Ratas: I dislike borders in Europe // Future of Europe Speech, October 2018


I, from the bottom of my heart, dislike borders
in Europe. Mr President, Vice-President of the Commission,
distinguished leaders of the political groups and Members of the European Parliament, Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling. I am honoured and humbled to be back in this
great house. I would like to thank Antonio for organising
the debates on the future of Europe and for the opportunity to participate. Today, we can all together congratulate our
German friends and all Europeans on the occasion of the German Unification Day. For my generation, this day symbolizes not
only the end of division of Germany, but it also heralded the liberation of Eastern Europe
and the start of eastward enlargement of the European Union. It made possible the starting of accession
talks 20 years ago. It has been an amazing journey for Estonia. The role of the European Parliament in it
has been remarkable. I would like to thank you, honourable Members
of the European Parliament, for your support. This year Estonia celebrates the one hundred
years anniversary of our statehood. Like Germans in the east of the country, we
had to wait and dream for 50 years about freedom, rule of law and justice. I very clearly remember watching Finnish TV
as this was our only connection to the free world. This is why I, from the bottom of my heart
dislike borders in Europe: those still existing for Member States who have fulfilled all criteria
to join Schengen. Those that have been partly reintroduced following
the migration crisis – although I understand the concerns back then. And those that still may be erected, should
we – which I refuse to accept – collectively fail in Brexit negotiations. Against this background, it is not hard to
understand why Estonians have such a special emotional connection to Europe. I can only agree with the Irish singer Bono
that Europe is not only an idea, but also a feeling and a destiny, because our, and
I quote, “values and aspirations make Europe so much more than just a geography. They go to the core of who we are as human
beings, and who we want to be“. Ladies and Gentlemen, Compared to its share of territory and population
in the world, Europe is small and diverse. But by sharing our sovereignty and pooling
our strength, by having common policies we have been able to make a difference in the
world. I believe that we all have shared interest
in rules-based and effective multilateral order, built on liberal values and democratic
principles. We have common interests also in open, free
and fair global markets. It is what the world expects from us and it
is what our citizens want. Because it is Europe that protects our values
and freedoms against the turbulence of today’s world. Europe´s geographical ties and our global
interdependence as world´s largest trader dictate that it is vital to have a world that
functions. We Europeans are all stronger together and
I hope we will spare no effort in securing our collective interests and the values in
the world. Europe´s core strength is its diversity. Being European adds a rich layer to one´s
identity. Nothing represents this better than the fate
of small nations in the European family. I would like to paraphrase former Estonian
President Lennart Meri, who once said that small nations in Europe are the glue, the
oil and the cement in the European construction. Therefore, allow me to express here modest
enthusiasm when it comes to grand institutional designs in Europe which could lead to lesser
role of smaller nations in our common institutions. Less diversity will also result in less Europe. Ladies and Gentlemen, Today, in this limited timeframe, please allow
me to focus on only some areas essential for Europe according to Estonia. First, preserving unity within the EU The key for our common future is our ability
to keep the EU united and move forward with EU´s positive agenda. There is a saying that the best way to predict
the future is to create it. Future is not something abstract or another
Treaty-change. We are building our future every day. We are doing this by providing answers to
concrete concerns of our citizens and whenever possible, building connections that bring
Europeans closer together – human, physical and professional connections. Europeans also expect us to tackle transformational
challenges that are too big for a single Member State such as European defence, climate change
and digital transformation. We will also have to find answers to global
population growth and migration, triggered by these changes. I therefore hope for ambitious multiannual
financial framework that reflects these challenges. New multiannual financial framework is actually
the best indicator of how we will see our common future. I agree with President Macron that the European
Union depends on the feeling of unity. But as we know, unity does not have to mean
uniformity. Sometimes we should simply recognize our different
views, without compromising on the same values. I find different levels of direct taxes in
Member States perfectly normal. I also feel that with European budget of the
size of only 1% of GNI, fundamental decisions of redistributive nature can be made at national
or even local level through social dialogue. At the same time, we must have credible framework
vital for our common future, like the national spending of 2% of our GDP to keep Europe safe
or aiming at expenditure level of 3% of GDP on research and innovation. Also, we expect Europe to be big in big things
but at the same time it has to be excellent in details. Without standards and fine details the Single
Market or Capital Markets Union would simply not function. Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen, We are now trying to find consensus when deciding
on the core elements on how to manage migration. It is difficult, but we all realize that short-term
measures will only bring short-term solutions. All of us need to show solidarity in the way
that suits best our common purpose and each Member State’s particularities. The key in decreasing irregular migration
is to work with third countries. We must use all the instruments that our trade,
visa and development policies offer. New Africa-EU alliance proposed by president
Juncker to support jobs, skills and private investments in Africa definitely serves long-term
effects. Estonia pulls its weight here. Last November I signed e-government cooperation
agreement between Estonia and African Union. Estonia is geographically distant from Africa,
but digital world does not recognize distance. Secondly, it is important to maintain and
strengthen EU´s influence in global economy I cannot imagine a better example than the
Single Market to prove that we are bigger and stronger together. But it still remains unfinished. Take for example the field of services: while
the sector continues to grow unlike anything else, especially in digital domain, we are
far from using its full cross-border potential. For example, public services remain essentially
national. My good colleague Mark Rutte called the services
market the elephant in the room when standing in front of you here in June. I understand him well, and I also worry – when
