On 1 July 2017, Estonia took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, marking the first time Estonia has held the Presidency since they joined the EU in 2004. Member States holding the Presidency work together in groups of three, called ‘trios.’ The trio sets out long-term goals and prepares a common agenda determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over an 18-month period. On this basis, each of the three countries prepares its own detailed six-month programme. The Estonian Presidency is the first phase of the current trio and will be succeeded by Bulgaria and Austria.
Estonian Presidency Briefing
On Thursday, 13 July 2017, European Movement Ireland held its second Presidency Briefing of the year. The Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee TD, and the Ambassador of Estonia to Ireland, H.E. Kristi Karelsohn, were in attendance to provide an overview and discuss Estonia’s priorities for the Presidency of the Council of the EU and Ireland’s current relations with the European Union.
Ambassador Karelsohn acknowledged that the EU faces many challenges at present, including the migration and refugee crisis and with the Eurozone, as well as Brexit. However, Estonia wants to “avoid Brexit being at the centre of [its] Presidency”, instead focusing on completing the Digital Single Market, among other areas. The Ambassador stated her belief that “the free movement of data is the fifth freedom of the EU” and that it has the capacity to make the four freedoms of the EU (the free movement of people, goods, services and capital) easier and more affordable.
Minister McEntee praised Estonia for placing emphasis on a Digital Europe, as well as for its priorities, which she believes are “realistic and achievable”. She recalled the Irish government’s objective of achieving a “close ongoing relationship between the EU and the UK” after Brexit. The Minister stressed the need to emphasise the non-economic benefits of EU membership, and concluded that Ireland’s “future [will be] at the heart of the EU”.
The Estonian Presidency has stated that it aims to be knowledgeable, efficient, open and transparent. It will give special focus to digital solutions, an innovative economy, security, and preserving a clean environment.
Estonia has set out four priorities to address over the course of the six-month Presidency as follows:
An open and innovative European economy
The Estonian Presidency will support knowledge-based growth and competitiveness in order to stimulate an open and innovative European economy. Ensuring resources are provided to businesses to facilitate growth will be prioritised, with new funding being made available from the EU budget. Estonia will focus on securing a stable and well-functioning electricity market and will endeavour to redesign it. Fair competition will be safeguarded by preventing tax evasion.
The Estonian Presidency will protect and promote the EU’s four freedoms. It has said that it believes open borders create better opportunities and encourage cross-border mobility.
A safe and secure Europe
The Estonian Presidency will work with its European partners to ensure the safety of EU citizens. Internal security as well as the EU’s external borders will be reinforced to counter the threat of terrorism and organised crime. This will be further strengthened by using cutting-edge information systems.
Work will continue on alleviating the migration and refugee crisis, including further engagement with countries outside the EU, as well as on reforming the Common European Asylum System.
Increased expenditure will be allocated from the EU budget to defence cooperation. Estonia has stated its support for the creation of a European Defence Fund, as recently proposed by the European Commission. Relations with NATO and the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) will be developed and strengthened.
A Digital Europe and the free movement of data
Estonia intends to increase Europe’s capacity to avail of the benefits of technological progress. Digital technology will be used as a tool to make governance more effective. Cross-border digital public services will be advanced to better facilitate everyday life for EU citizens.
Cross-border e-commerce and e-services will be developed. Modern and secure electronic communications will be made more readily available across Europe to assist new innovative services.
An inclusive and sustainable Europe
Rules governing equal opportunities for EU citizens will be reassessed and modernised in order to promote labour mobility and the free movement of people. Social inclusion and equal opportunities in the labour market will be ensured. The Estonian Presidency will also focus on safeguarding a greener and more sustainable environment in the EU.