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Estonia in Europe: looking to the future“ Speech by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at the Riigikogu, the Parliament of Estonia

Monday 21:31:55
April 22 2013

Estonia in Europe: looking to the future“ Speech by President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at the Riigikogu, the Parliament of Estonia

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I am particularly glad to be in Estonia today and to have the opportunity to meet with you during my visit. Many thanks, Mrs Speaker, for this invitation.
I’m always struck, every time I come to Tallinn, by how much it embodies some of the best of what Europe can be. A beautiful city steeped in history, home to a close community and strong sense of heritage and identity. A haven of individual freedoms, and the beating heart of one of the most innovative, technologically advanced democracies in the world, resolutely turned towards the future.
In the context of the economic difficulties of the past years, many have turned to Estonia, and to its impressive economic recovery, for inspiration and encouragement. It is of course only half the story, and I am conscious that all too often, the intensity of the blow to your economy early in the financial crisis, the sacrifices you have made, and the scars on your economy that you are still tending – all this is often too easily brushed aside by outsiders who only wish to hail the “ miracle recovery“. Yet Estonia’s return to a healthy economy, one of the most promising in Europe, is undeniably a success story and one that is due to the will and hard work of its people.
Now I should say from the start that I did not come here today to look back and to set out Estonia’s as a model – the “perfect recipe“ if you will – of how to triumph over economic difficulties through courageous, relentless measures, and a shared sense of determination. Though as you know it, wouldn’t be difficult to do so. But rather I should like to turn towards the future.

These have been very difficult years for Europe, yet I am fully confident that our countries will come out of the crisis together, and stronger. We are already in a much better place than only a few months ago. Measuring the road already travelled, should give us confidence in our ability to keep moving forward, towards full recovery. Time and again, our countries have demonstrated their common resolve to do what was necessary and step in when needed to overcome the crisis.
The eurozone is now on a much sounder footing. We are better equipped to detect and prevent imbalances, and to deal with the challenges at hand. This has been the result of very hard work, of brave and sensible decisions, and Estonia – the eurozone’s most recent member state – has fully played its part.
To me, one of the lasting and most transformative impacts that those years will have brought to Europe as a whole is in a change of mindset. A deeper consciousness of how much we actually depend on each other. Sometimes it is hard to accept that we have to live with each other, and with each other’s problems. We have become really interdependent.
This knowledge of our interdependence need not be fatalistic, far from it. It is a fact of life, yes, but we can translate this into something positive: a shared sense of responsibility, and the knowledge that this very interdependence in the end makes us stronger.
Since the beginning of the year, there are confirmed signs that financial stability is returning to the eurozone. This is very important when we look to our immediate future, as stability is the precondition for all other results. Indeed, it is key to the return of confidence: for consumers, businesses and entrepreneurs in all our countries, and for clients and investors in Europe and abroad.
But every time we turn a corner, we must keep in mind that just around that corner lies the danger of complacency, at the level of the Member States and at the level of the Union as a whole. There is no way back. And this we simply cannot afford. Because it will still take time before the full impact of our efforts so far to stabilise the euro area can be felt in terms of growth and employment. Confidence always takes time to come back, and even once confidence is back the real economy always reacts with a time lag. So in the meantime, we need to keep moving forward.
As the example of Estonia reminds all other Europeans, much of this is in the hands of individual countries – resting on the resolve of their national governments and of their citizens. But there is also much that can be done together, as a Union. Starting with putting into practice the things we have already agreed upon.
We have set out strong rules for ourselves, and a solid roadmap to ensure our economies are sound and sustainable and that the eurozone becomes more solid and stable. Just last week saw the finalisation and adoption of the last pending rules to reinforce budgetary coordination between eurozone countries and ensure that all keep moving towards sound public finances. With this deal (the so-called “two pack“), and after the entry into force of the “Fiscal Compact” at the beginning of the year, we have completed our common toolbox on the budgetary front.

Now the top priority is implementation: making sure that all these tools are put to good use, in all our countries. I know this priority is something Estonia takes very seriously: your Prime-Minister has told me many times, and indeed again this afternoon. And your country leads the way for instance in acting swiftly upon common decisions and translating them into national legislation – just last week Estonia ranked again among the “best Europeans“ in that respect.
So first priority: implementing the measures we have already agreed. Second priority: pushing forward on agreeing new measures, that we know are key for our economies. We have already mapped the way forward on a number of fronts. To name but some among the most important:
– setting up a strong single banking supervision system for the eurozone: to prevent future bank failures and avoid tax payers having to pick up the bill. It should be up and running as soon as possible next year;
– deepening the single market, our most powerful asset, to create more opportunities for our companies and our citizens. And here let me single out a particularly pressing and promising area that needs no introduction in Estonia: our digital agenda for Europe;
– harnessing our trading power as a motor for growth: here the recent launch of trade talks between the European Union and the United States could open up huge horizons and help create millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.
– and also, using the full potential of the EU’s multi-annual budget, which, as an investment budget, can have real added value, for instance in connecting our countries across borders – like through Rail Baltica, one of Europe’s priority projects in infrastructure.
Pushing forward on such projects is clearly in our interest: it is good for our economies, good for confidence and good for growth and jobs. But we also need to identify new fronts, to keep exploring new ideas, and setting up new initiatives. And this is our third priority: to focus on innovation – in the widest sense of the term.
The nature and the scale of problems is changing and to overcome these challenges we need new solutions. The biggest threat to our societies comes from the dramatic levels of unemployment caused by the crisis, which are wrecking the lives of individuals and households across our countries and hitting particularly hard our youth. Even here in Estonia, where unemployment figures are decreasing faster than anywhere else in the euro area, still one in five young people are struggling to find a job.
Faced with such serious circumstances, we cannot afford to let slip away new ideas that could help improve the situation in any way. From local initiatives and regional measures to national policies and European projects: we must all be fully mobilised. We must find fair, and effective answers.

