Estonian Presidency priorities discussed in committee
The priorities of the Estonian Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers are being outlined to parliamentary committees by ministers in a series of meetings taking place in July.
International Trade: regain people’s trust in free trade
The Presidency wants to advance with several negotiations, open new markets for European businesses, but at the same time regain citizen’s trust in free trade, Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Minister Urve Palo told the International Trade Committee on 11 July. The Presidency is determined to resolve “tough issues” regarding the modernisation of the EU’s trade defence instruments, currently under negotiation with EU ministers.
MEPs emphasised that making the EU Commission’s negotiating mandates public would greatly contribute to transparency.
Transport and Tourism: road transport, digital solutions, aviation
To pave the way for adopting the “Mobility package” before the end of the current parliamentary term, the Presidency will seek quick progress on working conditions and market access in road transport, Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Minister Kadri Simson told Transport and Tourism Committee MEPs on 11 July. Digitalisation will help cut administrative costs and fraud (such as letterbox companies), she added.
Mrs Simson also hopes for an agreement on aviation safety rules by the end of November.
Culture and Education: how to take advantage of the digital revolution
Implementation of Erasmus+ as well as updating teaching methods to take full advantage of new technologies are among Presidency priorities, Education and Research Minister Mailis Reps told the Culture and Education Committee on 11 July.
An agreement on the European Audiovisual Media Services Directive and better rules to tackle illicit trade of cultural goods are also priority files for the next six months, Culture Minister Indrek Saar said.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs: migration, refugees’ relocation, security
Migration will continue to be at the forefront, with the aim of establishing a proper asylum system combined with rigorous border controls and an effective returns policy, said Interior Minister Andres Anvelt to the Civil Liberties Committee on 10 July. He considered the relocation of all eligible asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy by September feasible.
In the face of “clear and very real” terrorist threats, the EU must improve the interoperability of its databases and make efforts on de-radicalisation. The financing of terrorism will also be high on the agenda, added Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu.
Foreign Affairs: migration and Eastern partnership
Setting up a comprehensive approach to migration and reinforcing the eastern vector of EU external policy are priority issues, Foreign Affairs Minister Sven Mikser told Foreign Affairs Committee on 11 July. Several MEPs raised concerns about Turkey’s EU accession talks, with plenary having recently reaffirmed that negotiations should be suspended if changes to the Turkish constitution go ahead. Turkey continues to be an EU candidate country and we need to maintain an open dialogue, Mr Mikser said.
EU-LAC summit (San Salvador, October), the 5th Eastern Partnership summit (November) and the 5th EU-Africa summit (Abidjan, November) were listed as important chances to try to solve major pending crises worldwide.
Agriculture and Rural Development: CAP reform, ending unfair trade practices
Securing an agreement with the Parliament on the so-called Omnibus regulation to modernise the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a top priority, Rural Affairs Minister Tarmo Tamm told Agriculture Committee on 11 July. The Presidency also wants to improve the situation of agricultural markets, protect agricultural soils and fight antimicrobial resistance.
MEPs stressed the CAP will be able to deliver only if it is adequately financed and called on the Presidency to support Parliament in its quest for an EU law to do away with unfair trading practices in the food supply chain.
Industry, Research and Energy: energy, 9th research programme, digital market
Opening negotiations on a few important energy and telecommunication files, completing the work on the digital single market as well as preparing the ninth Research framework programme were presented as priority actions to the Industry, Energy and Research Committee by Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Minister Kadri Simson, Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Minister Urve Palo and Education and Research Minister Mailis Reps, on 11 July.
MEPs also raised questions about the future of EU industrial strategy and space policy as well as free flow of data in the EU.
Environment, Public Health and Food Safety: ETS, LULUCF
On July 11, Environment Minister Siim Kiisler said that the Presidency will push forward EU policy to deliver on the Paris climate change targets and is committed to making substantial progress on climate policy files, such as the reform of the emissions trading system (ETS), the effort‑sharing regulation (ESR), aviation ETS and the legislation on land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF).
Health and Labour Minister Jevgeni Ossinovski said that the Presidency would like to promote coordination on e-health cross-border cooperation, in the framework of the Digital Single Market.
Legal Affairs: copyright, family law, insolvency
Digital change is at the core of the Presidency’s priorities, Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu, told Legal Affairs Committee MEPs on 12 July. Progress on copyright reform is high on the agenda. However, it remains to be seen if an agreement between Parliament and Council can be reached during the Presidency, Minister Reinsalu said.
