President Kersti Kaljulaid and European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip believe that the EU must offer its citizens concrete solutions, as pretty words are no longer enough to convince people.
Kaljulaid and Ansip on Thursday held a debate in Estonia Theatre entitled "Ahead of Estonia's EU presidency — what kind of EU do we want?"
The debate was led by Deputy Minister for EU Affairs Matti Maasikas, who admitted that while the atmosphere in the EU is better than it was a year ago, with the economy growing and more optimism than before, it was also clear that the EU must once again earn trust and legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens. "The EU must offer its citizens concrete well-being," he commented.
In Maasikas' opinion, Ansip as European Commissioner for Digital Single Market is involved with a topic which in some ways is arguably the most important for Estonians and the Estonian presidency of the EU — digital Europe, the digital single market and other digital-related matters.
Accepting benefits, blaming Brussels
According to Kaljulaid, a number of member states had the opportunity to look in the mirror and reflect following the Brexit vote. Prior to that, in her opinion, governments had for some time enjoyed political rhetoric which allowed for the taking advantage of benefits of the EU while at the same time blaming Brussels for their own omissions.
"This has been a pretty popular approach for a long time, as it seemed very cheap politically," the Estonian president noted. With Brexit, however, member states' politicians suddenly understood that such behavior may come at an unbearable expense.
Kaljulaid found that the U.K. has won more than it has lost as a member of the EU, but politicians there had not discussed this enough with their voters and now the results were in.
The president added that the EU is a complicated political construct which cannot be understood by most people, but which is by its nature an association which helps its member states promote the economy and security.
Kaljulaid stressed that Brussels does not dictate educational or social policy to anyone, not does it dictate how a member state should pay out pensions and benefits, but officials in Brussels do sometimes leave the impression that the EU decides these matters as well. For example, they have claimed that the EU has created millions of jobs in it member states, while it would be more honest to say that the EU has helped create these jobs.
In the president's opinion, member states must together do more, and more quickly, of what they can do with the EU's help and that member states' governments and politicians must be much more honest with the public. "Member states' politicians must say what member states' own responsibilities are and take on this responsibility as well," she emphasized.
Kaljulaid also noted that since the 2004 enlargement, EU member states have on average become 1.9 times wealthier — and Estonia 2.4 times wealthier at that.
Ansip: We are far off from a digital single market
Ansip said that he did not believe that people would be willing to turn back from that which is good and convenient, but that Europe was still relatively far off from its goal of a digital single market. He found that, if anything, digital services have built barriers between EU member states even as they have all but disappeared in the physical world.
For example, 70-80 percent of Estonian exports go to other member states of the EU, and Estonia can sell its goods and services in other EU countries without any sort of restrictions whatsoever. At the same time, purchasing goods and services online from another country remains frequently very complicated, if not downright impossible.
According to the commissioner, the fact that the EU consists of 27 relatively small markets is a problem for startups, for example; if thy are interested in growing bigger, they often prefer to relocate to the U.S.
Editor: Aili Vahtla