As the new head of the European Council, Estonia hopes to play the role of intermediary on some of the EU’s toughest questions, says Les Echos.
Malta, the least populous of the EU28 countries (430,000 inhabitants), has passed the European Council Presidency onto Estonia (1.3 million), not the UK – who were in line to take over before the Brexit vote.
The handover on July 1st was an opportunity for Tallinn to step into the international limelight, and for Valetta to brag about all it’s achieved since the beginning of the year.
‘Malta were certainly not lacking in energy.’
On top of having to grapple with the fallout from Brexit and the unrelenting migration crisis, the Maltese had to deal with a domestic corruption scandal that led to a snap election.
In the event, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat won the election comfortably.
Malta made progress in several key areas during its six month Presidency.
States came to an agreement to facilitate the development of a European securitisation market.
Securitisation is how a lender – often a bank – refinances a series of loans or assets by converting them into securities. These ‘repackaged’ loans are divided into categories according to how risky they are for potential investors.
Malta also oversaw the creation of an EU Public Prosecutions Office to combat international financial fraud.
Perhaps their greatest scalp was the anti-dumping agreement that was unanimously approved by EU ambassadors.
But their impotence regarding the migration crisis is a ‘major blemish’ on the Maltese Presidency.
With Poland and Hungary flat out refusing to take in any refugees, the possibility of compromise on the issue feels as remote as ever.
Though one EU diplomat said Malta should be congratulated for “bringing some rationality back into the discussions.”
Their attitude, of the ‘honest intermediary’ seeking compromise between states with entrenched positions ‘could also be at the heart of the Estonian strategy,’ said Les Echos.
Especially given Estonian PM Jüri Ratas’ recent declaration that he will seek to reconcile east and west Europe in the areas where they are most divided, namely migration and posted workers.
But above all, says Les Echos, Estonia should use its Presidency to push its digital agenda.
Estonia’s electronic administration is considered one of the most advanced in the world – citizens can even vote online.
And Jüri Ratas’ has claimed that thanks to digitisation, Estonia has saved a “stack of papers as tall as the Eiffel tower.”
He believes that the ‘four freedoms’ – the freedom of movement of people, goods, services and capital – that modern Europe is built upon is missing a fifth element: the freedom of digital data.