Estonia in the European Union (15)
Archived Articles 03 Sep 2009  EWR
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EMFA, 3 September 2009
(Click here for this backgrounder complete with links: http://www.vm.ee/eng/euro/kat_...

Since the spring of 2004, when Estonia became a member of the European Union, Estonia has demonstrated that it is an active and constructive partner and continues with these pragmatic policies in its further integration into the EU. European Union membership is an invaluable factor in raising Estonia's political and economic profile, so a strong and well-functioning EU that is politically influential and competetitive on the world stage is in our best interest. This goal is reflected in the Estonian government's European Union Policy for 2007-2011, which keeps in mind the broader interests and developments in the EU and presents Estonia's proposals for coming to terms with the challenges standing before the European Union.

The following gives a brief overview of Estonia's positions, as well as issues in the European Union that Estonia will be focused on in the near future.

Treaty of Lisbon

The renewing of the fundamental document of the European Union came about primarily from the need to ensure effective functioning in the Union and to update the Union's goals in a rapidly changing world. Another goal of the Treaty of Lisbon is to bring the European Union closer to the people.

The Reform Treaty was signed on 13 December 2007 at the European Council in Lisbon, after which the ratification process began in the parliaments of the member states. The only country to hold a referendum on the treaty was Ireland, where the document was rejected for many reasons on 12 June 2008. At the European Council in June 2009 a packet of legal guarantees to be promised to Ireland was approved. An agreement was also made that every member state would retain its representative position in the Commission. A repeat referendum will take place in Ireland on 2 October 2009. If everything goes successfully, the treaty should come into effect at the end of 2009.

Estonia supports moving forward with the Treaty of Lisbon. The Riigikogu ratified the Treaty of Lisbon on 11 June 2008, and we hope that all the other member states will follow suit before long. The Treaty will unify and simplify co-operation among the member states so that movement and business within the European Union will be understandable and simple for all European Union citizens. The Treaty of Lisbon will make the European Union more democratic, improving relations between the EU and its citizens by offering the possibility of motions made by citizens as well as more rights for national parliaments to join in on discussions. A permanent institutional framework for the Union will also come into effect along with the Treaty. The Treaty of Lisbon has notable significance in terms of shaping the European Union's role in the world and guarantees a strong Europe, which is a requirement for meeting the challenges of a globalising world. On the world scale, we are a partner to be considered only if we are a unified union, not a group of member states with different interests.

Enlargement

Estonia considers enlargement to be one of the EU's most successful policies. Enlargement has considerably increased peace, stability and wealth in Europe, and we believe that these will increase more with a continuation of the enlargement process. If nations with an EU perspective stay on course with their reforms, both the nation wishing to join and the European Union itself will win. Enlargement will improve the European Union's competitiveness and security, as well as increase the EU's role in the globalising world. Naturally the nations wishing to join must fulfil all the prescribed criteria. However, the European Union should not turn back from the accession promises it has already made—it should continue to motivate and provide aid to those nations that wish to carry out reforms.

Estonia sees the EU's enlargement policy as an opportunity for nations who want to share the same values with us—values based on democracy and a free-market economy, innovative views, and a society that looks to the future. We gladly share the reform experiences we gained when joining the EU with any nations that are interested.

We are interested in long-term stability in the Balkans, and as an EU member state we would like to do everything possible to achieve this. Keeping Turkey on the reform path is one of Estonia's priorities. We also feel it is essential to explain the benefits of enlargement to the public more clearly than before.

Currently the European Union has three official candidate states, of which Croatia and Turkey are involved in accession negotiations and Macedonia is awaiting the opening of accession negotiations. http://ec.europa.eu/enlargemen....
Applications for accession have also been presented by Montenegro (presented 15.12.2008) and Albania (28.04.2009) and Iceland (16.07.2009).

The Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

The conclusions of a European Council a few years ago (2007) called on the European Commission to develop a Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. A corresponding resolution was approved in the European Parliament a year earlier.

In general the goal of this new EU internal initiative is to draw together previous policies based on the specific needs of the Baltic Sea region. The statement prepared for the Commission in June 2009 clearly outlines the topics that the strategy addresses. There are four primary points—the environment, competitiveness, infrastructure, and the safety of the maritime environment. The consensus reached during the course of consultations organised by the European Commission over the last year is that the condition of the Baltic Sea maritime environment is still not acceptable and although the competitiveness of the macro-region as a whole is good, there are shortcomings in the infrastructure and, to give one example, issues with the implementation of the four freedoms of the EU internal market.

