Out­go­ing eu’s Cor pres­i­dent Markku Markkula: “I don’t think rus­sia can in­vade the baltics”

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

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).

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