To enhance their competitiveness and improve the day-to-day lives of their citizens, the countries of the Baltic Sea region need to make as good as possible use of the opportunities offered by digitalization, and the region could serve as an example of digital governance, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said on Monday.
"Aside from the Baltic Sea, our people could be connected also by data flows moving quickly between government institutions, which would enable to use domestic services also in a cross-border manner -- such as buy medicines at a pharmacy in a neighboring country with a digital prescription issued in the home country," Ratas said in his opening speech at the 9th Annual Forum of the European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR).
Ratas called on the countries of the Baltic Sea region to work closer together in cross-border data exchanges to together achieve a new level in e-governance.
"Estonia and Finland are successfully engaging in cross-border cooperation in data exchange already. The opportunities are endless, from tax information to the exchange of medical data," he said.
Speaking about the EU budget plan for 2021-2027, the Estonian head of government named transport and energy as important priorities for the Baltic Sea region.
"I hope that Rail Baltic, which would connect Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with the rest of Europe, will be completed by 2026. I also wish that our energy systems were synchronized with Europe as soon as possible. These are important projects not only from the viewpoint of connectivity or the economy but also regional security, and are necessary for all of Europe," Ratas said.
Ratas admitted that the reduction in EU funding in the new budget period could be predicted, as Estonia has become richer. At the same time, Estonia is not yet satisfied with the current budget proposals concerning cohesion policy and the agricultural policy.
"The new budget plan should take the level of development of regions more into account. Regions also should have more flexibility in deciding in what fields would EU funding help solve the main bottlenecks to development the best. It is also important for programs across the maritime border to continue," Ratas said.
The prime minister of Estonia also highlighted the need to step up efforts to reduce pollution of the Baltic Sea, a sea with a fragile ecosystem.
"As we can see from a recent assessment of the condition of the sea, the situation is not good. We need to make more effort with all the littoral nations to reduce environmental impacts from agriculture, industry, marine transport, fishery, and aquaculture on the Baltic Sea," Ratas said.