As a whole, the Baltic Sea Region Strategy also looks to the future. Although existing regional co-operation is already quite strong, encompassing many dozens of regional organisations, the goal of the strategy could be considered more focused co-operation, turning attention to the most troublesome issues in the EU and the Baltic Sea region countries.

The Northern Dimension

The external aspects of the EU's internal Baltic Sea Strategy are covered in the project-based Northern Dimension, which has been active since 1999. Its members are the European Union, Russia, Norway, and Iceland as equal partners. We are active in the Northern Dimension's social partnership and act as observers in environmental partnership.


EU Energy and climate policy
In March 2007, the European Council approved an energy action plan for the years 2007-2009, which prescribed the following concrete energy and climate policy objectives for the EU member states:

Increase renewable energy use in the EU to 20% of total energy use by the year 2020
Increase biofuel use to 20% of total energy use by the year 2020
Achieve a 20% conservation of energy by the year 2020 (according to current estimates of energy usage)
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by the year 2020, given that other industrialised nations endeavour to do the same
Fulfil a unilateral obligation to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2020 regardless of what other nations endeavour to do.
As a continuation of the action plan, in September of the same year a packet of concrete goals was published regarding the EU's internal market, and in January 2008 concrete goals were established in climate and energy matters. Agreements were reached on both of those matters during France's presidency in the second half of 2008.

In the fall of 2008, the European Commission published their Second Strategic Energy Review, which focused on energy security and the external dimensions of the EU's energy policy. Along with the review, the Commission also worked out an extensive energy packet, which has at its centre energy security and the energy effectiveness that is extremely important for achieving security. One of Estonia's key issues is also addressed in the packet – specifically, the creation of an urgently needed infrastructure, which includes in its list of priorities the Baltic Interconnection Plan. Energy security will also be one of the primary topics of the European Council in the spring of 2009.

From the beginning, Estonia has supported a common EU energy policy. Estonia supports the development of a common EU internal energy market and moving towards a more sustainable economy through EU-regulated climate goals. The EU's climate and energy policy goals pose a challenge for us, but they are attainable. We find that similarly ambitious progress should be made internally by the EU on a coherent foreign energy policy based on the European Commission's recent proposals. We also believe that the EU should seriously and practically address the issue of energy security in member states as well as the union as a whole.

European Neighbourhood Policy

The European Neighbourhood Policy is one of the EU's most vital policies, which can influence the development of the EU's new neighbour states in areas such as political and economic reform, institutional development, drafting of new legislation, etc.

In order to encourage reform endeavors in its neighbouring nations, the EU must send a clear message as to the vital importance of fulfilling reform and neighbour policy goals and co-operation perspectives, and also offer them more clear and abundant opportunities to succeed. It is Estonia's objective that the EU will reach a consensus regarding attitudes toward aspiring member states, and that the Neighbourhood Policy will gain strength. In development talks for the European Neighbourhood Policy, Estonia has emphasised the need for progress in the areas of economic and trade co-operation, visa facilitation, working through frozen conflicts, and more frequent co-operation regarding energy.

A critical facet of the EU's Neighbourhood Policy is the degree of the EU's willingness to furnish the philosophy of its four main freedoms to its neighbouring nations. A sectoral approach would be a good method for disclosing these main freedoms to our partners. Neighbouring states should have clarity and perspective regarding what will occur once they reach a certain goal or milestone (for example, if they fulfill specifications set forth by the European Neigbourhood Policy). Estonia also believes that the most important factor of all is the commitment shown by the neighbouring state.

Estonia thinks it is essential to develop an active communication format with the ENP's eastern countries. By developing the Eastern Dimension, the EU is confirming that it will address and intensify relations will all eastern countries of the ENP. It will act as a format for sharing experiences and will ensure the transparency of EU policy concerning all eastern nations.

The Eastern Dimension must be flexible enough to allow an individual approach to partner nations, permitting the EU to move more quickly with the nations that are prepared for it. The relations of the partner state with the EU should depend on the partner state's homework and capabilities, not its locations and historical affiliations. It is very important to progress quickly will the more successful nations. The financing of partner states should become more and more achievement-based, and the more successful target nations must be given the chance to advance more quickly (for example, through intensified agreement bases or sectorial agreements).

The Eastern Dimension also gives us a better opportunity to intensify contacts with Central Asian countries, the so-called neighbours of our neighbours, and it is essential from an energy security standpoint.

Although we have more contacts and experiences with our neighbors to the east, we believe the EU's co-operation with neighbors to the south is equally important.

The European Union and Russia

Russia's hostility towards Georgia in August of 2008 and its occupation of Georgian territory, in addition to its recognition of the independence of the separatist regions, have dramatically changed the security situation in Europe. Estonia still considers a unified European Union Russia policy to be very important, but we must seriously evaluate our long-term perspective for relations with Russia. Russia's aggression in Georgia is indicative of Russia's aggressive foreign policy, and therefore the European Union needs to consider both our own rhetoric as well as co-operation with Russia. Estonia is in favour of a profound analysis of EU-Russia relations. First and foremost, we must think about whether the EU and Russia still share common values.

Estonia believes that all co-operation projects should be re-negotiated, depending on whether the peace plan of 12 August is fulfilled by Russia.

At the same time, it is important for Estonia that practical co-operation with Russia continues, especially cross-border co-operation and projects related to environmental protection. Contacts between regular citizens are important as well.

Within the context of the European Union, the same issues are still important to Estonia, namely energy, environment, investments and their protection, co-operation in the shared neighbourhood, cross-border co-operation, justice system co-operation, and immigration.

Co-operation in the shared neighbourhood has an even greater significance in this new situation—from Estonia's standpoint, the European Union should give a stronger message of support to countries in the neighbourhood. Those countries that are interested must be able to comprehensively integrate their systems with those of the European Union.

Immigration

Illegal immigration has been an important topic on the EU agenda for quite some time, primarily due to the problems that stem from illegal immigration and the increasing deficit of workers, a condition which calls for legal immigration to be facilitated. The further development of Europe’s immigration policy is one of the priorities of EU interior issues today. Sweden will also place emphasis on this topic as the European Union presidency in the second half of 2009. During the French presidency in December of 2008, the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum was approved, and now a new strategic EU justice and interior policy programme is being prepared under the guidance of the Swedish, which will outline the action plan of this realm for the years 2010-2014. Immigration plays an important part in it.

The European Union would also like to continue creating the Common European Asylum System. This means dividing the responsibility for re-settling immigrants among member states according to each state’s capabilities and the equal treatment of immigrants in all member states. In 2010 work should begin for the European Asylum Support Office, which will support member states in practical co-operation regarding asylum concerns and co-ordinate the exchange of information among institutions that deal with asylum issues. It is also important to facilitate the migration of the work force and to bring the skills of newcomers together with the needs of the job market in the new country of residence.

Immigration policy and its future is as important and sensitive a topic for Estonia as it is for the rest of Europe. Estonia itself lacks serious problems related to immigration because there are not very many illegal immigrants or refugees, but we still consider addressing issues of immigration on the EU level and a common immigration policy to be extremely important. We are of the opinion that decisions about (legal) immigration should remain in the jurisdiction of each member state. The European Pact on Immigration as a set of principles for future initiatives and developments in the realm of immigration generally corresponds to Estonia’s ideas about immigration policy—it leaves the member states sufficient flexibility to oversee their own immigration.

Financial perspective

2007 marked the beginning of a new 7-year budgetary period for the EU, for which the member states agreed on a long-awaited general framework in December 2005.

Negotiations were complex, but Estonia is content with the results. During the budgetary period, Estonia will get over 4.5 billion euros from the EU budget (2004 standing price; estimated nominally 4.8 billion euros), of which close to 3.3 billion will go to regional aid, about 0.6 billion to rural life, and about 0.5 billion to support agriculture. Estonia will contribute about 0.9 billion euros to the EU budget over 7 years. In terms of structural funds, achieving eligibility for the VAT tax for municipal governments was an important success.

The budgetary agreement helps the EU develop and update policies, which help to resolve the new challenges presented in the EU: increasing the EU's competitiveness in the world, decreasing the gap in living standards between old and new member states, etc. Lifting the budgetary ceiling to 1,047% of the EU's national economy's gross income, reducing reimbursements and increasing cohesion plans for new states means that opportunities for development are increased for the less wealthy member states, and that the Union's economic equality is generally increased.

