In just a few days, Estonia will be taking on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union – for the first time we are going to be leading the substantive work of the European Union. That means negotiating with Member States and seeking compromises in the most varied range of topics. Before ministers can make any decisions, everything is thoroughly discussed in working parties. Three working group chairs from the Ministry of Culture Eike Eller, Kairis Ulp and Peeter Sookruus share more about their tasks.
To make the substance of the Presidency’s work flow smoother, an important part is played by the working group chairs, of whom Estonia has 236 during the Presidency. Their main task is to lead the discussions of officials from member states on topics that will later be presented to ministers for decisions. In the domain covered by the Ministry of Culture, there are three such working parties – one for cultural, one for audiovisual and one for sports related topics. Before the starting signal of the presidency sounds, we asked working group chairs about how preparations have gone so far and what experiences they will personally be taking with them from this job.
The most visible part of a working party chair’s activities is preparing and leading working party meetings, which will bring together officials from Member States. What does this work actually mean, what kinds of activities do you have to do?
Eike Eller, Chair of the working party on culture: The main task is to reach an agreement between member states on matters that are under discussion in the working party. In addition, we have to prepare topics and documents that will be discussed at the meeting, prepare the agendas for the meetings, negotiate with the relevant EU institutions. There is a lot of work related to coordinating, informing and other preparation tasks. In addition to the regular work of the working party chair, as an advisor on culture, my task is to prepare and carry out the Presidency’s cultural programme – the largest ever Estonian culture festival in Belgium and Luxembourg.
Peeter Sookruus, Chair of the working party on audiovisual affairs: The task list for a working party chair is indeed long. Besides the organising work, there is a lot of active work related communication and discussion with colleagues from other Member States, the European commission, the Secretariat of the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament. Of course, we are in constant contact with Tallinn and colleagues at the Representation (the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the EU in Brussels – ed.).
Kairis Ulp, Chair of the working party on sports: Since leading the work of a working party can only be done in good cooperation with Member States, the Commission, the Secretariat and, of course, with members of our own team, it is of utmost importance to create and maintain good relations, but also to motivate people. At the moment, a lot of time is going towards preparing all kinds of working documents.
Peeter Sookruus: It is important to move topics forward consistently and on schedule. This all requires having a general overview of developments in the area and certainly in-depth knowledge of all topics at hand. That includes being up to date with other countries too, the opinions and concerns of their main market actors. After all, we [in the audiovisual working party] are dealing with renewing or developing new requirements and rules in an area that touches everyone. We can tell that there are a lot of hopes and expectations towards the Estonian Presidency in the European Union. We have a lot of support and, of course, we are all making a lot of effort for everything to succeed.
What are the main topics discussed during your tenure? How simple or complicated is to get all the Member States to arrive at a common understanding on these questions?
Peeter Sookruus: The main topic on the table in the working party on audiovisual affairs - for the second year in a row already - is the renewal of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). During the Maltese Presidency, Member States reached an agreement on the principles in the Council. With Estonia at the helm, from the 1 of July we are moving on to a new phase, which means that negotiations will begin with the European Parliament and the European Commission. We saw the complex process of having all Member States reach a common agreement, and we didn’t reach a full consensus on all questions. Of course, there is no need to reopen debate with Member States on all points that will be revised in the directive, however, we are certainly expecting many interesting discussions with the European Parliament, with whom we have to arrive at a common understanding. We hope and believe that an agreement is possible, because all parties understand very well how important it is to update the EU’s legal framework on audiovisual media services as soon as possible.
Eike Eller: Since questions of culture are up to the discretion of each member state, at the EU level our work mostly has to do with cooperation and coordination of activities, so there aren’t many legislative acts in our field of work. During the Presidency, we will focus on access to culture in the digital era and on working with the public in that context. Also, the digital topic is one of the main priorities of the Estonian Presidency. In addition, we are planning on dealing with the topics such as import of cultural heritage items into the European Union and with the role of culture in the EU foreign relations. Open and cooperative attitude and good preparation are the key to a successful presidency.
Kairis Ulp: We have fantastic topics in the area of sports! The most important topic, which is a priority topic for Estonia in sports and which is innovative and has great potential in the EU, is the role of coaches in society. We are coordinating the forming of the EU position on amending the WADA codex, and another topic that will probably be on the table is how to improve the structured dialogue with sports organisations. At the official opening of the EU Week of Sport at the end of September in Tartu, a conference will be held, where the main topic is athlete’s dual career. This is a topic that has huge development potential in Estonia.
When the year is up and Estonia hands over the presidency baton to Bulgaria, where should we have reached by that time in terms of our priority topics?
Eike Eller: On the question of access to culture, our ambition is to reach a ministerial level agreement in November, meaning we should have the highest level give guidelines for future activities within the EU. Discussions about import controls and the role of culture in EU foreign relations will be carried over into the Bulgarian Presidency.
