At today’s sitting, the Riigikogu heard Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’s report on the work of the Government in implementing European Union policies. The Prime Minister admitted that, over the last year, the topic of health had taken centre stage in all discussions, including the European Union policy discussion.
“As a lesson from the crisis, I support the idea of European Union establishing a capability to declare a health emergency as necessary and to take action quickly. The review of Schengen rules will also have to take into account the lessons of the health crisis and become more crisis resilient in order not to experience the selfishness that emerged for a moment last spring. When borders closed, all fundamental freedoms of the European Union were suddenly affected and the desire to acquire personal protective equipment and ventilators showed that the law of the jungle applied,” Kallas said.
The Prime Minister pointed out that not until May had 7.5 billion euro been raised on the initiative of the European Commission for diagnostics, treatment and the development of vaccines. “It is a small miracle that coronavirus vaccines exist thanks to the mobilisation of resources and that we have a truly solidary system both for distributing them between Member States and for allocating them to the rest of the world,” Kallas said. “It is clear that without the European Union we would not have coronavirus vaccines today and a comprehensive development of such a system will also need to be continued after the crisis.”
Kallas highlighted that financial solidarity was an important support in a crisis. She pointed out that the European Commission had granted permission for nearly three trillion euro worth of state aid to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. She added that the European Central Bank’s extraordinary asset purchase programme to manage the economic impacts of the pandemic amounted to 1850 billion euro or nearly two trillion euro. This in turn will be supplemented by the European Union budget support of around 1.1 trillion euro, and 750 billion euro as a recovery plan, to which in turn many other measures will be added, the already existing security network such as the European Stability Mechanism and the European instrument for temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency (SURE). “This can be termed nothing more nor less than truly extraordinary and historic solidarity, but also a remarkable investment in future security because in the next crisis we will already be relying on what we are building up from our today’s experience,” Kallas said.
The Prime Minister said that the European Union internal market also provided crisis resilience. “The crisis even somewhat unexpectedly revealed the fact that information technology also allowed society to function tolerably under fairly extreme circumstances,” Kallas said. She expressed delight that the European Commission had launched a “Digital Compass” initiative in the previous week that also targeted extensive implementation of digital signatures, alongside with chips, quantum computers, digital skills, etc.
Kallas also spoke of the green transition of the European Union. “Human-made climate change is the source of many new conflicts,” she said. “The Government supports the European Union’s climate neutrality objective and the idea of laying it down as a legally binding target in the ‘European Climate Law,’” Kallas said. In Kallas’s words, the new European Union budget period included around 3.3 billion euro for Estonia for achieving the climate neutrality objective.
The Prime Minister said that the transatlantic relationship was and would remain the cornerstone of European security, and thus the discussion of allied military defence, of contribution thereto and of military operations needed to be held within the NATO framework together with other allies. In conclusion, the Prime Minister emphasised that Estonian matters were also European matters and vice versa – strong countries make Europe strong and a strong Europe makes European countries strong.
Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Siim Kallas said in his report that European Union Member States had learned a lot from the coronavirus crisis. “The coordinated action plan of 27 Member States, the reopening of borders, the swift agreement on a recovery plan, and the joint vaccine procurement show the importance and benefits of cooperation. Without the joint vaccine procurement of European countries, we would be facing a chaos today where small countries would indisputably be the losers,” Kallas said.
“However, many things have gone wrong. The delay with vaccine procurements, the failure to fully meet the agreements by suppliers, the application of protectionist measures unfavourable to Europe by third countries – this shows that, with the future in mind, the European Union will have to strengthen its independent capability to manufacture vaccines and medicines,” he said.
Kallas said that, last April, the European Commission had drafted a historic recovery plan for Europe and a revised long-term budget proposal. The negotiations on the European Union budget period with their twists and turns had been a constant presence in the work of the European Union Affairs Committee throughout the past year. “The budget negotiations were very successful for Estonia and we managed to attain our desired goals in a number of issues. The earlier forecasts suggested that the European Union assistance to Estonia would decrease in the forthcoming budget period. However, as a result of the negotiations, the assistance to Estonia will grow– Estonia will receive 6.8 billion instead of the earlier 6.2 billion. In addition, Estonia stands to receive an estimated 1.5 billion euro from the recovery plan,” Kallas said.
As an important achievement, Kallas also pointed out the securing of the necessary additional funding for the construction of Rail Baltic at a favourable financing rate. “We received 1.65 billion euro of additional funding for the Rail Baltica project. Rail Baltica will be the high-speed road to the centre of Europe for Estonia as a European Union border state, and at the same time will help us move closer to achieving the climate goals. It will be of importance in terms of security and will increase cohesion between countries from Finland to Germany. Last week, the last remaining disagreement with the European Parliament was resolved, and additional funding is now guaranteed to Rail Baltica from the Connecting Europe Facility,” Kallas said.
The Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee also said that, despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis, the European Union wished to implement a digital and green transition, in order to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and to create a cleaner and more sustainable environment for future generations. The funds of the new budget period and of the recovery plan will need to contribute towards that.
“One third of the economic restart plan and of the whole European Union budget has been dedicated towards climate goals. This will also help us make Estonia’s economy greener and more environmentally sustainable,” Kallas said. He added that Estonia had set itself one of the most aspirational targets in the EU to reduce greenhouse gases by 70% by 2030 compared to 1990. “Estonia is set to receive 3.3 billion euro for activities with an environmental impact, including funds from the brand new Just Transition Fund that is being established. The Fund has allocated 340 million euro to Estonia, which is the largest support per capita compared to other Member States.”
“We are living in a time of change – we are moving from an industrial economy to a digital economy and from fossil fuels to clean energy,” Kallas said. He pointed out that Estonia in cooperation with the WHO had started a digital vaccination certificate project that would allow rapid and efficient recognition of vaccination certificates of different countries, and would allow easier travel in the future.
During the debate, Eerik-Niiles Kross took the floor on behalf of the Estonian Reform Party Faction, Oudekki Loone on behalf of the Centre Party Faction, Martin Helme on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction, Urmas Reinsalu on behalf of the Faction Isamaa and Riina Sikkut on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)
Photos of the sitting (Author: Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu)
The video recording of the sitting will be available on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.
(Please note that the recording will be uploaded with a delay.)
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