Estonia in the European Union
It is in Estonia's interests to have the European Union economically competitive and politically weighty in the international arena. The main directions of the European Union policy of Estonia have been defined in the strategic frame document "The Estonian Government's European Union Policy for 2004-2006". Pursuant to that, Estonia strives to promote the common interests of Europe through five main objectives: the competitiveness and openness of Europe, effective economic and fiscal policy, economy and sustainability, closeness to the citizens, safety and security, worldwide promotion of democracy and well-being.
A new EU policy for the period 2007-2010 is under way.
The Estonian Government also establishes its short-term goals in the beginning of every EU presidency and reviews them after each presidency.
Ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe
On 9 May 2006 - Europe Day, the Riigikogu (Parliament) ratified the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. Estonia was the 15th country to ratify the Treaty. It is a message to Europe that the European values and political agreements contained in the Treaty are important for Estonia. We all wish that the European Union were more efficient and dynamic as well as better understood for its citizens. The EU needs a strong Treaty in order to address the modern challenges of the world.
After a setback in the ratification process of the Treaty, the Member States at the European Council of June 2005 decided to take a year for thinking over to find out how to proceed with the Treaty. Now the reflection period is over and it is in the interests of all Member States to implement the new treaty before the next European Parliament elections in 2009. The subject continues to be topical in all the European capitals.
The text of the Treaty is a compromise born with difficulty, reflecting the European Union's political reality today. Estonia considers it right to continue ratification in accordance with internal decisions of the Member States. It is only this way that we get an integral image of the situation based on which clear decisions can be made as regards the future of the Treaty.
Estonia attaches great importance to informing the public of the Treaty as it is also a good opportunity to raise the people's knowledge about the EU in general. The State Chancellery's EU Information Unit has the central role in the co-ordination of the informing process. An information plan has been outlined including different media projects, information days, the publication of fact sheets and brochures, training sessions for journalists and for the representatives of rural areas. An important role will be played by non-governmental organisations.
Estonia finds enlargement one of the EU's most successful policies. It has extended peace, stability and prosperity in Europe and we believe that those gains can be extended even further if the enlargement process continues.
Estonia consistently supports the EU's further enlargement and finds that the EU has to keep its commitments as regards to the enlargement as well as to the EU perspective promised to the Western Balkan countries in the Thessaloniki agenda (2003). We know from our own experience that the EU perspective is a significant source of motivation in the implementation of political and economic reforms for the countries in transition. Estonia, having recently joined the EU, is ready to share its experience with other countries aspiring to join the Union.
Estonia finds that the Member States should avoid negative rhetoric associated with the EU enlargement and make efforts to ensure that the positive facets of the enlargement be reflected equitably.
Energy has been on the forefront of the EU agenda for about a year, catalysed by the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis at the beginning of 2006. In March 2006 the European Commission issued a Green Paper for Energy (http://ec.europa.eu/energy/green-paper-energy/index_en.htm) and the subsequent European Council decided to kick-start the development of an Energy Policy for Europe (EPE). The Council also endorsed a paper by the Commission and Secretary General / High Representative Javier Solana which elaborates the external aspects of the energy issues (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/
2007 has also seen a key development - in January the Commission published a thorough energy package, consisting of a strategic energy review and relevant background documents (http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/index_en.htm). The European Council in March will adopt a relevant action plan. Estonia has been a vocal supporter of developing EPE from the start.
Energy resources in the European Union are scarce and dependence on imports growing rapidly, especially regarding oil and gas. This year, the EU produces only 18% of the oil necessary; the numbers are a bit more positive for gas (37%) and coal (54%). According to forecasts, Europe's energy dependence will rise from present-day 40% up to two thirds by 2030. It is thus crucial to focus on the security of supplies. In that respect, energy efficiency, renewables and battling climate change will be of vital importance and action by the member states will have to be taken in those areas.
EU Climate changes policy
There is growing scientific consensus that climate change is happening and main cause is the emission of greenhouse gases from human activity. Since the end 1990s, the EU has committed itself to perform a global leadership role as regards the fight against global warming. Estonia considers matters of climate changes very important.
In 1998 Estonia joined the protocol undersigned at Kyoto conference, according to which emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced in 2008-2012 by ca 8%, compared to the year 1990. By now 132 countries have ratified the Kyoto protocol.