Europe stands ready to help such initiatives emerge. That is why in the multi-annual budget that was agreed earlier this month by EU leaders, I insisted that we should set aside 6 billion euro specifically dedicated to fighting youth unemployment. This money will go to projects across Europe to help young people in some of the worst affected regions to get a foothold in the job market.
Our societies need to take a fresh look at key questions like skills and education, life-long training, rethink the way we consider careers and re-invent the way we look at companies. We need new solutions: for instance for active and healthy lives in aging societies. Mobility answers, to overcome mismatches in our economies, in our job-markets. New ways to protect our environment and ensure a sustainable use of resources. Dependable energy sources: with better networks and a wider range of local energy resources to ensure no country is left isolated and eliminate what we call “energy islands“ – an issue leaders will discuss in May. And finally, digital solutions too, an area where Estonia is a world leader.
For the world, there is a lot of inspiration to be found in the way that you have embraced the opportunities offered by a digital economy, making the concept of a “start-up nation“, “a wired nation“, a reality. Making lives of citizens and businesses simpler and richer, creating new connections and finding new ways to waste less time and less resources. No doubt the Prime Minister will share some of this expertise at the summit I decided to dedicate specifically to this issue, this autumn [October EC].
One thing I find particularly inspiring is the way that, in embracing a digital economy, rather than being put off by very real risks, you turned these risks into opportunities. Seeing cyber security not as an unwanted but necessary burden, but instead as a way of opening up new horizons, of enabling companies and individuals to feel more secure as they venture further and invent the economy of the future. I think it says a lot about the way your country sees the world. What a country like Estonia brings to the European Union is this drive to keep improving, to keep finding innovative solutions. An optimistic outlook on the future.
Time and again I come across surveys that place Estonia way at the top of charts in terms optimism in Europe. I am never surprised. Because I know this optimism is grounded in a knowledge of the opportunities that lie ahead. ’Optimism is a moral duty’ is a well-known quote. We need it in these days. Although I prefer the word “hope“. To me hope is a verb.
When your country joined the euro, over two years ago now, some questioned this optimistic attitude. In fact, and rightly, you took the longer-term view, knowing the euro was bound to overcome the difficulties, that your economy was bound to benefit from adopting it, and that from the inside you would be able to help shape common rules in a way that you couldn’t if you waited longer. This view has already been rewarded with stability and high growth rates in the past two years. This didn’t go unnoticed of course also in other countries that were planning to join the euro area; and we look forward to welcoming Latvia, who is set on joining at the beginning of next year, as full member of the club.

Estonia joining the euro area has meant a lot to Estonia, but it has also meant a lot to the euro area. In the darkest hours of the crisis, I often said half-jokingly that as long as new countries chose to adopt the euro, as long as our club attracted new members, it proved that the single currency was still “sexy“. This demonstration of confidence was important at that time, and indeed makes of Estonia a very special member of the eurozone.
But to my eyes, what mattered even more with Estonia joining the euro is that, to us Europeans, the euro is much more than just a currency. For our countries, the euro is a symbol. Opening up further possibilities, and anchoring us in a common European destiny, in a shared space of freedom and security.
Coming from a small nation myself, I’m deeply aware that size matters. It is key to preserving tight communities, attached to a language or culture. But in a globalised world, this is made all the easier when you are part of a wider entity. We wouldn’t trade our small size. But we know we’re best placed to make the most of its benefits, when by teaming up with others, we open up more space for more freedom. Europe has to be precisely that: a haven. A haven allowing us to be ourselves more freely, to raise our voices and develop beyond what we would ever achieve alone. A place where our ideas can echo further, and louder, meeting other ideas along the way. That is true for all European countries, the bigger and the smaller.
But above all, Europe remains the world’s largest and most secure haven for individual freedoms. Something that all too often, we Europeans tend to take for granted. Of course, Europe looks very different depending on where you stand. But when as one of the freest countries of the world like Estonia, your borders are Europe’s borders, this knowledge becomes much more immediate: the experience of what a difference it makes to be on this side of that border, to be in Europe.

And no one can remind Europeans better of this than a country like Estonia. We are lucky to count you among us.

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