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Ratas: New expenditure items may emerge in next EU budget

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center).
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center). Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

Estonia is going into negotiations on the EU's next multiannual financial framework (MFF) hoping that the list of commonly financed activities isn't shortened but recognizing that the need may arise to allocate more funds in the next budget to new areas such as migration and defense, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said.

"Estonia's wish is that in the next EU budget, we do not reduce our activities in the EU," Ratas told BNS, adding that the country would like to see additional financing for certain fields which are new priorities or new initiatives, such as the digital domain.

He admitted, however, that migration policy and defense policy, the latter of which was established within the framework of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of last year, likewise require new funding.

The Estonian prime minister reiterated the priorities identified and agreed upon by the heads of government of the three Baltic countries in February, ahead of the EU Council meeting.

Ratas, Latvian Prime Minister Māris Kučinskis and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė said in a joint address to their EU colleagues in mid-February that the next EU budget has to guarantee better connections, a more balanced development and well-being of regions, fairer direct support to farmers, and funding for addressing migration and security issues.

The three Baltic countries want EU transport and power grids, digital infrastructure and services to be developed further, and for EU regions to be connected. They also highlighted the synchronization of the Baltic power grids with the European energy market as well as Rail Baltica, which will connect the three countries with the rest of Europe.

According to the Baltic leaders, less developed regions of the EU have to continue receiving support from the Cohesion Fund, and support should decline gradually as wealth increases. They also named the EU's joint new spheres of activity which need financing from the next budget: migration, internal and external security, the protection of the EU's external borders, the fight against terrorism and strengthening of security, including cybersecurity, as well as defense cooperation. The EU's neighborhood policy likewise needs funding, they added.

Speaking to BNS on Tuesday evening, Ratas acknowledged that the increase in Estonia's GDP means that the country is entitled to smaller amounts of EU subsidies than before.

"In my opinion, it is important to compare this data," said the prime minister. "When Estonia joined the EU in 2004, our GDP per resident was 54 percent of the EU average at purchasing power parity; by 2017 it had grown to 75 percent of the EU average considering purchasing power."

Ratas also found that it is important to emphasize what the country is working toward, "Which is that at some point Estonian society reaches a level of wealth at which it is no longer a net recipient. Yes, there is still a ways to go, and we definitely have to make the effort to achieve this. At the same time, if we look at the current state of play and the next MFF period, we can say that Estonia will receive more financing from the EU than it will contribute in the next period as well."

The Financial Times reported on Monday that Brussels is planning to shift tens of billions of euros in EU funding away from Central and Eastern Europe, diverting money to countries hit hard by the financial crisis and the migration crisis. Brussels wants to end the practice of distributing cohesion money almost exclusively on the basis of GDP per capita, replacing it with much broader criteria covering everything from youth unemployment, education and the environment to migration and innovation.

Diplomats and officials speaking to The Financial Times said they expect the outcome of the reform to be a redirection of funds from Poland, the Czech Republic and Baltic states towards southern states such as Italy, Spain, Greece and even some regions of France.

"I think this is a very big speculation," Ratas responded when asked about the report.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

Source: BNS

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