TALLINN - A framework agreement on a cooperation program between Switzerland and Estonia was signed on Monday according to which Switzerland is to contribute some 27 million euros toward improving life in Estonia.
Two programs will be developed based on the framework agreement -- one geared at improving social inclusion and the other at supporting biodiversity, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Minister of Finance Annely Akkermann said that the war has forced millions of people to flee from Ukraine and Estonia must make an effort to integrate them with the society.
"Learning the Estonian language is one of the key factors in integration. Estonian-language education must be available for everyone, it is an important pillar," the minister said, adding that amid the energy crisis and inflation caused by the war, the targets in the climate agreement and protection of biodiversity must not be abandoned.
"Switzerland's support to Estonia with regard to these issues is more important that just the financial contribution -- we have shared understanding and interests about how to solve the problems that states are faced with," she added.
The bilaterally signed framework agreement on the cooperation program describes two focuses -- 19.2 million euros will be allocated for issues concerning social inclusion and 7.2 million euros will go towards boosting biodiversity.
Ambassador of Switzerland Martin Michelet said that the framework agreement for implementing the second support allocation in the Estonian-Swiss cooperation program marks an important milestone in the fruitful cooperation between the two states.
"Estonia and Switzerland have great opportunities for further cooperation and we are learning much from each other. The second support round marks the start of a new stage in enhancing bilateral cooperation and provides great impetus to further joint action," Michelet said.
The main focus of the social inclusion program is on integration and creating better opportunities for Ukrainian war refugees for participating in the society. The program budget is distributed between four ministries with the Ministry of Culture being the main responsible authority.
The support measure by the Ministry of Culture will involve the creation of integration services, for which seven million euros will be made available. The Ministry of Social Affairs will receive six million euros for development activities in social and child protection. The Ministry of Education and Research is slated to get 5.2 million euros, according to the agreement, to organize continuing training for education and health care staff from Ukraine. One million euros will be allocated for strengthening the civil society through social entrepreneurship with the Ministry of the Interior having been tasked with its coordination.
The objective of the biodiversity program is to systematize environmental databases and improve the efficiency of protection to facilitate work in the field and get a better overview of the valid restricted areas as well as areas in need of protection. The program is being led by the Ministry of the Environment.
Detailed program agreements will be concluded to implement the cooperation programs and concrete activities will be developed in the next stage of program agreement negotiations.
The Swiss Confederation has been supporting the European Union's EU13 countries from 2007. Switzerland is planning to allocate altogether 1.1 billion Swiss francs to EU13 countries for the 2022-2029 period and an additional 200 million francs for integration projects in all EU member states. The supported fields and detailed content of the programs were agreed upon in bilateral negotiations and the support can be used until 2027.
Some 5.9 million euros has been planned for co-financing by Estonia with the concrete sum depending on the measures and accounting for up to 40 percent of the total amount.