Outgoing eu’s Cor president Markku Markkula: “I don’t think russia can invade the baltics”
Talking of the start of Estonia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union since July 1, some people, like Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of Regions (COR), which is the EU’S advisory body representing Europe's regional and local authorities, are just in a better position to assess the start, as well as share insights on the EU regional policies. The Baltic Times sat down with outgoing Mr. Markkula to speak on a range of issues.
How has the start of Estonia's EU Council Presidency been in your view?
It has had a strong positive start. For local and regional governments, we fully support the Estonian EU Presidency's commitment to the single and digital market and the energy union. The Estonian government must also be commended for its political commitment to engage local and regional governments from the preparations to the launch, and in numerous forthcoming informal council meetings which reflects a clear understanding that Europe's future must involve all levels of government.
You visited Tallinn last week. What issues did you specifically address with Estonian authorities?
The digitalization of Europe, ensuring a strong EU cohesion policy for the future, fostering finance for climate action, speeding up eco-innovation and regaining citizens’ trust.
As the former Cor's rapporteur in the field of innovation for subjects including "The digital agenda for Europe", you must be feeling extremely well in Estonia, known for its digital advancement and savviness...
Estonia is a great example of eresidence and free flow of data which all of Europe should follow if we are to become truly digital. Governments at all levels should embrace the latest in technology to improve public services by investing in e-governance, Smart transport and energy. These pioneering initiatives symbolise that Europe is ready to break down borders, communicate and work together to deliver on issues that matter most to citizens.
What do you believe the EU can learn from Estonia's e-policies?
Estonia is probably the only country in the world where more than 99 per cent of public services are available online 24/7. E-services are only impossible for marriages, divorces and real-estate transactions – you still have to get out of the house for those. Thanks to a safe, convenient and flexible digital ecosystem, Estonia has reached an unprecedented level of transparency in governance and built broad trust in its digital society. As a result, Estonia saves over 800 years of working time annually and has become a hasslefree environment for business and entrepreneurship.
Are you in support of evoting, which Estonia has introduced, but which is delayed by many other European countries, including Lithuania, amid the Russian hacking fears?
In principle, I fully support e-voting in Europe. In 2005, Estonia became the first country in the world to hold nation-wide elections using this method, and in 2007, it made headlines as the first country to use i-voting in parliamentary elections. Of course, using the Estonian experiments, I wait on experts to make it safe and secure so that nobody could intervene.
Finland, where you are from, has had one of the most stagnant EU economies since the economic crunch of 2008 before surging to steady impressive economic results lately. What is behind the success?
It is about the entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Entrepreneurship itself in Finland is quite an old phenomenon. However, as everywhere else, the first startups appeared in the early 1990s and some faced demise with the end of the dot-com bubble in early 2000. Finland is declared the most developed nation in the world according to many statistics.
What balance do you make on your presidency you’re wrapping up this year? Are cities and regions more influential in EU politics now than before?
Yes, and they will be even more influential in the future. It is increasingly apparent that if the EU is to demonstrate its added value in improving citizens’ lives, if it is to be more visible in our communities and if we are to tackle the democratic deficit, then local and regional leaders must have a greater say in the EU. During my presidency, and due to the commitment of our members, we have seen this belief reflected in the role of our committee with the other institutions.
What plagues the Baltics is that urban cities are doing pretty well, while the provinces languish. What does the Committee of the Regions have to offer to address the uneven development and seclusion of the population in the hinterland?
Tackling the rural-urban divide has always been a priority of the committee. First and foremost, we need to ensure that we have a strong, effective and more visible EU cohesion policy which aims to fully tackle regional inequality. This is why we are building an Alliance for Cohesion - open to all - to champion the importance that the amount of the EU budget committed to cohesion policy today must stay the same in the next EU budget after 2020. Secondly, we need to ensure that every corner of Europe reaps the benefit of digitalization, including our rural communities. Thirdly, ahead of the future reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) which makes up 38 per cent of the current EU budget, we need a better balance between direct payments and rural development and advocate regulating agricultural markets to prevent structural surpluses and shortfalls.
What should be the role of local and regional authorities in achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy?
The Europe 2020 strategy aims to deliver smart, sustainable and inclusive growth which is simply not possible without the full involvement of Europe’s regions and cities as real partners. They are responsible for closing the existing 'delivery gap' whether it be renewing their energy and transport infrastructure, tackling unemployment or digitalising their economies. We need to remember that investment and territorial cohesion is impossible without the involvement of regions and cities who are instrumental in delivering 70% of EU policy. They need more budgetary flexibility, less red-tape and a greater say in decisions in areas that affect their area of competencies.
What are the cornerstones of the strategy?
The European Union set five ambitious objectives – in the fields of employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Do you believe the Baltics can count on EU financial support in the current period's volumes after 2020? How is Brexit likely to affect the EU budget after Britain completes the exiting?
There is no doubt that the UK leaving the EU will have financial implications for the next EU budget. Nevertheless, we need a strong and effective cohesion policy and it must stay the same after 2020 as it is in the current EU budget.
Do you believe the EU should take on multiplespeed or two-speed European strategy? Where do you see the Baltics and Finland?
Indeed, a multi-speed Europe seems to be a reality, with only a subset of EU countries being members of the Eurozone and the Schengen area. But still, this method needs to be proven in reality and which specific topics it should be applied to.
Do you think Russia can invade the Baltics?
No, I do not think so. Even though there have been rumours that Russia has developed the capability to launch an attack on the Baltic States within as little as 24 hours' notice, limiting NATO'S options to respond, I do not think so.
Does Finland feel safe in proximity of Russia?
We have a long history with Russia, from the Grand Duchy of Russia. We feel safe being independent for 100 years.
“We have a long history with Russia, from the Grand Duchy of Russia. We feel safe being independent for 100 years. ”
Markku Markkula is president of the european Committee of regions (Cor).