MEPs highlighted the importance of making progress in the revision of the Brussels II regulation on family law and the insolvency directive.
Fisheries: North Sea, Adriatic
Sustainable management of fish stocks and the protection of the oceans are the two key priorities in this field, Environment Minister Siim Valmar Kiisler told the Fisheries Committee on July 12.
Mr Kiisler said the Presidency will start negotiations on the North Sea multiannual plan and the technical measures regulation as soon as the EP plenary approves its position, as well as try to move discussions forward on the Multiannual plan for the small-pelagic stocks in the Adriatic.
Women’s rights and gender equality: gender-based violence, pay gap, parental leave
Combating gender-based violence will remain a focal point, Health and Labour Minister Jevgeni Ossinovski told the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee on July 12. The Presidency priorities will also include promoting gender equality by reducing discrimination and stereotyping that cause the gender pay gap, segregation in education and on the labour market.
Finally, the Presidency supports balancing work and family life, including through regulations on parental and paternity leave.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection: creating a Digital Europe
Advancing on the Digital Single Market and the Single Market Strategy proposals will be high on the agenda, Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Minister Kadri Simson told the Internal Market Committee on 12 July. Geo-blocking, the Services Package and the Compliance Package were among the high priority files mentioned by the Minister. On type approval for cars, Ms Simson told MEPs that the presidency is committed to taking forward the negotiations.
Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Minister Urve Palo highlighted the importance of e-commerce, e-government and cybersecurity, which should be a “key strength” of European industry.
Regional Development: the future of cohesion policy
Cohesion policy is a cross-sectorial topic that contributes to various policies in the EU and is linked to many of the Presidency priorities, said Public Administration Minister Jaak Aab to the Regional Development Committee on 12 July. Mr Aab also listed as priorities in the field: proceeding with discussions on simplification, efficiency and the future of the EU cohesion policy and starting negotiations with MEPs on the Omnibus regulation.
Mr Aab promised that the Presidency “will do its utmost to inform EU citizens on the positive impact of cohesion policy and its main achievements”.
Economic and Monetary Affairs: fiscal coordination, EFSI, anti-money laundering
“Economic growth is strong and uncertainty has receded. We should take advantage of the present favourable economic and financial conditions to coordinate fiscal and economic policies and focus on more decisive political reforms promoting growth, as in the country specific recommendations”, said Finance Minister Toomas Tõniste to Committee MEPs on 11 July.
He also listed the extension of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), the completion of the Banking Union, the Capital Markets Union and finalising the negotiations on anti-money laundering rules as key priorities.
Development: prevention of crises and education for refugees
The Presidency wants to focus on preventing crises by strengthening the resilience of fragile countries, thus increasing their ability to withstand natural and man-made disasters, Foreign Affairs Minister Sven Mikser told the Development Committee on 12 July. Providing education for displaced people, especially children, and making humanitarian aid more effective through digital solutions are also among the Presidency’s priorities.
MEPs voiced concerns about the situation of refugees in Italy, called for more solidarity from member states and emphasised that, in emergencies, the humanitarian perspective should always prevail over bureaucratic considerations.
Constitutional affairs: Brexit, transparency, seats in the EP
The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, transparency in the EU institutions, and the redistribution of seats in the European Parliament were some of the key issues that Deputy Minister for EU affairs Matti Maasikas discussed with the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 12 July. Mr Maasikas said that the Estonian government is committed to follow the path of previous Presidencies, as well as to advance with important legislative files, such as the revision of the European electoral law and the European Parliament’s right of inquiry.
He finally thanked MEPs for Parliament’s March resolution on Brexit, underlining that it had helped the Council to consolidate its position on this complex subject.
Employment and Social Affairs: posted workers and social benefits
EU ministers should reach an agreement in October on very complex and highly divisive draft changes to rules on posted workers and negotiations with MEPs could follow shortly, said Minister of Labour and Health Jevgeni Ossinovski to the Employment Committee on 13 July. He repeated the Presidency’s call for “unity through balance” and emphasised the importance of introducing the best practices of digital society to improve social Europe.
Coordination of social security systems with transparent, easy to understand and easy to implement rules on access to social benefits throughout the EU, including long-term care and family allowances, were the priorities presented by Minister of Social Protection Kaia Iva.
Federico DE GIROLAMOPress Officer