Today, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas gave an overview of the activities of the Government in implementing the European Union policies to the Riigikogu, and assessed Estonia’s work and results in presiding the Council of the European Union.
In his report, Ratas said that Estonia would pass on the responsibility of the Presidency with a calm heart, and in the knowledge that we had done our best.
The Prime Minister admitted that although a fair wind was blowing for the European Union at the moment, only recently when the presidency had been in preparation, there had been thunder clouds on the horizon and a violent storm had been expected. “After the Brexit referendum, a political confusion so characteristic to crises, and even existential questions were in the air,” Ratas said. “That which we have done in the course of crises has shown the strength of the common decisions of the European Union by today – the euro area is stable, the migration and refugee crisis is under control, and the European Union has proved that it is ready for complicated Brexit negotiations.”
Ratas said that the concerns of the citizens of the European Union about security, migration and economic insecurity would still remain in the focus of the European Union institutions also in the future.
Ratas said that, during the presidency, Estonia had dealt with solutions that had a significant structural and long-term impact. Some of the most important ones to Europe were the conclusion of the agreements necessary for implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, the approval of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and the developments in the European Union defence cooperation (the ‘PESCO’).
The head of Government said that the Estonian Presidency had also been called “a digital Presidency”. In his words, Estonia as Presidency has tried to show the advantages of digitalisation to all Europeans, in order to save time, money and other valuable resources, to create new possibilities and to make the everyday life of people easier.
In his speech, Ratas gave an assessment of the results of the Estonian Presidency based on four goals, namely an open and innovative European economy, a safe and secure Europe, a digital Europe and the free movement of data, and an inclusive and sustainable Europe.
The Chairman of the European Union Affairs Committee Toomas Vitsut summed up the Riigikogu’s work during the presidency, focusing on the future, competitiveness and security of the European Union in his speech.
Regarding the debate on the future of the European Union, Vitsut pointed out that achieving good results in the Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union was in the interests of all of us, and also our shared responsibility. In his words, we must refrain from leaving the negotiations table even when an agreement seems hopeless, and we must preserve the transparency of the decisions and proceed from the interests of the citizens.
In Vitsut’s words, the national parliaments stressed in the common position that in the long run it was important to keep the internal market at the core of the EU, to make efforts towards continuing to increase the physical and digital connectivity in Europe, and to achieve enhanced convergence of all European Union regions.
“We highlighted the importance of reducing social and economic inequalities. We welcomed and interpreted the crises that had hit the European Union as windows of opportunities that would help carry out bolder reforms,” Vitsut said. “Furthermore, we also agreed with the European Union affairs committees of the national parliaments in that the European Union must continue to enlarge and remain open.”
Regarding competitiveness, Vitsut noted that the unused potential for increasing the competitiveness of the EU lied in the capacity for growth of our innovative start-ups. In the course of their discussion in Tallinn, the parliaments had come to a joint conclusion that, in order to grow, the start-ups needed measures that improve the availability of risk capital and the opportunities to find partners in research circles, in the form of SMEs or large investors. It is important to increase the access of start-ups to public procurements. We should also make efforts to connect the centres of start-ups in different Member States into a single European start-up ecosystem.
Speaking about security, Vitsut said that the European Union affairs committees of the parliaments had stressed the importance of the EU’s architecture of data management, and the interoperability of various databases and information systems. In the fight against terrorism, action was considered important both at EU level and in Member States. The committees had stressed the need to focus on protecting the public spaces, which was also the subject of a relevant package of initiatives by the European Commission.
In Vitsut’s words, members of parliaments of EU member states considered prevention the most effective counter-terrorism tool. Heightened attention should be paid to the root causes of terrorism, meaning anti-radicalisation measures, such as tackling the surge of hate speech as well as the dissemination of terrorist material online.
Vitsut said that, for the Riigikogu, the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union had meant the duty and the privilege of chairing five parliamentary sittings and one working group, and setting their agendas. However, over the next six months, Tallinn will also host the meeting of the Secretaries General of parliaments. The parliamentary dimension of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union will conclude with the Conference of Speakers of the EU Parliaments on 23–24 April 2018.
Kalle Palling, who took the floor on behalf of the Reform Party Faction during the debate, found it excellent that the digital Europe and the free movement of data was no longer only Estonia’s priority but the goal of the whole Europe. In his words, one of the greatest challenges in coming years concerned the future of work and what the relationship between technology and the human being would be, and what our employment relationships would be like. In his speech, Palling pointed out the fiscal policy as a point of concern.
Marianne Mikko took the floor on behalf of the Social Democratic Party Faction. In her words, Estonia had been a good negotiator. “The Presidency means above all keeping Europe together,” Mikko said. “Estonia has kept and continues to keep the European Union together. As the Presidency, Estonia stands straight and speaks clear. The European Union is more united than it was a year ago. Even if one of us wishes to leave, this leaving will take place on the basis of a common position of 27 Member States. All kinds of rumours of the European Union crumbling, diverging and growing apart from one another are not true.”
Monika Haukanõmm spoke on behalf of the Free Party Faction. She said that the European Union could show its strength and progressiveness and increase belief if the decisions made did not prefer a group of countries over another, because after all there was strength in unity. “However, everybody has to take a step or two backwards in the name of unity in order to go on together, and different treatment between the old and new member states must end,” Haukanõmm said.
Jaak Madison, who spoke on behalf of the Estonian Conservative People’s Party Faction in the debate, was critical of the results of the presidency in his speech. “The presidency is to a large part a decorative function where it is very difficult to really influence political decisions. Especially when already at the onset the position is taken that neutrality will be maintained also in more acute issues,” Madison said.
The Bill on Amendments to the Local Government Financial Management Act (525 SE), initiated by the State Budget Control Select Committee, also passed the first reading in the Riigikogu today. Its aim is to ensure that, after administrative reform, sworn auditors would cooperate more closely with local governments, in order that new municipal councils could obtain a better overview of the problems of the merged local governments. The current brief format of the auditor’s report does not include the information that users wish to obtain, because it does not indicate what has been audited in the major fields of local governments, including the fields with greater risks, how it has been verified and what the results are. Observance of the requirements of the standard ISA (EE) 701 will help significantly increase the informativeness of the report and ensure the transparency of the report.
Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian): http://stenogrammid.riigikogu.ee/et/201712051000
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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