Portal: Estonia may block EU COVID-19 plan over Rail Baltica funds dispute

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Latvian premier Krišjanis Karinš (red tie) with former Estonian prime minsiter Jüri Ratas last year. Source: Office of the Government of the Republic of Estonia

Estonia has joined its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania in a bid to secure €1.4 billion in European Union funds towards the Rail Baltica high-speed rail link, U.S. politics media site Politico reports, even if that entails blocking the launch of a €750-billion recovery fund, following a European Parliament move opposed to earmarking funds for either any particular project, or any specific countries or regions.

In an attempt to guarantee the €1.4 billion support, Politico reports, the three countries say they may hold up a critical stage required to launch the bloc's €750-billion recovery fund, aimed at mitigating the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and mirroring earlier blocking tactics in Hungary and Poland which saw a dispute over rule -of-law provisions last around a month.

EU leaders had agreed to sum €1.4 billion out of the €1.8 trillion budget and recovery package approved last July, specifically towards "missing major cross-border rail links" which would run between "cohesion countries" in support of the continued functioning of the single market – wording taken to refer explicitly to Rail Baltica, since Baltic leaders had lobbied for the project.

Letter addresses Portuguese prime minister

Politico got hold of a copy of a letter dated January 18 and addressed to the Portuguese prime minister, Antonio Costa – Portugual currently holds the rotating Council of the EU presidency – signed by then-prime minister of Estonia Jüri Ratas (Center), his Latvian counterpart Krišjānis Kariņš, and Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda, calling ensuring the approval of the Own Resources Decision in all three three countries a quid pro quo for guaranteeing the €1.4 billion in EU funding.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda during an official visit to Estonia. Source: Annika Haas

All EU countries must ratify the decision to enable the European Commission to borrow and distribute money to member states, Politicao reports, a process also requiring European parliament consent; the parliament must also green-light funds from the Connecting Europe Facility, a €28.4 billion budget pot funding transport, energy and digital infrastructure, but some MEPs, including Romania's Marian-Jean Marinescu, have opposed allocating funds specifically to Rail Baltica, leading to somewhat of an impasse, since the three Baltic countries say that the parliament cannot undo the July 2020 support package agreement.

More detail on the situation is available from the Politico article here.

Rail Baltica planned to start operations in 2026

Rail Baltica is a planned high-speed rail line scheduled to open in 2026, which will link Tallinn to the Lithuanian-Polish border.  Construction work in Estonia is already underway, so far mainly focusing on road crossings, underpinning its foundations in boggy areas, and other major engineering tasks.

Rail Baltic Estonia's map indicating travel times between potential stops on the railway. Source: Rail Baltic Estonia

All three Baltic States have joined several other EU Central and Eastern European (CEE) nations in setting up the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), whose mission includes developing transport links within the region, particularly on its north-south axis, and utilizing investment from the U.S., as well as the 13 participating countries.

A summit in Tallinn last October attempted to address any concerns about the 3SI being treated as a separate and distinct region within the EU, and any potential tug-of-war over the region between it and the U.S.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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