The European Union has begun reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and now needs to develop its medium and long-term strategies for winning the battle against climate change, inside the European Union and together with the international community.
In climate changes matters Estonia supports also stronger co-operation with third countries. Stronger co-operation could be promoted through a strategic program for enhanced technology transfer and scientific co-operation on low greenhouse technologies in the field of energy, transport, industry and agriculture.
2007 marked the beginning of a new 7-year EU budgetary period on which the member states had come to the long-awaited agreement in December 2005. The European Parliament gave its approval to the perspective in June 2006. It was a significant outcome for the EU. Firstly, the failure to conclude an agreement would have meant difficulties in financing the EU policies. Secondly, the agreement proved that the enlarged union still functions and that 25 states are able to come to an agreement on complicated issues.
The negotiations were difficult but Estonia may be satisfied with the result. As a result of the negotiations Estonia receives from the EU budget ca 70 bln kroons (2004 constant price, nominally ca 75 bln kroons) of which ca 52 bln goes to structural aid, ca 9.5 bln to rural development, ca 8 bln to direct support for agriculture. Estonia funds the EU budget ca 100 bln kroons during the 7 year period.
In general, the agreement helps the European Union to develop and renew its policies which otherwise would have turned out to be most intricate, for example the growth of the EU's competitiveness in the world would have been hampered, also it would have been more difficult for the new EU Member Sates to catch up with living standards of the old member states.
One can also say that a fair financial plan attests to the fact that solidarity still has an important place in the EU. The raising of the budget ceiling up to 1.047% EU GNI, the reduction of the British rebate altogether by 10.5 bln euros and the increasing of cohesion funding for new Member States means that the outcome would ensure good conditions for development to poorer Member States and enhance in summary the economic unity of the Union. The decision to review the budget again in 2008/2009 in order to update the breakdown of expenditures and revenues was positive as well.
Joining the Schengen area is Estonian priority as we wish to ensure the rapid and complete free movement of Estonian citizens within the EU. The expansion of the Schengen area was originally intended for October 2007. Unfortunately, it was postponed because of technical problems in the introduction of the second-generation i.e. improved Schengen Information System (SIS II) which is an essential pre-condition for the new enlargement of the Schengen area.
In order to minimize the delay of the enlargement of the Schengen area, the Council of European Union adopted in December 2006 a temporary solution envisaging to extend the current (first-generation) Schengen Information System (SIS I) to the new member states. This decision enables to lift controls at the internal land and sea borders in December 2007 and at the airports in March 2008 at the latest. The development of SIS II continues in parallel.
In 2006 the evaluation procedure of the new member states was concluded in the field of border management, visa issuance and consular co-operation, police co-operation and data protection. To fulfil all the criteria for the accession to the Schengen area, the new member states are required to remove deficiencies and apply the recommendations pointed out in the evaluation reports. For Estonia it means eliminating the shortcomings at the border in Narva, at the airport of Tallinn and in the area of data protection.
The Lisbon process
Pursuant to the renewed Lisbon strategy, in the upcoming years like in the rest of Europe more attention has to be paid in Estonia to employment and to economic growth, productivity as well as the quality of work must be enhanced. To create new jobs a more business friendly environment for the establishment of new enterprises must be ensured. Simplification of legislation and reducing the administrative burden on entrepreneurs must remain a priority. The knowledge and skills of employees must correspond to the needs of the economy, for which purpose it is necessary to adjust the education system to the expectations of the labor market. Besides a high quality labor force, the use of new technologies is a basis for the growth in productivity. Here the fostering of innovation and of research and development is most important, as well as closer co-operation between research institutions and enterprises.
In order to carry out those purposes at the national level Estonia has worked out an Action Plan for Growth and Jobs (the Lisbon Strategy ) for 2005-2007. The two main goals of the Action Plan are the developing of the human resource and the promoting of research and development activities.
In October 2006, Member States presented Implementation Reports to the European Commission on progress of Lisbon process. On the assumption of these reports the commission published the annual progress reports.
According to the Commission's analysis Estonia's progress in implementing National Reform Programme for growth and jobs has been very good. Estonia is one of the six member states and the only member state of the 2004 enlargement round to whom the Commission has not proposed any formal country specific recommendations for policy corrections or better implementation of the Lisbon action plan.
However, Estonia needs to continue to fulfil its action plan without a delay if it wants to achieve the targets laid down in the Lisbon process agenda by 2010.
