Estonia: Brexit talks won’t distract EU from digital, security issues

Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas will chair a 'digital summit' with other EU leaders on Friday. The meeting is sandwiched between a series of elections and major political announcements. [European Parliament]

The premier of Estonia, which has taken over the six-month EU Council presidency, made it clear once again on Wednesday (5 July) that the EU-27 was moving forward on key issues like security, defence and digitalisation regardless of the pace and outcome of Brexit talks.

Outlining Estonia’s priorities for the presidency in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said:

“We are sad to see the UK withdraw from the EU. It is a loss for the EU and for the UK and I hope that the UK will remain a close friend.”

“However, one of the presidency tasks is also to make sure the EU-27 continues to work and deliver for our future. We will not let Brexit negotiations dominate our work and prevent us from achieving results,” the Estonian leader told the Parliament’s plenary session.

Historic talks on the UK’s divorce from the Union started in Brussels on 12 June, with the two sides agreeing to tackle the issues of London’s outstanding financial obligations, the rights of the EU and UK citizens living abroad, and Ireland’s border with Northern Ireland.

But despite good will demonstrated by the two chief negotiators, it was clear that there remained a lot of ground to cover in less than two years and that differences on some issues, particularly citizens’ rights, remained big.

UK's May leaves EU summit empty-handed

British Prime Minister Theresa May put on a brave face at the end of an EU summit on Friday (23 June), insisting she had made a “fair and serious” offer to her European partners and that all aspects of Brexit were still up for discussion. But the writing on the wall was unmistakable.

Digital priorities

Turning to Estonia’s priorities, Ratas said that, along with security, the need to “spend more and better on defence” and control the EU’s external borders, digital issues would be very high on the agenda.

“We are committed to delivering (the) Digital Single market in 2018, but we must also look further afield, which is why we have a digital dimension to almost every aspect of our presidency programme,” Ratas told the legislators.

“In Estonia, we think free movement of data is the fifth freedom in the EU. We will start a political debate in Europe on this essential freedom. Digital revolution is at the core of every challenge and opportunity Europe faces today.”

He said Europe needed “fast, seamless, always-on connectivity” and a fast rollout of 5G, the super fast, higher capacity broadband service, but stressed the strong need to respect “privacy, data protection and our digital identity”.

The ultimate aim, he said, was to digitalise all communication between citizens and administration.

“Once you have filled your tax declaration in just three minutes, while sitting by the river on a nice Sunday, you will never want to go back to paperwork,” the prime minister concluded.

Juncker 'depends' on Estonia's cybersecurity know-how

Council presidencies of “smaller member states are always the most effective,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday (30 June) in Tallinn, one day before Estonia takes over for a six-month leadership role that will focus on digital policies and EU unity.

Subscribe to our newsletters