At a meeting held in Bratislava on Thursday with the prime ministers of countries supporting a strong budget and the EU's Cohesion Policy, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) emphasised that in the next long-term budget, they must provide more support for reforms, investments, and new challenges as well as the usual common policies, such as research, the internal market, cohesion, and agriculture.
"The next draft budget plan of the EU will demonstrate what kind of a shared future we wish to see," Ratas said according to a government press release. "Its goal must be a more united, stronger Europe, which offers more opportunities for our citizens and companies."
Despite Estonia's rapid economic growth, he continued, the decrease in financing to the country via the Cohesion Policy and the increase in self-financing should be less sudden. "This way, we can continue with the required investments in transport, social, educational and health infrastructure as well as in the development of rural life and a knowledge-rich economic model," he explained.
In order to increase the competitiveness and productivity of the European internal market, the next draft budget plan must also continue to include support for infrastructure projects and the construction of transport connections.
"Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania require quick and sustainable transport connections with the rest of Europe, which would promote our integration with the internal market," the prime minister highlighted. "Rail Baltica will bring Latvia and Lithuania as close to the Estonian people as Finland is right now. In the future, the transportation of goods from the Nordic region and the Baltics to the rest of Europe will be streamlined. We must also seek sustainability and future solutions in road transport without limiting people's freedom of movement."
Current direct payments not enough
According to Ratas, Estonia is also concerned about the unequal treatment of farmers in the internal market due to differences in the amounts of direct payments.
"The proposal of the European Commission to decrease the differences in the rates of direct payments for farmers is not enough," he said. "The direct payments for farmers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are among the lowest in the EU, while production costs are significantly above the EU average."
According to the Commission's proposal, direct payments in Estonia would reach 76% of the EU's average direct payments by 2027. "We believe that harmonisation must take place much faster," the prime minister said. "Our farmers must be ensured competition conditions equal to those in other member states of European markets."
The EU's next budget plan, Ratas said, has to include the reforms and investments required to allow for dealing with difficult future issues together. "Our people expect us to solve issues together that countries cannot handle alone," he explained. "Such issues include, for example, the digital transformation, climate problems, migration, and the defence and security of Europe. We must invest in technology and social preparedness as well as the protection of external borders and military mobility to ensure European security."
Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia all took part in the Friends of Cohesion summit in Bratislava on Thursday, which was also attended by Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič, and Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Vazil Hudák. A joint statement was approved at the meeting.
Cohesion Policy to shrink 10% post-Brexit
The goal of the European Cohesion Policy is to decrease inequalities between EU member states, increase their competitiveness, and integrate the internal market. During the 2014-2020 budget period, Estonia will receive €3.5 billion from the structural funds of the Cohesion Policy as well as €1.8 billion in agriculture, rural development, and fisheries aid.
Based on the proposal of the European Commission, in 2021-2027, Estonia would be provided with just €3 billion euros from the structural funds of the Cohesion Policy but nearly €2 billion euros in agriculture, rural development, and fisheries aid. The decrease would be precipitated primarily by Estonia's rapid economic development, to which the previous EU support has contributed.
The total budget of the Cohesion Policy to all member states is also to decrease by 10%, or €37 billion, due to the UK's departure from the EU.
Editor: Aili Vahtla