Speech by Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas: a review of the Estonian Presidency

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  • 16/01/2018 14:19

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Jüri Ratas
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas gave a speech reviewing the Estonian Presidency today to the European Parliament (photo: European Parliament)

Dear Mr President, President of the Commission, distinguished leaders of the political groups and members of the European Parliament,

Six months ago, I stood before this Parliament, and I promised that the first Estonian Presidency would work towards a Europe where every voice is heard and where there is a balance between different traditions and interests. With the words of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney I wished that hope and history would rhyme again for Europe. 

I did not simply read out the motto of our Presidency – ‘Unity through balance’. I was confident that everyone working for the Estonian Presidency would do their best to find consensus in the working parties, at Council meetings or at trilogues with you. I was truly moved to see just how devoted the member states, the Commission and the Parliament were to the same goal. 

There were hundreds of sometimes difficult debates but all parties were also always determined to reach an agreement. There was the desire to find solutions that would cement and develop the freedoms that European citizens enjoy today. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to you all for showing this solidarity, because strength lies in unity.

It is often referred that the EU member states are very different in size, culture, and climate. Some of us have a few hours of daylight in winter; others have more sun than snow. Still, the vision we share for a brighter future is the same.

Although the European Union is growing stronger and more united, let us not forget that after the Brexit referendum and before key elections in Europe, the air was full of confusion and pessimism. The political course set in Bratislava, Malta, Rome, and also in Tallinn during the Digital Summit last September has allowed us to overcome this rough patch. The European Union has turned a new page. I sincerely wish to thank all EU member states and citizens for that. 

There is much to be satisfied with. We have finally reached a point where all of Europe is feeling the benefits of economic recovery. Now it is my wish that every European would have the freedom to live their lives to the fullest in a safe, strong and competitive Europe. This begins with an open and innovation-led economy that supports competitiveness, jobs, and businesses. European enterprises will continue to be stimulated by the extension of the mandate of the European Fund for Strategic Investments. Or more simply, by ‘the Juncker fund’, as it has become known. 

From 2019, paying value added tax on the cross-border sales of goods will become easier for entrepreneurs. We also decided that international tax rules have to be updated in a way that would ensure a fair taxation of digital economy enterprises. I am proud that in the past six months, free trade negotiations with Japan were concluded, new negotiations launched with Chile, and we are very close to starting talks with New Zealand and Australia. The positive effect of trade on Europe’s growth and jobs cannot be overestimated. 

Honourable Members,

Since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people has been the cornerstone of the European Union. But if we want to ensure that every European is free to enjoy what Europe has to offer in the digital age, Europe must keep up with technological progress and make it work in our favour.

With good reason, the Estonian Presidency has been called a ‘digital presidency’. Promoting the digital dimension in all EU policy areas was our main priority. In addition to telecommunications infrastructure, the market, and cybersecurity, the idea that our future will be digital also underpinned legal cooperation, energy, internal security, defence, agriculture, space and many other areas. I hope that this approach will also appear in the next budget of the European Union and in other activities over the next few years.

A digital Europe is now a goal for all of Europe. We reached a common understanding on this issue with European Union leaders during the Tallinn Digital Summit. I would like to thank you, President Tajani and President Juncker, for your participation and valuable contribution at the Digital Summit. Europe has to seize the momentum and make use of new technologies to regain our place in the world as a leading digital society.

What I am also particularly pleased about is that the EU is already developing new rules to allow non-personal data to move easily across borders and thus boost the EU data economy. At the very end of the Estonian Presidency we agreed on a mandate to launch negotiations with the European Parliament on this important proposal. I would like to urge you to make this a priority issue and complete the work on all digital single market files this year. 

Finally, I would very much like to highlight one of our joint forward-looking projects, namely the first-time electronic signing of a European Union legal act. President Tajani and Secretary-General Mr Klaus Welle, thank you for your commitment. I am confident that the electronic signing of documents will soon become common in the European Union. 

Honourable members and colleagues,

During the Estonian Presidency, landmark decisions were made in defence cooperation, climate policy and the social dimension. They all have significant structural and long-term effects.

25 member states have decided to join the permanent structured cooperation in the field of defence. They are committed to increasing their defence expenditures and carrying out several joint projects, such as simplifying and speeding up military transport in Europe.