Peeter Sookruus: In audiovisual affairs, our aim is clear – over the course of negotiations, we would like to arrive at a mutual understanding with our good partner the European Parliament and with that finish the content work related to renewing the Directive. It would be great if we could hand the next presidency a clean slate, so to speak, so that they wouldn’t have to keep working on the same issues that previous presidencies have dealt with at length.
Kairis Ulp: Hopefully we will reach a common position with Member States on the social role of coaches, so that we can adopt the Council conclusions. This is something to celebrate!
What kind of experience have you personally gained through working on the Presidency and as the working party chair?
Eike Eller: Perhaps the experience gained will be easier to evaluate after the Presidency is over, but I can already agree with those who have said that a country does not actually become a real member of the European Union until after their first presidency is over. The presidency role offers a chance to see processes from an entirely different angle. The fact that we are the ones now who have to take the lead role really requires going in-depth into topics and processes, into planning, into negotiations with different stakeholders. It is a very enlightening and enriching experience!
Peeter Sookruus: We are discovering a lot of new facets in cooperating with different countries, we understand the need for working together, how great the power is when people from different traditions and cultures work together. A lot can be done like this, but constant and accurate information exchange is of utmost importance here. We can now also see better how in Europe the weight of a country’s say doesn’t depend on their size – it’s also very important how any given state acts in certain matters, and whether they find those who share their views.
Kairis Ulp: I have already gained a very positive experience. I can do more for sports in Estonia than I ever have been able to do before. I have acquired a lot of completely new skills and knowledge, not to mention gaining a hefty baggage of experience and gaining a brand new outlook.
Interviewed by Katrin Arvisto
Meet the team – these are the people who will be chairing the Presidency’s working parties in the Ministry of Culture’s areas of responsibility
Estonian Counsellor for Cultural Affairs in Brussels, Chair of the Estonian Presidency's working party on culture
During the Presidency, Eike will be chairing the working party on culture, however, together with the cultural programme counsellor Jaanika Saarmets, she is also responsible for carrying out the Presidency’s cultural programme in Brussels. Previously, Eike has worked in several positions at the Ministry of Culture, as well as at the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Advisor of the sports department of Estonian Ministry of Culture, Chair of the Estonian Presidency's working party on sport
Kairis has been active for a long time in Estonia as well as internationally in developing sports among students in higher education – she belongs to the Executive Committee of the International University Sports Federation FISU. In parallel with her tasks as the chair of the working party, Kairis will also continue her work as the head of the Estonian sports registry at the Foundation of Sports Education and Information.
Counsellor for Audiovisual Affairs at the Permanent Representation of Estonia to the EU, Chair of the Estonian Presidency’s working party on audiovisual affairs
Peeter is one of the leading Estonian experts in the field of audiovisual affairs, having worked for a long time at the Estonian Radio, the Ministry of Culture, and then at the Technical Regulatory Authority in the area of media services.
During the Presidency, the Ministry of Culture is organising a series of international events in Estonia
- On July 12-13 in Tartu the cultural heritage conference „Cultural Heritage 3.0: Audience and Access in Digital Era“ will be held, with a focus on access to culture and the inclusion of the audience, and developing with the help of digital means during the digital turn era. This is also one of the most important topics in the area of culture that we would like to focus on during the Estonian Presidency. Concurrently with the conference, there will also be a meeting of the European Heritage Label network.
- On July 12-14 in Tallinn, the traditional Informal meeting of EU Sport Directors will be held, as well as the conference on the “Role of sport coaches in society. Adding value to people’s lives.” The conference presenters include Sergey Bubka, Roy Hodgson, Howard Frier and many other experts on the topic from around the world.
- In cooperation with the European Commission, the City of Tartu and the Tartu Marathon Club, the official opening of the III European Week of Sport will take place on September 23. The event will be organised in conjunction with the 20th Tartu Bicycle Marathon. The sports event is organised in connection with the conference “Promoting sport, physical activities and athletes’ dual career in and with universities”, which directly precedes the marathon on September 21-22. Before the week of sport, the UNESCO International Day of University Sport will also be held in Tartu.
- In cooperation with the Union of Estonian Architects, an international conference of the European Forum for Architectural Policies (EFAP) will take place on September 21-22, to give an overview of the latest developments in spatial planning and in the construction culture mentality development. The conference will present the newest directions taken in architectural policy across Europe and the success stories of how these policies were implemented.
- The vision conference on audiovisual affairs and film will take place on November 27-28 in Tallinn. The conference will be organised within the framework of the category A film festival PÖFF, in cooperation with the European Film Forum and Industry@Tallinn, which has come to be known for being a meeting place for the film industry.