Migration, defence, European unity on table in Italian Presidential visit

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The ongoing migration crisis, security issues and European unity were on the table in the Italian President's meetings with both Kersti Kaljulaid, Estonian President, and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas in Tallinn today.

Ms. Kaljulaid met with Sergio Mattarella, her Italian counterpart, currently on a two day official visit to Estonia today, Wednesday in Tallinn, and their meeting focused on the main challenges facing the EU and NATO. It was agreed that nations need to remain united in order to find solutions to the issues, a spokesperson for the President said.

Kersti Kaljulaid thanked Mr. Mattarella for his country's contribution to the Baltic air policing mission and for participating in the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn.

Italy's issues are Estonia's too, and vice versa

At the same time she emphasized Estonia's role in solving problems in southern Europe and highlighted that all Estonia's foreign missions are at present pointed in a southerly direction. .

"Estonia is contributing to solving the migration crisis according to the agreements made so far; the members of our defence forces are taking part in the European Union's maritime mission," Ms. Kaljulaid said.

On the subject of Russia, Ms. Kaljulaid stressed that the strongest message in response to Russia's recent hostile behavioural pattern is unity and the resolve of the EU and NATO.

"We see no reason to change the decisions made in Warsaw and Wales [venues of NATO summits in the last four years – ed.], and the common sanctions policy needs to continue until Russia has begun to change its behavior and meet its commitments," Kaljulaid said, whilst thanking Italy for its decision to extend sanctions against Russia by six months.

"Just as the European migration crisis is not just Italy's problem, the issue of security of the eastern flank of NATO is not solely our region's problem, but the common challenge of Europe and the transatlantic network," Ms. Kaljulaid stated after the meeting.

Estonian Prime Minister echoes comments of President

Sergio Mattarella also met with Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) and discussed similar points including the aims of the forthcoming NATO summit in Brussels and the results of the European Council meeting which took place last week.

"It is important for Estonia that both NATO and the European Union stand united. Unity is achieved when we think of others besides ourselves. Within NATO, we deal with the security issues of all allies. Estonia contributes to ensuring security in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mali, Iraq, and elsewhere," said Mr. Ratas.

Maintaining defence spending at 2% of GDP

In May last year, the heads of state and government of NATO had decided that all member states needed to prepare a plan to maintain or achieve the level of defence expenses at the required 2% of GDP by 2024 (Estonia has already met and even exceeded that target up to now).

"We are all more secure if the Allies in NATO share the burden and strengthen their security,'' Mr Ratas noted.

''Since 2015, Estonia's defence expenses have been higher than the required 2% of GDP . I am glad that other allies are also making efforts to achieve this goal," he added

Over the past couple of years, the total defence expenses incurred by NATO's European allies plus Canada in total have increased by a reported 3-4% per annum.

Italy a valuable NATO partner

Mr. Ratas acknowledged Italy's active participation NATO activities, including in the Baltic region.

Italy is for example a founder member of the NATO CCDCOE in Tallinn and as noted has participated in Baltic air policing several times, most recently this year.

An additional 160 members of the Italian Armed Forces currently serve with the NATO battlegroup in Latvia.

Estonia and Italy are co-leaders of the cybersecurity workgroup at the European Defence Agency as well.

Migration solutions

As regards the topic of migration, Mr. Ratas noted that Europe needs a long-term solution. According to him, this should secure the external border of the EU and send a clear message that economic migrants should not risk their lives on their journey to Europe. At the same time, it is still important to help those people whose lives are in danger and who are fleeing war.

Mr. Ratas added that within the EU, Estonia has been a solid partner in the resettlement and relocation of refugees. Estonia has accepted 206 refugees from Turkey, Greece, and Italy. In 2015–2017, Estonia contributed more than €5 million to fulfilling the European Agenda on Migration as well.

In addition to this, the country has contributed €1.45 million to the EU Trust Fund for Africa and will add a further €150,000.

Thanks to the joint efforts of the EU and its partners, the number of illegal immigrants to the EU in 2017 was less that of 2016 and 6.5 times smaller than in 2015. The number of illegal border crossings decreased by 60 per cent over the same period.

Mr. Mattarella and Mr. Ratas noted that cooperation between Estonia and Italy is friendly.

"There is, however, room for development in our trade. A direct flight route between Tallinn and Rome would certainly contribute positively towards this development," Mr. Ratas noted.

These priorities were later reaffirmed in Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser's met with his Italian opposite number Enzo Moavero Milanesi.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: riigikantselei.ee, BNS

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