Today, it is a great honour and pleasure for me to discuss with you our priorities for the second half of the year. The Conference of Committee Chairs and the Council Presidency have a well-established tradition of meeting each other before the start of the Presidency for a broad exchange of views on the European agenda. Together we must seek for best solutions in the interest of European citizens and businesses.
There is more optimism concerning the future of our union than a year ago. Our economy is growing again, the support for the EU has increased in all Member States and the 27 were able to smoothly agree on the declarations of Bratislava and Rome that show the direction for our union for the years to come. Debate on the future of Europe still remains an important topic. We must keep developing the institutional setup of the EU – and we have a number of files to work on with AFCO Committee – but now more than ever, in all our undertakings, we have to keep our citizens needs at the center of our attention. Delivering concrete benefits for our citizens is the overarching aim of the Estonian Presidency this year.
Our Presidency Priorities build on the Strategic Agenda of the European Council, are inspired by the spirit of the Bratislava summit and common goals formulated in Rome Declaration. Our programme is in line with and fully support the EU’s legislative priorities for 2017 set out in the Joint Declaration.
The equally important objectives for the Estonian Presidency are: open and innovative European economy, a safe and secure Europe, a digital Europe and free movement of data, as well as an inclusive and sustainable Europe.
Let me start with the open and innovative European Economy
An open Europe means creating better opportunities for the citizens and businesses. A strong Single Market is a key driver of economic welfare, but Single Market is not yet complete – much of the potential of European economy is still untapped.
Giving a new boost to jobs, growth and competitiveness, we need to unleash the full potential of the Single Market; create simple and predictable business environment and stable banking sector; advance trade negotiations; and take a step towards cleaner energy.
These objectives could be achieved by facilitating the freedom of establishment and cross-border mobility of companies. For this purpose, we would like to continue the discussions on the developments in European company law and we are ready to launch discussions on company law reform package the Commission intends to propose. We are also ready to take forward the Services Package.
The Economic and Monetary Union has been strengthened in recent years, but a number of projects are still ongoing. It is necessary to complete the second pillar of the European Banking Union by adjusting the rules for financial stability to manage and reduce risks. And we all know, the common deposit guarantee system must follow as well.
The Capital Markets Union also needs to be developed further – to make capital markets more diverse and effective for all Member States and to remove restrictions on the free movement of capital.
Agreement on the extension, expansion and reinforcement of European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) by 2020 will enhance strengthening investments and reduce investment gap in the EU.
Further, we aim to take forward the modernization of the taxation rules. We intend to concentrate our efforts on achieving progress with VAT e-commerce package which aims to lose the disadvantage that intra-EU sellers have in comparison to third country sellers. We intend to launch negotiations on the definitive cross-border VAT system to substitute the current temporary mechanism, which leaves scope for tax fraud. In addition, we will also start discussions on whether and how to impose mandatory rules on financial intermediaries and advisers to disclose tax avoidance schemes. We will take forward the discussions on Common Corporate Tax Base paying special attention to the challenges of digital economy.
We are looking forward to helping Europe make a step towards cleaner, more secure and smarter energy by paying attention to all elements of the Clean Energy Package and special effort to electricity market design as largest part of the Package.
Estonia also wishes to actively work on the new Road package initiatives to give its input to an open and well-functioning Road Transport Market.
We will continue a discussion on how the European budget can support the EU’s political objectives during the current and the next funding period. For the budget 2018 our aim is to reach a timely agreement with the European Parliament. The talks of the next MFF will not start during the Estonian presidency. But it will be well timed to take stock of many key EU policies with a view to the future.
In order to create new opportunities for European businesses, we are committed to advance the EU’s trade agenda. We aim to deliver multilaterally in WTO where the 11th Ministerial Conference takes place in December, as well as through plurilateral, for example Trade in Services Agreement, and bilateral trade agreements. With Japan, Mexico and Mercosur, amongst others. On legislative files, reaching an agreement on the new anti-dumping methodology in the WTO context will be of particular importance. We will also put an emphasis on the modernisation of Trade Defence Instruments.
[Safe and secure Europe]
Security and safety is what the citizens most expect from the EU. The situation in Europe and in its neighbourhood remains very challenging. Terrorism, organised crime and protection of the external borders remain a high priority. The migration crisis proves that Europe cannot ignore the events outside its borders and ongoing discussions on the topic show that without common understanding it is extremely difficult to provide effective solutions.
We believe internal and external security is indivisible. Estonia supports the High Representative in implementing the Global Strategy. We are ready to contribute to the strengthening of trans-Atlantic ties. We aim to support the implementation of the objectives of the European Neighborhood Policy. The immediate neighborhood in the East, the South as well as the Western Balkans requires close attention. A credible enlargement policy remains a strategic investment in the peace and democracy of the continent. We must reconfirm our political commitment to the Eastern Partnership. In addition to the Eastern Partnership Summit, we also aim to contribute to the preparations of the EU-CELAC Summit and EU-Africa Summit and wish to bring forward the internal discussions on the future of the relations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).
Europe needs to do more in security and defence. We intend to put greater emphasis on defence cooperation in order to enhance European military capabilities, including paying attention to the level of defence spending. Implementation of the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan (EDAP) will provide incentives for cooperation through EU funding. We hope for European Parliament’s support in setting up the European Defence Fund. EU-NATO cooperation, including tackling hybrid and cyber threats, must be enhanced in accordance with the Joint Declaration of July 2016.
We will continue to address root causes of irregular migration. Constant focus on the implementation of Partnership Framework and Valletta Action Plan remain essential. We are determined to put emphasis on implementing EU-Turkey statement, and the Malta Declaration to significantly reduce migratory flows from Libya and to break the business model of smugglers.