did talking about the completion of the Single Market, our economic engine, become a taboo? It is high time that we set ourselves new
goals in building the Single Market. Ladies and Gentlemen, „Success in creating effective artificial
intelligence could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don’t know“ – a famous quote by
Stephen Hawking. In the field of artificial intelligence, the
race is definitely on. Everybody is keen on exploring and developing
strategies and reaping the benefits while we are still struggling to make it work. Upon entering from the age of invention into
the age of implementation of AI, Europe has to reinforce our values and lead technological
change in public and in private sector. We need to progress in the areas of free movement
of data, the data economy and artificial intelligence. In the world of hybrid warfare, cybercrime
and fake news, security in cyberspace should come by design and go hand in hand with emerging
technologies. We need to build data integrity into systems,
to be able to guarantee that the sensor inputs and computing of the robotic systems are not
compromised. We need to develop strong digital identities
in order to be able to distinguish real persons from fake unfriendly bots. We need to establish practice with a strong
professional spirit on keeping AI open and transparent. I am very pleased with the Commission proposals
resulting from Tallinn Digital Summit last year, especially our commitment to invest
into technological and social readiness throughout the new budget. It is time to adopt proposals to complete
the Digital Single Market and enable digital transformation. The world will not wait. Thirdly, it is important to maintain and enhance
internal and external security All Eurobarometer surveys have shown that
our people are most concerned about security. Our long-term focus should be on prevention
of crime and illegal activities at our borders. High level of border and customs surveillance
ensures security throughout Europe. Common standards and investments into both
technical and operational features in border surveillance are required. Only then can we realistically assess what
to expect from the 10.000 European border guards, that Jean-Claude has proposed. Also, effective control of people and goods
at our external borders demands reliable databases that can communicate with each other. We do not need to collect the same data into
different information systems, we just have to make them able to share the information. Interoperability of EU-wide databases by 2020
is the only way forward. We must also explore how to develop better
synergies between the internal security, border control and customs information systems. And it is time that also Romania and Bulgaria
would benefit from membership in the Schengen area. Honourable Members of the European Parliament, The call for European nations to show that
they take their security seriously has been around for a long time and clearly, it will
not go away. This is not merely a question about maintaining
or increasing our military capabilities. This is ultimately a question about how serious
Europe is over its role in its immediate neighborhood and in the world in general. How serious are we about our transatlantic
partnership with the United States. Europe that protects has to maintain a strong
relationship with our global partners. In addition to the European defense cooperation,
it is inevitable to preserve the transatlantic unity. Europe cannot deal with the global security
risks alone. For the European Union this means going beyond
its current role as a regulatory superpower and start supporting the development as well
as deployment of more traditional instruments of foreign and security policy. Therefore, an increased defense cooperation
among the EU Member States is very welcome. This will lead to increased defense spending
and to a larger number of commonly usable capabilities. At the same time NATO will remain the bedrock
of collective defense in Europe and our aim should be a mutually reinforcing relationship
between the EU and NATO. Mr President, The final point I would like to make – we
need to strengthen the European feeling and fight populism We are working hard in the EU to make our
citizens feel well. However, in a recent youth forum in Estonia,
students said, that even their teachers were not able to explain the European Union. Upcoming European Parliament elections give
us, politicians, perfect opportunity to explain our decisions. European Union has brought so many opportunities
that people nowadays seem to take for granted. We have to speak about the benefits of the
single market and single currency to our businesses, about free movement to our people, about ERASMUS
to our students… I very much appreciate the structured dialogues
on the future of Europe, initiated by the French president Emmanuel Macron, the president
of the European Commission Mr Jean-Claude Juncker and the president of this great house
Mr Antonio Tajani. Working for better Europe that benefits citizens
is a daily work. This also includes taking responsibility for
the decisions and compromises made in the EU and showing very clearly that we own these
decisions. The action taken after the Bratislava and
Rome Summits already seems to have positive results and enjoys support by the people. More than two thirds of EU citizens feel that
the EU membership has been beneficial to their country – the best result since 1983. To summarise External pressure and crises have always pushed
the EU forward and motivated Member States and institutions to cooperate. Our common, unanimous response to the Russian
aggression against Ukraine, to the Bataclan terrorist attack, or, if we will, to the euro
zone crisis, is an example of solidarity and common values. European Union as a community of values – and,
of course, shared interests – has to have the means to stand up for the respect of individual
freedoms and fundamental rights, for multilateral and rules-based order and to tackle the challenges
to our security, peace and wellbeing. I believe that our citizens understand this
while we engage in the negotiations over the next Multi-annual Financial Framework. The fundamentals of the European Union are
constantly disputed by the people, by the Member States and also by third states. Our Union is therefore politically fragile. This means that we need a self-confident,
reassuring Union that protects its citizens and its members. We also need citizens and Member States that
are passionate about the Union and everything it stands for as a family of peoples and states. And there must be more of us. I hope, that in ten years from now, I can
listen to a colleague from any of the current candidate countries in the same role that
I am standing here today. Now I would like to conclude in my mother
tongue, Estonian. It means you need your headphones. Kallid parlamendiliikmed! Ma tahan teid tänada selle eest, et Euroopa
olevik ja tulevik ei jäta teid ükskõikseks. Alles täna mõistan ma täielikult, milline
privileeg ning vastutus oli Eestil ja minul eelmisel aastal, kui juhtisime Euroopa Liidu
Nõukogu tööd. Eesti kirjanik Anton Hansen Tammsaare on öelnud,
et tööd tehes kasvab armastus. Nii see on. Euroopa oli, on
ja jääb minu südamesse. Tänan teid!

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