Martin Helme on European Council accord: It was a good result
Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) told ERR that Estonia can be largely satisfied with the result of the Special European Council, while there are also things that are less positive from the country's perspective.
What is your opinion of the agreement that was reached for the next seven years?
Like all European affairs, it's one big jumble of different things. Everyone got something they can be satisfied with and something they perhaps find disagreeable.
Looking at it from Estonia's position or more narrowly from the perspective the government had going into the talks, I would say it is a good result.
Therefore, you agree with the PM in that it went well?
Allow me to sum up what were some of our biggest concerns. There were perhaps more than what we prioritized so to speak, but we had three major topics.
Firstly, and most importantly for our party, that no ground will be surrendered in terms of taxation – there will not be Europe-wide taxes. The EU contributions model was adjusted instead.
But both the European Commission – whereas I always seek advice also from elsewhere – and likeminded colleagues from other European countries agreed that these cannot be considered taxes and that rather it constitutes adjusting the EU contributions model. We definitely have cause to be satisfied here.
Another thing we can be happy with and that was among our priorities is considerably higher agricultural support. The three Baltic countries were at the bottom of the list, while we will move up in the coming years to the level of other Eastern European countries.
That was our minimum program and we got it. Of course, we would have liked to see agricultural support match the European average or come to 90 percent of the average, but we will be nearing 80 percent. It needs to be kept in mind that agricultural and rural affairs sums are divided between two pillars. One is direct support and the other support for rural development.
Wealthier countries have greater direct support and can add more to rural development support themselves, which is why they like it more. We got more money in both pillars, including direct support where additional funding is more difficult to secure. I also value that.
Another question is whether we like the fact Rail Baltic was given more money.
It is perhaps important to note that had Rail Baltic not received additional funding, the project would have been impossible to realize based on the coalition agreement. Today, my reluctance to take the project forward as finance minister has basically been removed.
That is to say that while EKRE is still against the Rail Baltic project, construction will probably move forward?
Let us say that it will not be a problem of financing – that is a nice way to put it.
It has been said that no new taxes will be laid down, while, at the same time, we hear talk of a plastic tax.
That is not accurate. I looked very carefully at what the deposit component covers. Basically, it is not a tax.
No country will see a tax for using plastic or failing to remove it from circulation. It is just a component in the member state's EU contribution based on how much plastic it has. That is what it is in a nutshell.
There are different models and one of the problems with it was that it favored wealthier countries. The share of GNP in the total contribution fell with the introduction of that component that benefited countries with a higher GNP more. But we managed to neutralize this injustice during talks.
EKRE has also opposed a joint loan in the past, while there will be one now.
That we need an independent analysis of how this borrowing is even in compliance with EU base treaties was among the government's positions. No one has seen that analysis yet.
We remained in touch with the PM throughout the weekend. The topic did not see extensive coverage during the Council.
There were arguments involving net contributors. They were given rebates in return, so their contributions wouldn't grow too much.
But I believe that the question of whether and to what extent it corresponds with EU base treaties remains.
What to think of the fact payments to member states will for the first time be tied to the condition of observing principles of the rule of law?
I have not seen this phrasing yet. I know it was a major point of contention.
One such point where I can say I was very happy [with the result] was the attempt to force countries to adopt national climate neutrality targets in exchange for more money. I could not have been able to support that, but luckily it was taken off the table.
The other major dispute was the rule of law thing. We know it is purely a political cudgel for bringing more Euroskeptical member states or Eastern Europe in line. It has nothing to do with the rule of law. It is bad enough that it's completely insincere, while it also flagrantly infringes on sovereignty.
Where did it end up? One side says it's so vague as to be useless, while the other suggests it marks a principle that can be regarded as satisfactory. Time will tell which side is closer to the truth.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski