A high-ranking Estonian official responsible for EU affairs has denied claims alleging that the British offer to provide its experts to help Estonia with the EU presidency in the second half of next year represents an attempt to influence Brexit negotiations.
"The claim made in the Politico article to the effect that Brits are influencing us is a pure invention," Klen Jäärats, director for European Union Affairs at the Government Office, told BNS.
American political-journalism website Politico reported on Thursday that the UK had launched a behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort to influence EU affairs during the Brexit process by offering to lend officials to Malta and Estonia, two small countries that will hold the bloc's presidency next year.
The fact that Estonia will be borrowing experts for its presidency from other member states and EU institutins was known long before the Brexit referendum was held, said Jäärats.
"We'll take the most experts from within EU institutions and a big portion of these experts are Estonians," he added.
Likewise, the UK is definitely not the only country from which Estonia will be borrowing experts, noted the official.
"When it comes to national experts, we've spoken of ten or so people; when it comes to Brits, of about five," said Jäärats. "In addition, we've seen to it that when it comes to fields that are too sensitive, we won't be asking for help on those from Brits, but from Austrians or Germans, for instance."
The Estonian official also emphasized that the UK has never forced its experts upon Estonia but has instead asked what the areas are in which Estonia would need outside experts.
"If fact, they have never offered that we will send you this and that and that," Jäärats clarified. "On the contrary — they have asked what we need, that as you took over our presidency, we have a certain sympathy for you," he said in referenceto the timetable of presidencies prior to the Brexit vote which would have seen the UK hold the presidency of the EU in the second half of 2017.
British experts not to be utilized in areas sensitive in Brexit context
"These are not the so-called hard domains, which everyone fears that Brits will start dominating now," said Jäärats. "This will not have absolutely anything to do with the Brexit talks; this will not have to do with the financial sector."
He noted that the area that Estonia is interested in is combating terrorism, in which the UK has solid know-how, and pointed out that the Europol chief and the European Commissioner dealing with the topic of terrorism are both from the UK.
"It would be very useful to us if they would give us background information on this, because they are among the best in the world at this," he said.
Jäärats named four more topics in which Estonia could ask for the help of UK: negotiations on EU development aid for Africa, design of the energy market, export credit as well as maritime affairs and relations with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is headquartered in London.
Estonia meanwhile has been asked for help too. Austria, which is scheduled to take over the presidency from Estonia, has asked for Estonia's assistance with maritime affairs. Estonia in turn has asked Austria to help with a work group involved with exotic fruits and vegetables.
Jäärats noted that it is common practice in the EU for experts from other member states to work in the team involved with the presidency of the EU. Estonia, for instance, had representatives in the presidency teams of both Latvia and Luxembourg, and other countries have approached Estonia as well hoping to obtain valuable experience.
The country that sends its representative to serve in the presidency team of another member state covers the remuneration and mission costs of that official.
"All we offer is a workplace, a computer and a telephone," added Jäärats.
Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla