Prime Minister Jüri Ratas took place today in a Parliament debate to sum up the achievements of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU. July to December 2017 marked the first time Estonia held the rotating presidency since joining the EU.
One of the best Presidencies
One of Estonia’s main priorities was tapping the full potential of Europe’s Digital Single Market, which it did through holding the first EU Digital Summit in September 2017, as well as agreeing a mandate on a proposal to facilitate the free flow of non-personal data within the EU within only a few months. “Europe has to seize the momentum and make use of new technology to regain our place in the world as a leading digital society”, Ratas said.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker branded the Estonian presidency very successful and very European, calling it one of the best prepared and most professional run presidencies he had seen. He said how he thought small countries often host the best presidencies as they are more natural bridge builders.
MEP Luke Flanagan criticised the Presidency by drawing a comparison between Estonia’s independence and Catalonia, asking where the rule of law was when people were “bloodied” and denied their democratic voice. “Ireland has done well with independence, ye have done well with independence, why stop Catalonia doing the same? Why not mention it here?”
A list of successes
Prime Minister Ratas stated that “six months ago, I stood before this Parliament and promised that the first Estonian presidency would work towards a Europe where every voice is heard.”
“Although European Union [sic] is growing stronger and more united, let us not forget that after the Brexit referendum and before key elections in Europe, the year was full of confusion and pessimism.” He said the EU had turned a new page. “The wind is again in the sails of the European Union”.
He argued that the EU had moved from crisis management to migration management. “We are no longer putting out fires, but focusing on long term solutions”, he said. The reform of the common European asylum system was a “real challenge”, but progress was made and Ratas was “convinced” a solution would be found under the Bulgarian presidency, as well as continuing work on all other unfinished files.
Parliament no longer “ridiculous?”
The last such debate concluding Malta’s EU presidency in July 2017 became infamous because of Juncker branding the Parliament as “ridiculous”. He vowed to never again attend a debate with an almost empty Parliament chamber. “If Mr Muscat was Mrs Merkel, difficult as that is to imagine, or Mr Macron…We would have a full house.”
Despite relatively few MEPs attending, there was no such occurrence this time.