Responding on behalf of the Presidency of the Council of the EU to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union Address before the plenary session of European Parliament yesterday, Estonian Deputy Minister for EU Affairs Matti Maasikas emphasised that it was time to focus on what unites people, and to initiate activities that create balance and build bridges rather than tearing apart bonds.
Maasikas said: “If we care about the EU, we have to focus our attention on citizens. It is here that we need specific steps such as strengthening the internal market, especially as regards services, as well as reinforcing security and bringing the migration crisis under control.”
He continued: “During its Presidency of the Council of the EU, Estonia is naturally also engaged with the European Pillar of Social Rights, pertaining to education, skills, lifelong learning, posted employees and equal rights. We are not talking solely about work that is paid better, but also about better access to the labour market.”
Referring to progress toward a Digital Single Market, Maasikas said the free movement of data is one of the cornerstones of the concept and that it will require both private consumers and the business community to gain benefits. Next year, new personal data protection rules will enter into force and the Commission has also issued its own proposals for legislation on free movement of data. Estonia’s goal during its Presidency of the Council of the EU is to make rapid progress with the draft legislation.
Cybersecurity is also closely related to the development of the digital economy. Maasikas said cyber defence is a topic that no member state can address alone; it affects everyone. “Updating the EU’s cyber strategy is vital and it is to be welcomed that the Commission has started tackling it in earnest. We must recognise our responsibility and follow the existing legislation and work closely with the private sector,” said Maasikas. All these questions will be discussed at a digital summit in Tallinn on 29 September.
In discussing the EU’s foreign policy, Maasikas said we must not forget our neighbours and the fact that the EU is a role model for many countries in the region and this, too, must be taken into consideration in its activities. The Eastern Partnership summit in November is a chance to reaffirm continued commitment and openness to cooperation with Eastern Partnership countries, and it will assist in creating a more secure environment. Trade and irregular migration also figured in Maasikas’s address.
Maasikas said today’s exchange of ideas in parliament would provide a good impetus for planning the EU’s new annual programme. The EU’s General Affairs Council is set to discuss the proposals on 25 September and the dialogues with parliament will help to agree on the common priority objectives for next year.
In European Parliament yesterday, Maasikas also represented the Council of the EU on the topic of Dieselgate and fire safety of buildings. On September 12, Maasikas spoke as Council representative on the topic of food safety – pertaining to eggs contaminated with the insecticide fipronil, and, filling in for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, regarding the arms export control report.