Brussels; 14 February 2000UE-EE 804/00 (Presse 43)
Third meeting of the Association Council between the European Union and Estonia (Brussels, 14 February 2000)
1. The EU-Estonia Association Council held its third meeting on Monday 14 February 2000, chaired by Mr Jaime GAMA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Portugal and President-in-Office of the Council of the European Union. Mr Toomas Hendrik ILVES, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, headed the Estonian Delegation. Mr Günter VERHEUGEN, Commissioner responsible for Enlargement, represented the European Commission.
This meeting of the Association Council took place shortly after the Helsinki European Council, which confirmed the importance of the enlargement process for the stability and prosperity of the entire European continent and took a number of important decisions in this respect.
2. The Association Council reviewed the state of Estonia's preparation for accession in the light of the second Regular Report issued by the European Commission in October 1999, of the Accession Partnership, updated in December 1999, and of the Estonian National Programme for the Adoption of the Acquis, the revision of which has been approved by the Estonian Government in January 2000.
The Association Council recognised and appreciated the efforts Estonia is making in pursuing its goal of European integration. Important steps have been achieved in addressing most of the Accession Partnership priorities.
The Association Council noted that Estonia continues to fulfil the Copenhagen political criteria, is a functioning market economy and is expected to be able to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union in the medium term, provided it completes the remaining key structural reforms.
The Association Council noted that Estonia continues to be committed to integrating non-Estonians into the Estonian society. Concerning the new Language Law, it expressed confidence that the necessary legislative changes will be made so that the linguistic framework complies with international requirements, including the Europe Agreement. It noted the Union's readiness to continue providing Estonia with expert help on the issue.
In the economic field, the Association Council encouraged Estonia to pursue its efforts, which have improved macro-economic stability, including the reduction of the previous large external imbalances. Priority should be given to the implementation of the remaining structural reforms, in particular the restructuring of the oil-shale sector, the finalisation of pension and health reforms, the acceleration of land privatisation and the strengthening of supervision in the financial sector.
The Association Council noted Estonia's continued progress in aligning its legislation to the EU acquis. It identified some key areas, such as customs, where the progress has been slow and further efforts are particularly needed.
The Association Council took note of the progress made by Estonia in adopting the acquis in the field of justice and home affairs and encouraged it to pursue its efforts, particularly as regards the modernisation of the police forces and the fight against organised crime, including drug trafficking.
The Association Council stressed the need for further progress in improving the administrative and judicial capacity, and recalled the importance of a comprehensive strategy for public administration reform.
The Association Council encouraged Estonia to speed up alignment in all areas, so as to be able to apply EU rules and standards effectively from the date of its entry into the Union. It noted that, to make the best possible use of pre-accession funds provided by the Union, Estonia's capacity to program EU financial assistance should be improved.
The Association Council welcomed the steps the Union has taken in preparing for enlargement, in particular the opening of a new inter-governmental conference to make the EU institutions fit for enlargement.
The Association Council also examined the evolution of bilateral relations in the framework of the Europe Agreement. It noted that open issues were examined in detail at the level of the Association Committee, as well as in day-to-day collaboration between ministerial meetings, so as to enable the Association Council to appraise the situation politically. Position papers reviewing developments to date and considering future priorities were exchanged.
The Association Council noted the further development of bilateral trade flows between the European Union and Estonia. It also welcomed Estonia's membership in the WTO since November 1999.
The Association Council noted the recent conclusion, on a technical level, of negotiations for mutual concessions in agricultural products, as well as of discussions in the field of processed agricultural products, with a view to increasing bilateral trade liberalisation and improving market access in the pre-accession period.
The Association Council welcomed the adoption of the Implementing Rules on Competition for Estonia. The Association Council took note of the first State Aid Inventory, drawn up in compliance with the EU rules, forwarded by Estonia recently and encouraged Estonia to continue its efforts in setting up a framework for the control of State aids.
The Association Council noted Estonia's concern about the unsolved competition dispute in the maritime transport in the Baltic Sea. The Association Council encouraged the involved Parties to continue efforts to find a solution to the problem.
The Association Council noted Estonia's participation in several Community programmes: Youth for Europe, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Health Promotion, Third Programme for SMEs, Kaleidoscope, Ariane, Raphael, as well as the 5th framework programme for RTD.
It underlined the role of Estonian participation in these programmes as an important element of the pre-accession strategy enabling the Estonian administration to experience the practical work in Union bodies.
The Association Council welcomed the contribution of the PHARE programme and the European Investment Bank to the development of the Estonian economy, notably to strengthen the crucial sectors of the national economy. It noted the substantial increase of the pre-accession aid to Estonia and other applicant countries from 2000 and the establishment of two additional instruments providing aid respectively for agricultural and rural development (SAPARD) and structural policies (ISPA).
4. The Association Council reviewed some international issues of common interest. It emphasised the importance of regional co-operation as a means of fostering stability and good neighbourly relations and noted with satisfaction Estonia's contribution in regional co-operation initiatives, notably as a member of the Council of Baltic Sea States.
5. In conclusion, the Association Council expressed its confidence in the development of the relations within the Europe Agreement and emphasised the crucial role it is further called on to play in resolving bilateral problems and contributing to prepare Estonia for accession to the Union.