Thanks to President Juncker for his ambitious, clear and most of all, thoughtful speech. I am speaking here on behalf of the Estonian Presidency, not the Council that can obviously not have a position on the speech.
The last couple of years have taught us a lesson or two:
We, who care for our Union, we must have the courage to make the positive case for the EU. It is not only the right thing to do, but may even pay off in elections.
We should not be afraid of speaking of the cost of non EU, of the consequences of - so far, only hypothetical - rolling back some advantages of European integration.
We must keep looking for issues, initiatives, ways that unite us, and not those that pose a risk of dividing Member States. We should look for initiatives that balance things, build bridges. For instance, it would be much easier to talk about the EU's social pillar – which the Estonian Presidency will duly take forward – if we simultaneously took real steps in deepening the single market, in particular in the field of services. Not only better-paid jobs but also better access to these jobs.
Of course we must keep developing the EU. And in doing this, we must not forget that this time around, in 2017, it is not the institutional setup that is the most important (it is important, of course), but reshaping the institutions must go hand in hand with providing concrete benefits, concrete things for our citizens.
Our citizens must be at the centre of our attention. Delivering concrete benefits for our citizens – that’s what the Estonian Presidency is striving for.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the last several years, we have all been working on building a Digital Single Market. The free movement of data is one of its cornerstones.
We need to ensure that European citizens and businesses are able to benefit from data, and that we create no new barriers to a Single Market.
As with the EU’s other freedoms, free movement does not mean a freedom from rules. Next year, new EU personal data protection rules come into force, and we look forward to starting work on the Commission’s new proposal on the free flow of data. Thank you, President Juncker, for this proposal. Member States have repeatedly emphasised that legislation in this area is necessary. The Estonian Presidency now moves swiftly with discussions among the Member States.
As we grow Europe’s data economy and enter the era of the internet of things, cyber security becomes a matter for everyone. We welcome the renewal of the EU Cybersecurity Strategy. Cyber security is a challenge that cannot be tackled by any Member State on its own.
We all need to fulfil our responsibilities by fully implementing existing EU legislation, and we must deploy all parts of our toolbox working on the new legislation, and engaging with the private sector.
The EU also has an important global role to play, setting international norms, pursuing cyber criminals, standing up for European values such as freedom and privacy, guiding the development of the global market for secure products and services, and reacting to states that sponsor and support malicious cyber activity. The EU Heads of State and Government will address these key issues at the Tallinn Digital Summit on 29 September.
Ladies & Gentlemen
I earlier listed some recent lessons for the EU. We have also learned that while strengthening the EU internally is of course key for the health and functioning of the Union itself, at the same time, to be and to appear strong, the EU also needs to remain engaged and open to the outside world. We are a model to a number of countries in our neighborhood and we should not forget this. The EU’s transformative power is still very much there. The Eastern Partnership Summit in November is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our neighbours’ positive transformation.
In the field of trade, the EU must perform a tough balancing act. We welcome the message that we can now proceed with free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, thus expanding the network of liberal trade relations in this globalised world.
The Commission has trodden a long path with its reflection paper on Harnessing Globalisation and deserves to be commended for that. With regard to the proposals about investments and the Multilateral Investment Court, as the holder of the Presidency, we would make our best efforts to proceed in the best possible way to build the consensus among the Member States in a manner that will enable the EU to continue its leading role in trade policy.
And now to migration, the crisis of which shook the fundamentals of the EU, and showed that the EU does not really possess a headquarters to manage acute, operational crises. The EU doesn´t have a General, if you will. This is not to say that we haven´t achieved a lot. The work on the external dimension is ongoing, and maybe for the first time, the Union is using all the tools in its foreign policy toolbox - assistance, development, military operation, enlargement policy even etc. The Estonian Presidency is working hard on migration issues, not least while carrying forward work with the asylum system (CEAS) reform.
On legal migration, we eagerly started working with the European Parliament on the Blue Card directive. On security, we are ready to engage with the Parliament on ETIAS and hopefully on SIS initiatives. And, of course, we hope that an inclusive and ambitious Permanent Structured Cooperation in the field of defence can be launched by the end of this year.
Ladies & Gentlemen,
The speech by President Juncker and the debate we have had so far show us once more that in our Union, there is much more of what unites us than what creates tensions. Estonia, a country that was deprived of the advantages of the first 40 years of European integration, feels that particularly deeply. And that is the compass while we act as a Member State and especially while we are performing the duties of the Presidency of the Council of the EU. With the wind in our sails.