The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union ends on 31 December 2017. During its Presidency, Estonia worked with 377 different initiatives in total, organised 275 different events in Tallinn, chaired more than 1 200 working groups in Brussels and held 31 official ministerial meetings. The major event of the Estonian Presidency was the Tallinn Digital Summit held in September. These events and meetings resulted in significant progress in a number of important areas such as migration policy, defence cooperation, and climate agreements. Also, as a result of the Estonian Presidency, digital issues took a prominent place in discussions across the European Union.
According to Klen Jäärats, the Director for EU Affairs at the Estonian Government Office EU Secretariat, the Estonian Presidency was a success, and, with its diligence and enthusiasm, surpassed all expectations. "We managed to achieve our main goals and we are content in handing over the presidency to Bulgaria. We are especially happy that the Estonian Presidency's style – listening to all sides and seeking a broad balance – has allowed us to reach agreements on issues that put a lot of pressure on negotiators, on the political level as well as on the civil servants themselves, and required excellent skills in finding compromises between member states," said Jäärats. One of the greatest successes in the last stages of the Estonian Presidency has been the creation of the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on security and defence. "It is a symbolic step for all of Europe that member states are willing to jointly take on responsibilities to make Europe safer. There has never been an EU-wide agreement on defence cooperation, but now it is becoming a reality with PESCO, the close cooperation between the EU and NATO, the joint funding of operations, and defence investments," Jäärats explained.
In terms of the priorities of the Estonian Presidency programme, significant progress was made in the field of the digital single market. The regulation one-commerce VAT was also approved and great progress was made with the taxation of the digital economy. The Tallinn Digital Summit, held in September, which brought together the heads of state or government of 27 member states, certainly had a role in this. "Today, we no longer have to explain the importance of digital development in Europe, and this is certainly one of our 'digital signatures' in the European Union," Jäärats said.
According to Jäärats, important agreements on climate should also be highlighted, as they help the European Union continue to lead the way in meeting the commitments of the Paris Agreement. "We can be happy that the EU came to an agreement on the legislation of the circular economy. This limits waste generation and sets high targets for recycling waste. That aspect of sustainability is complemented by agreements on an open electricity market that favours renewables and on energy efficient buildings, as well as on advancing eco-innovation."
According to the head of the organising team of the Estonian Presidency Piret Lilleväli, the organisation of the Presidency was also a success. "The greatest praise is the feedback from the guests, the Estonian Ambassador to the EU Kaja Tael has also mentioned that foreign guests have been very happy. They have praised our organisation as well as our food and this shows that we can be pleased with the work of our entire team," Lilleväli said commenting on the excellent performance of the organising team. In total, over 1 300 people were involved with the Estonian Presidency, 1 000 of whom were already working as civil servants. There were 330 temporary jobs created for the team. "All of these 1 300 people contributed to making Estonia better known across Europe. This was one of our biggest aims at the start of the Estonian Presidency and we have certainly succeeded. Together we have made Estonia great and we have shown Europe that we are reliable partners. The more people know us in Europe, the safer we are in our country," Lilleväli said, commenting on the advantages of holding the Estonian Presidency.
The growing notoriety of Estonia was also supported by the joint international programme of the Estonian Presidency and the centenary of the Republic of Estonia. The aim of this programme was to introduce Estonian culture across Europe. “I am especially happy that, during these six months, in addition to a larger than usual number of foreign events several initiatives came to life as well. These are directly connected to the efforts made by different partners in Estonia, and abroad, which made this half-year a success. For example, there were big and important exhibitions in Brussels and Rome, the first international tour by the Estonian Festival Orchestra and the street art of Edward von Lõngus, which reached foreign countries,” said Jorma Sarv, Head of the International Programme. Under the cultural programme, all the European countries that were visited were locations that Estonia has a permanent representation. “There were actually more event spots than planned because several projects reached beyond the capitals. The number of projects has also grown because if you prepare something for a long time then the cooperation often spans wider. I am happy to say that now we also have the first examples of artists that have been given return invitations based on the programme.” The cultural programme for the Estonian Presidency has ended but Estonia will continue to be introduced to the world under the centenary celebrations of the Republic of Estonia. “Since the Estonian Presidency started six months earlier, the international programme grew half a year longer as well and will be more concentrated next year during the Estonian anniversary,” Sarv said.
The budget for the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union was 74.9 million euros for 2014-2108, and the budget for the Tallinn Digital Summit was an additional 4 million euros. “Today I am happy to say that optimising costs and adding partners have allowed us to manage cost-effectively and I can confirm that more than 7 million euros will be transferred back to the state budget,” confirmed Lilleväli. Among others, the expenditures for the Tallinn Digital Summit were less than planned: around 3.4 million euros were spent compared to the 4 million euros planned.
The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union lasts from 1 July to 31 December, after which the presidency will be taken over by Bulgaria.