Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas met with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at an official meeting in Salzburg on Friday, where they discussed current EU issues such as the new budget plan, migration, the digital single market and cooperation with Western Balkan countries.
Both leaders noted that their respective countries want a strong and competitive EU.
Mr. Ratas also invited the Austrian chancellor to visit Estonia, government spokespersons told the Baltic News Service.
The Estonian prime minister put a high estimate on cooperation between Estonia and Austria within the Council of the EU presidency, which Austria currently holds and which was incumbent on Estonia in the second half of 2017 .
"The mutual understanding and knowledge between our countries has noticeably increased through this," Mr. Ratas said.
Shared stress on digital single market
Austria is to use its Presidency to continue development the digital single market, which was also one of the important priorities of Estonia's stint.
"In order to increase the competitiveness of the EU and ensure the growth of the digital economy, we must move forward with the creation of the digital single market, which Estonia and Bulgaria both had already signed several agreements,'' Mr. Ratas said.
''A functioning digital single market is also the basis for the competitiveness of European companies in the world," he went on.
Cohesion Policy funding decrease needs to be gradual
Intensive work regarding the EU 2021-2027 budget plan talks is also to be launched during the Austrian EU presidency. According to Mr. Ratas, Estonia is to receive significantly more from the EU than it pays into the joint budget during this period.
"We are of the same opinion with the European Commission on several important questions and have taken into consideration that as we grow more prosperous in Estonia, the fact that our share in the European Union's Cohesion Policy funding must decrease.'' Mr. Ratas continued.
''At the same time we have found that even though the Commission has taken our interests partly into consideration, and the ensuing step down will be slightly smoother than expected, it is still too steep,'' he said.
''The rate of direct agricultural support across member states must be harmonised faster, and everyone needs to have equal competition conditions on the European markets," Mr. Ratas went on.
As is the case with Estonia, Austria considers the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), from which cross-border transport projects are financed, to be central to the next EU budget plan. Estonia has applied for financing for the Rail Baltic railway project from the CEF, while Austria is to be likewise supported in building the Brenner Base Tunnel.
Touching on the topic of migration and aiding those member states under the greatest pressure, Mr. Ratas emphasised the importance of a comprehensive solution.
"During the course of the Austrian presidency, it is important to move forward with finding long-term solutions to migration issues and agree on joint rules, on the basis of which people who have received asylum can be settled,'' he averred.
''We also need closer cooperation with countries outside the EU and we need to be able to cope more efficiently with sending back those people who do not have any right to EU protection,'' Mr. Ratas continued.
''We highly value cooperation between the EU countries and the fast exchange of information in securing its external border," the prime minister said.
Western Balkans accession
The two leaders also discussed the integration of the Western Balkan countries (namely Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo) with the EU, which is one of the priorities of the Austrian EU presidency.
Mr. Ratas affirmed that Estonia continues to support the EU's open door policy for countries which have met the conditions necessary for it.
"Macedonia and Albania have done their homework well and must continue with reforms so that talks concerning their accession to the EU can be opened next summer,"he said.
The prime minister said that progress must also be made in implementing visa freedom for the citizens of Kosovo for travelling within the EU.
"Kosovo deserves recognition for successfully carrying out its reforms. Visa-free travel to the EU would expand business opportunities and strengthen contacts between people," he concluded.
Austria's President Alexander Van der Bellen, whose mother was Estonian and whose father was also of part-Estonian descent, visited Estonia at the beginning of June.
Editor: Andrew Whyte