The European Union demonstrated its determination to implement the Paris Agreement. Climate change is slow, but it will influence the freedoms and quality of life of future generations. Today, after the One Planet Summit organised at the initiative of President Macron and after depositing our Doha amendment ratification instruments at the end of the year, we have every reason to be proud of our global leadership. 

I would also like to personally thank the rapporteurs for their dogged work: Mrs Julie Girling, who worked on the emission trading system, Mr Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who was the rapporteur for the effort sharing regulation, and Mr Norbert Lins, who worked on the land use change and forestry regulation. Together, we demonstrated that the European Union will continue to play a leading role. We care about our grandchildren and about the only planet we all have.

The discussions about a ‘Social Europe’ during the Social summit in Gothenburg, as well as the signing of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and agreeing on new rules for posted workers expressed the shared values and unity of the European Union.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We will continue to strengthen our relations with our neighbours. They are essential for maintaining the peace and freedom that we know today. As Mr Tunne Kelam stressed in July, we did set the Eastern Partnership as a horizontal priority, to increase our cooperation across sectors.

I am proud that the Eastern Partnership and the EU-African Union summits were successful, signified by joint declarations, which among other things, set practical common goals. I want to thank presidents Tusk, Juncker and Tajani for their hard work and commitment before, during, and after the summits.

Specific projects in the fields of economy, connectivity, and education as well as digital affairs will improve the lives of millions of people and also help to stabilise our neighbourhood. I have hopes that the Bulgarian Presidency will continue this work, especially in the Western Balkans region where we can hopefully give a new impetus to our enlargement policy.

At the beginning of the Estonian Presidency, we set the goal of reducing immigration pressure on the external borders of the European Union, improving border management, and handling the aftermath of the migration crisis. Thus, we have moved from crisis management to migration management: we are no longer putting out fires, but are instead focusing on long-term solutions. Good examples of this are the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, and the foreign investments plan to reduce the causes of migration. 

During our Presidency, we concentrated on closing the Central Mediterranean route and developed a practical implementation plan for this purpose. In this respect, I would particularly like to praise the work of the Italian government

We continued work on the reform of the Common European Asylum System. It is a real challenge, but with joint efforts we have made progress and I am convinced that we will find a solution under the Bulgarian Presidency.

In Europe, we do not need to present our passport when crossing internal borders. To be able to enjoy a Europe without internal borders and to reduce the threat of terrorism, we focused on cooperation in protecting external borders. Thanks to our common efforts, the European Union Entry/Exit System, and, with some additional work, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System will become operational in 2020. The interoperability of information systems and the improved quality of data exchange in accordance with the European Union data protection rules are some of the efficient tools for preventing and fighting various types of crime.

Head sõbrad! 

Peatselt 100-aastaseks saava Eesti Vabariigi põhiseaduse preambul sedastab, et 'Eesti riik on rajatud vabadusele, õiglusele ja õigusele'. Need kolm üdini euroopalikku mõistet, just selliselt seatuna, moodustavad meie ühiste väärtuste alusmüüri. Väikeriikide olemasolu Euroopas on nende põhimõtete parim kinnitus. 

Eesistumine oli meie kord, meie võimalus täita oma kohust Euroopa ees, täie pühendumusega ja heas koostöös. Seetõttu sooviksin tänada kõikide institutsioonide juhte – eriti Teid, Antonio ja Jean-Claude ja ülemkogu eesistujat Donald Tuski, selle pühendumise eest –, samuti kõiki teid siin saalis oluliste arutelude ja tulemuste eest.  

Südamest tunnustan kõiki töökaid ning meie ühise Euroopa tulevikust siiralt hoolivaid Eesti ametnikke ja poliitikuid, kes Tallinnas, Brüsselis ja kõikjal Euroopas meie eesistumise edusse panustasid. Samuti loomulikult Eesti eriesindajat Matti Maasikat. 

Ma usun, et mu hea kolleegi Bojko Borissovi juhtimisel ja Bulgaaria eesistumise egiidi 'Ühtsus teeb meid tugevaks' all jõuame me lõpetada ka selle töö, mis jäi meil ühiselt pooleli. 

Jõudu Euroopale!