Since many countries were not satisfied with the results of the negotiations in December 2005, it was agreed to do a revision of the budget, which includes both EU expenses (including common agricultural policy) and income (including Britain's reimbursements). The European Commission received the assignment of carrying out a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the EU policies and budget and to report the results to the Council in 2008-2009. Consultations on the analysis of each member state's budget ended in June 2008, and an overview of the results of the consultations will be given by the European Commission at the end of 2008.

Estonia continues to prioritise the simplicity and clarity of the budget and the productive use of resources. We feel that the Union's budget should only be used to finance those activities that clearly benefit from financing on the EU level. The budget should harmonise with the EU's political priorities. The activities to be supported above all are the Lisbon Process and the improvement of the EU's competitiveness in the world. We feel that financing of research and development, innovation, and education are essential. The Union's future budget should certainly consider the new challenges standing before the EU—globalisation, climate change, energy security, and demographic situations. We also consider spending for the EU's common foreign and security policy important. We feel that a solidarity policy should focus first and foremost on less wealthy regions. However, in agriculture we believe that instead of direct support, the focus should be on developing rural life in general.

Public opinion

According to the Eurobarometer poll conducted in the autumn of 2007, the Estonian population generally has great faith in the European Union - 80% of those polled felt that belonging to the EU is beneficial for Estonia. Perceiving the benefit from being a member of the EU has continued to increase since the autumn of 2005, when 56% of citizens perceived there to be a benefit.

The share of citizens who consider belonging to the European Union to be a good thing has decreased slightly compared to spring – from 66% to 61%, being still above the average level of previous years.

The Eurobarometer poll also showed that Estonian citizens think the EU plays a positive role in Estonia in most significant areas—defense and foreign policy, the fight against terrorism, environmental protection, and economic matters. The EU is associated negatively with tax issues and rising prices.

Polls carried out regularly in Estonia by TNS Emori have shown that support for the EU among Estonian citizens has within the past three years remained consistently high, staying between 70-85%.


Estonians in European institutions

European Commission

In 2004 Commissioner Siim Kallas was nominated from Estonia to start work in the European Commission. His area of work includes administrative affairs, auditing, and anti-fraud. Siim Kallas is also one of the five vice presidents of the European Commission.

Ms. Maive Rute works as director for biotechnologies, agriculture and food in the European Commission's Directorate General for Research and Ms. Signe Ratso works as director of the European Commission Directorate General for Trade.

In January 2007 Dr Riina Kionka was appointed the Personal Representative for Human Rights (CFSP) of the SG/HR Javier Solana.

European Parliament

The second European Parliament elections for Estonia took place on 7 June 2009. For the first time in Estonia it was possible to cast one’s European Parliament vote over the internet during the advance voting period. Nearly 15% of voters took advantage of this opportunity. Compared with the European Parliament elections in 2004, voter participation rose from 26.8% to 43.2%.

Estonia has 6 representatives in the European Parliament: Mrs. Siiri Oviir and Mrs. Vilja Savisaar of the Centre Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe); Mrs. Kristiina Ojuland of the Reform Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe); Mr. Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union (European People's Party); Mr. Ivari Padar of the Estonian Social Democratic Party (Socialist Group); and independent candidate Mr. Indrek Tarand (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance).

The work of the Parliament takes place in various committees. Currently, there are 20 permanent committees in the European Parliament. Among Estonian envoys, Tunne Kelam and Kristiina Ojuland belong to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ivari Padar belongs to the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, Siiri Oviir to the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, as well as to the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, Vilja Savisaar to the Committee on Transport and Tourism, and Indrek Tarand to the Committee on Constitutional Affairs.

Other institutions

In 2004 Mr. Uno Lõhmus was nominated from Estonia as a judge to the European Court of Justice, and in 2009 his term was extended for another 6 years. Mrs. Küllike Jürimäe has been named a judge to the Court of First Instance until 2010.

The representatives of different fields of Estonian economic and social life are members of the European Economic and Social Committee, and Estonian local governments participate in the work of the Committee of the Regions. Estonia has 7 members in both committees. The composition of the committees is renewed every four years.
The Estonian representative in the Court of Auditors is Ms. Kersti Kaljulaid, whose mandate lasts until 2010.
 
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