Free movement of labour
Free movement of labour is one of the EU's four basic freedoms and Estonia finds that it should be extended to the inhabitants of all Member States without any restrictions. Working in another member state is a valuable source for new skills and experiences, a win‑win situation for the employee as well as for the employer and the respective member states.
Estonia welcomes the decision taken by Finland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands who have also abolished their labour market restrictions in addition to the UK, Ireland and Sweden, whose labour market is opened already since 1 May 2004.
One of the priority areas for Estonia in the framework of the Northern Dimension has always been the protection and improvement of the environment of the Baltic Sea and its surrounding areas. As the ND aims at addressing the specific regional development challenges Estonia puts a particular emphasis on the projects regarding energy, transport and IT networks and infrastructure. The Northern Dimension has proved to be an indispensable forum for addressing issues like fighting against human trafficking and prevention and control of infectious diseases.
As of January 2007, two new basic documents came into force - The Political Declaration of the Northern Dimension Policy and the Northern Dimension Policy Framework Document.
The new framework document states that the Northern Dimension is now a common policy of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. The content of the policy has been linked to the Common Spaces of the EU and Russia: the Northern Dimension acts as the practical implementation of the Common Spaces that takes place in Northwest Russia.
In addition to the successful Northern Dimension Environment Partnership (http://www.ndep.org/) and the Partnership on Public Health and Social Well-Being (http://www.ndphs.org/), the political declaration also indicates two new potential focus areas for the ND - partnership on transport and logistics and cooperation in the field of energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Estonia finds it important to rebuild confidence among the EU's citizens in the European project. We have to demonstrate to our citizens that cooperativeness as well as co-operation ability in the enlarged EU persist.
According to the Eurobarometer poll conducted in the autumn of 2006, there is general positive approval in Estonia for greater openness towards single market, as well as globalisation: these processes are viewed as bringing more advantages than disadvantages.
Approximately 75 per cent of citizens believe that the EU plays a positive role in the world as regards environmental protection, the growth of world economy, as well as peace in the world. 70 per cent consider that the EU role is positive in fighting terrorism and 62 per cent that it is positive in fighting poverty in the world.
Regular surveys conducted in Estonia by TNS EMOR on the support to the European Union show a stable trend in the opinions of the Estonian population: throughout the past two years, the support rate has remained at about 60 to 70 per cent.
Estonians in European institutions
On 1 May 2004, Commissioner Mr. Siim Kallas nominated from Estonia started work in the European Commission, continuing work in the new Commission that took office on 22 November 2004 with his area of work including administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud. Concurrently, Siim Kallas is one of the five vice presidents of the European Commission. Also Marve Rute works as Director of the Directorate for Promotion of SMEs' Competitiveness at the Enterprise Diretorate General and Signe Ratso works as Principal Advisor of Trade Directorate General of the European Commission.
In January 2007, Dr Riina Kionka was appointed the Personal Representative for Human Rights (CFSP) of the SG/HR Javier Solana.
The European Parliament elections, which took place on 13 June 2004, were a new and significant experience for the Estonians. The European Parliament under a number of the EU's agreements has a continuously growing influence on the EU decision making process and in the light of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe its competence is about to grow even more, thus the decisions made by the citizens at the elections were of great importance.
Estonia has 6 representatives in the European Parliament: Mrs Katrin Saks, Mrs Marianne Mikko and Mr Andres Tarand of the Estonian Social Democratic Party (Socialist Group); Mrs Siiri Oviir of the Centre Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe); Mr Toomas Savi of the Reform Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and Mr Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria Union (European People's Party).
The work of the Parliament is performed in various committees. Currently, there are 20 permanent committees in the European Parliament. Among Estonian envoys, Mrs Marianne Mikko is a Member of the Committee on Culture and Education, as well as of the Committee on Fisheries, Mrs Katrin Saks belongs to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Andres Tarand - to the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, Mrs Siiri Oviir - to the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, as well as to the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, Mr Toomas Savi - to the Committee on Development and Mr Tunne Kelam - to the Committee on Regional Development.
From Estonia, Mr Uno Lõhmus from 1 May 2004 to 6 October 2009 has been nominated as a judge to the European Court of Justice and 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 being renewed every four years.
The Estonian representative in the Court of Auditors is Kersti Kaljulaid, whose mandate lasts till 2010.
More information: Estonian Permanent Representation to the EU