Estonia preparing for EU presidency (3)
In anticipation of Estonia assuming the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2018, the preparations have begun. Matti Maasikas, the Estonia's Ambassador to the EU, told ERR that holding the presidency is like a “matriculation exam” for the country.
The task of the presidency is to ensure coordination and consistency in the decision-making process of the European Council and to facilitate negotiations with the European Parliament and European Commission.
Estonia will employ approximately 1,300 dedicated civil servants to accomplish this task – about 1,000 of them will deal with the policies and 300 as supporting personnel. The army of professionals will have to lead 200 working groups, make preparations for processing between 500-700 bills, and organize 1,600-2,000 official meetings.
Half of the 1,000 officials will be working as group or deputy heads, and about 200 will have to be based in Brussels, doubling the number of Estonians currently working at the Estonian representation to the EU. However, despite increasing the number of civil servants in Brussels, Estonia is not planning to expand its existing one, or rent new offices in Brussels – more people have to share the same floor space.
During the current coalition talks between the Reform Party, Social Democrats and IRL, there have been discussions about creating a European affairs' minister position in the new cabinet, with the special responsibility of preparing for EU presidency.
Matti Maasikas is convinced that in order to ensure smooth presidency, Estonia needs a dedicated minister. “Holding the presidency of the EU is like a matriculation exam for Estonia and it needs an excellent outcome. None of the ambitious projects in Estonia have succeeded, nor will succeed, without a political lead. And none of the countries previously holding the EU presidency have done it without a minister of European affairs,” Maasikas said.
The former EU commissioner Siim Kallas is rumored to be one of the candidates for the job, but this would effectively rule him out running for President of Estonia, when the position becomes vacant in 2016.
The presidency will cost Estonian tax payer at least 74 million euros, most of it will be spent on organizing meetings and events in Estonia, but 4 million euros will be allocated for presenting cultural events in Brussels and other European capitals. By comparison, Estonia's neighbor Latvia, who is currently hosting the EU presidency, spent 9 million euros for cultural programs and bought a new residence for its representation in Brussels.
In addition to EU presidency, Estonia is also celebrating the centenary anniversary of its independence in 2018, adding extra pressure for various institutions.