Von der Leyen in Tallinn with good news

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas took a short trip in a self-driving bus in the Ülemiste Campus. PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Tallinn on Tuesday to give Estonia’s recovery and resilience plan, pledging around one billion euros for investments and reforms by 2026, the green light.

“I want to commend you for investing 42 percent of Estonia’s recovery plan in green targets,” the Commission president said, appearing at a press conference with Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Von der Leyen highlighted mobility and transport projects to be supported by the recovery plan in Estonia one of which she got to experience in the Ülemiste Campus near the Tallinn Airport. She agreed with Kallas in that hopefully she will be able to take a Rail Baltic train to its new terminal the next time she visits. However, the fact the project is increasingly behind schedule might mean von der Leyen’s next visit is years away.

Fascinated with self-driving bus

“The investment in Rail Baltic is outstanding,” the Commission president nevertheless said. “It is the starting point of a railroad connecting the Baltics to the rest of the European Union. That is why it perfectly reflects the spirit of NextGenerationEU. That spirit being, the closer the union, the greater our shared prosperity.”

Von der Leyen took a short trip in a self-driving bus in the Ülemiste Campus. “It was the first time for me and I liked it. I was a passenger in a self-driving vehicle. It was a good experience. I want to go again! I really recommend it! Von der Leyen said, making no effort to hide her excitement.

Besides innovation in transport, von der Leyen highlighted as other important items in Estonia’s recovery plan continued concentration on digital development and improving the resilience of the healthcare system following the COVID-19 pandemic by strengthening first-contact medical care and investing in Tallinn Hospital as a top medical center.

Kallas thanked the Commission for the common vaccine tender and recovery package being of great support to member states in the pandemic. “This kind of cooperation speaks of true Europeanness – we stand together in good and bad and see obstacles as opportunities,” the PM said.

Bumpy road

Estonia is the 22nd country the recovery plan of which has been approved, while greenlighting the plans of Hungary and Poland is still stuck behind problems with rule of law, the former struggling with corruption and the latter in terms of complying with European Court of Justice decisions on the independence of judges.

“The requirements are tied to the EU half-year where the Commission regularly provides country-specific recommendations for reforms. Estonia had its recommendations that it complied with, which allowed the Commission to approve the plan,” von der Leyen told Postimees. “Country-specific recommendations for other member states concern rule of law, meaning we expect them to comply with reform requirements having to do with the independence of the judiciary or anti-corruption efforts – prerequisites for package approval.”

Estonia’s recovery plan will need to be approved by the Council of the European Union after which €126 million worth of prepayments can be made.

Von der Leyen and Kallas left Tallinn for Slovenia on Tuesday evening where they will attend an informal European Council dinner. The EU and West Balkan summit will be held at the same location today.

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