One of the main priorities for Estonia is the reform of the Common European Asylum System. The Presidency will make a real effort to continue the work of the Maltese Presidency, including on the most difficult issue of solidarity. We also aim to put emphasis on the return policy. As for legal migration, we hope to advance with the Blue Card directive as much as possible, hopefully conclude this important file. We do hope that cooperation with the European Parliament in negotiations on different migration and asylum files will be mutually supportive and effective.
Along with strengthening the protection of the EU’s external borders by improving cooperation between the institutions and Member States, we must continue creating modern IT-solutions for rapid exchange of information. We will continue the work towards interoperability of different IT systems and databases. Several of these legislative proposals are set out in the Joint Declaration and remain our priorities. Some of these we hope to have concluded before summer, such as the Entry-Exit System (EES). Last Friday, the Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted a general approach on European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and we hope we will have an agreement with the European Parliament on this very important file by the end of the year. Improvements to the Schengen Information System are crucial and should be delivered as a priority. We are glad to see that the European Parliament shares the ambitious timetable for this file.
Estonian Presidency will also focus on fight against terrorism and cross-border crime. EU needs to strengthen its capacity to counter money laundering and terrorism financing. We aim to agree on a general approach on the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).
The Estonian Presidency will continue to promote the modernisation and enhancing the effectiveness of the EU development cooperation, based on the New European Consensus for Development, the Agenda 2030 and the EU Global Strategy. Estonia wishes to particularly focus on mainstreaming the digitalization in development cooperation and enhancing resilience in EU’s near and broader Neighborhood.
[A digital Europe and free movement of data]
Perhaps what is least surprising is that Digital Europe is an overarching goal of the Estonian Presidency. We will prioritize digital files in nearly every Council formation.
To prepare the ground for Digital Europe, our focus is on the establishment of a Digital Single Market, increased use of digital solutions and data as well as on the development of cross-border e-services.
Estonia takes very seriously the target set by the European Council of completing all Single Market packages in 2018. This determination is firmly anchored in the trio programme as well. Therefore, we would like to conclude negotiations in the Council and move forward in cooperation with the European Parliament with a number of Digital Single Market Strategy files, copyright legislation, Audiovisual Media Services Directive, Electronic Communication Code, to name only few.
The e-Government Action Plan 2016-2020 aims to develop well-functioning cross-border digital public services to reduce administrative burden on business and citizens. Estonia intends to launch a discussion on long-term European plans for e-Government, culminating in a ministerial declaration on e-Government.
The EU is in the early stage of data-driven economy. Free movement of data is a crucial foundation for Digital Single Market and the European Economy. Estonia is planning a broad debate on the free movement of data, covering wide range of Data Economy topics from data localization restrictions to emerging issues such as data access and reuse of non-personal data. We expect the Commission to launch the first initiative for the free movement of data in autumn.
Trust and security are important cornerstones of a Digital Single Market. We aim to make progress on the Regulation on e-Privacy and complete the negotiations with the European Parliament on EU internal data protection rules. We also look forward to the renewal of the EU Cyber Security strategy.
The Estonian Presidency is planning a "Digital Summit" in Tallinn. In order to build a prosperous and sustainable future, Europe must embrace technological transformation and boldly seize the opportunities it offers. Rapid change and new technologies create challenges that need to be addressed, in cooperation, at the highest level.
[An inclusive and sustainable Europe]
In the light of the environmental and societal changes, inclusive and sustainable Europe is our goal for maintaining the quality of life for the European citizens. We can see how the development of information society is changing the nature of work. This calls for attention to be given to working conditions, development of skills as well as work-life balance and equal opportunities in labour market. We will work with the draft Accessibility Act to reach an agreement in the Council to raise the participation of people with disabilities in all spheres of life.
Europe must open up new opportunities for young Europeans. During our Presidency, discussions will focus on modernization of education and the EU cooperation in the field of youth work and youth policy from 2019 onwards. We acknowledge the high political priority of European Solidarity Corps and are fully committed to take the file further, hoping for a good collaboration with the European Parliament.
To facilitate free movement of persons and services, Estonia will continue working on social security coordination regulation. We will also continue negotiations on the posting of workers directive.
We welcome the Commission’s proposal for the inter-institutional proclamation on the Pillar of Social Rights. Together with the Parliament and the Commission, we will work towards agreeing on the joint proclamation.
A sustainable Europe cares about and contributes to cleaner environment and more balanced economic model. We regret the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. It will take some time to assess the actual impact of that step. However, it will not change the course of the EU. It is even more important now that the EU will stay committed to the Paris Agreement and the commitment of reducing 40% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We aim to make progress with all climate policy files – Emissions Trading Systems directive (ETS), including its aviation sector, Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), regulation on the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions and LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forestry). We look forward to smoothly cooperating with the Parliament in advancing those files.
An ambitious legislative package that amends six directives covering various aspects of waste management is currently being negotiated between the Council and the Parliament. We are committed to work closely together with the Parliament.
I am happy that already in the first week of our Presidency, on 5 July, our Prime Minister Jüri Ratas will attend together with Mr. Tajani and Mr. Juncker the second Joint Declaration 2017 monitoring meeting, in order to assess the state of play and progress made in its implementation. This will provide another important opportunity for 3 institutions to jointly discuss the EU priorities for the remaining year.
Needless to say – the European Parliament is an essential partner for the Council Presidency. We are looking forward to working closely with you over the next six months to achieve as much as possible.