of Estonia considered European Union membership very important, but not many of them believed that Estonia’s voice counted in the Union. Rõivas said that Estonia had to re-instate itself among the core European Union decision-makers.
Marianne Mikko said that the Social Democratic Party was of the opinion that the Prime Minister should give the Riigikogu plenary assembly an overview after every sitting of the European Council. Mikko also proposed on behalf of her faction that, upon appointment of new European Commissioners, all European Union Member States could nominate a male and a female candidate for Commissioner, and the European Parliament would then make the final choice among them.
Mart Nutt spoke on behalf of the Faction Isamaa, and said that it was in Estonia’s interests that the European Union would persist and be strong. He said that the European Union had to remain a union of nation states, where all member states could have their say in the Union affairs. As a weakness of the Union, he highlighted the lack of sufficient unity in several foreign and security policy positions, for example, in the issues connected with the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Andres Herkel, who spoke on behalf of the Free Party Faction, expressed concern about the security situation, and the crumbling of the liberal values of democracy and human rights. Herkel said that the people did not perceive that their own rights were discussed when human rights were discussed. Therefore, in Herkel’s words, it is necessary to focus on the fundamental things, that is, that there would be no political prisoners and there would be no torturing in the countries.
Jaak Madison, who spoke on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction in the debate, said that the European Union had continued to move towards federalism even more vigorously. Estonia’s sovereignty is more important than the Union subsidies, Madison said. He said that NATO had been the main defence organisation for European countries, and it had to remain so, in order to maintain good allied relationships with the United States of America.
One Bill passed the second reading
The Bill on Amendments to the Penal Code and Other Associated Acts (transposition of the directive on combating terrorism) (642 SE), initiated by the Government, will make amendments to the Penal Code, the Victim Support Act, the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act and the State Legal Aid Act. The aim of the Bill is to combat the increasing international terrorist threat. For that, the relevant European Union directive will be transposed into national law, and conformity of Estonian law with the UN Resolution and the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism will be ensured.
On the basis of international requirements, the Bill will criminalise training for terrorism, travelling for such purpose, and the carrying out, funding and supporting of terrorism. Besides other victim support services, the provision of necessary psychological assistance will be ensured to victims of terrorism. The service will be ensured both to persons who have suffered as a result of an act committed in Estonia, and residents of the Republic of Estonia who have suffered as a result of terrorism abroad. Victims of terrorist offences will be ensured state legal aid in criminal proceedings regardless of their economic situation.
In addition, amendments will be made to the Penal Code that will specify and amend the necessary elements of criminal offences against the security, independence or territorial integrity of the Republic of Estonia. Liability of legal persons will also be established for all offences against the Republic of Estonia. To avoid legal gaps, intelligence activities directed against the security of the Republic of Estonia, and supporting such activities, by an intelligence or security service official of a foreign state will be provided for as a separate criminal offence. The necessary elements of the criminal offences of the establishment or maintenance of a relationship that is against the Republic of Estonia, and anti-state influencing of officials will also be specified.
Video recordings of the sittings of the Riigikogu can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/riigikogu
(NB! The recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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