Kaja Kallas: Government May Not Have Red Lines, But Estonia Does

Reform Party chairwoman and MP Kaja Kallas at the opening sitting of the Riigikogu's 2019 fall session on Monday. Sept. 9, 2019 // Ken Mürk/ERR

Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) has said that he does not have any red lines or issues on which it’s not possible to compromise. The fact that it’s possible to compromise on truly anything, including a lack of political responsibility, is confirmed by the actions of the current government on a weekly basis, MP Kaja Kallas, chairwoman of the opposition Reform Party, wrote on the first day of the Riigikogu’s fall session.

Unfortunately, these “compromises,” or, to put it frankly, concessions, are being made at the expense of Estonia’s future. Estonia, however, has clearly defined red lines which the Reform Party can defend during the fall session of the Riigikogu that lays ahead.

The Reform Party has submitted to the Riigikogu a bill tasking the government with turning the education system into a unified, Estonian-language one. It’s time to stop maintaining two parallel language-based education systems and move forward toward a single, Estonian-language education system.

In order to do so, we need dialogue with our Russian-language community, we need to adjust our network of kindergartens and schools, and we need to train teachers. All of this demands a strong political consensus and financial support. We need to begin with kindergartens and thereafter move forward, one education level at a time.

We know that native Russian-speaking residents are increasingly prepared to put their children in Estonian-language schools. The government should thus be the guide and driver here, but unfortunately it was agreed upon in the coalition agreement that the status quo would remain.

The prime minister only talks about how Russian children need to be taught more Estonian and, characteristically, compromises at the expense of children’s education and bringing the Estonian and Russian communities closer together.

Nonetheless, I hope that our bill will generate meaningful discussion in the Riigikogu, and that the need for a unified education system is not suppressed.

Isamaa: A Reason to Save for Retirement

Without a doubt, one of the most important topics this fall is the government’s plan to destroy the second pension pillar. It’s clear to everyone that the government is in a hurry with dismantling the second pillar because the state budget and unaffordable campaign promises desperately need funding.

Under political pressure, the Ministry of Finance is quickly cobbling together bills without any impact analyses or legal clarity. The government has committed to destroying a 17-year-old agreement between the state and its citizens that provided for a collective saving for retirement.

The pension system is supported by three pillars: a state, a mandatory and a voluntary pillar. If the mandatory pillar is made voluntary, this will dismantle the entire system, after which it can no longer be fixed.

There are certainly aspects of the second pension pillar that could be improved by increasing flexibility and reducing administrative fees, but we cannot send people the message that you don’t have to save for retirement, because working people alone cannot maintain an aging society.

It’s a shame that Isamaa is destroying what was built by Mart Laar’s government. The Reform Party is prepared for long days and nights in the Riigikogu if needed to curb the government’s cynical actions.

Keeping the State from Living on Credit

We all know by now that Jüri Ratas’ previous government spent too much ahead of the elections, and according to forecasts must now make cuts to the state budget for the next several years. It has always been crucial to the Reform Party that the state’s finances are in order, and that we do not spend at the future’s expense.

Needless to say, Estonia can involve loaned funding for investment purposes if we have well thought-out projects, calculations and a clear understanding of what it is we want to accomplish. But we have to stick to the simple policy that the state’s fixed costs cannot be unattainable.

State budget discussions in the Riigikogu will be intense, as uncertainties exist that the government is not acting responsibly when it comes to financial matters, and will want to relax agreed-upon state budget rules in order to increase the size of the legally permitted deficit.

Creative finance in which credit cards are used to pay off everyday overspending is not a road down which Estonia can be allowed to be taken.

Climate Change Creating Conditions for More Competitive Economy

This fall, the attention of the majority of countries worldwide has turned toward one of the biggest issues of this century — climate change.

A few months ago, under the leadership of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), the government positioned Estonia as one of few European countries still denying the obvious.

In the future, it is those countries where they know how to do more increasingly cleanly and with fewer resources who will have the competitive economic advantage. We cannot acquiesce to this denial.

When thinking of Estonia’s future, it is important to prepare for an energy leap, and to take advantage in the fight for new jobs of our competitive advantage thus far — the smart implementation of modern technology.

Hanging Onto Specialists Working for State

A lot of specialists and experts who are dedicated to what they do work for the benefit of our state. Unfortunately, we are seeing increasingly frequently situations in which facts and policy suggestions or opinions offered by officials upset members of the government.

We know that, as far as EKRE leaders are concerned, many top officials are “Brussels’ henchmen,” and that the Deep State is everywhere. This all seemed funny at first, but EKRE wasn’t joking — as evidenced by the Elmar Vaher matter and EKRE’s continued attempted obstruction of Lavly Perling continuing to serve as prosecutor general.

There is reason to worry that pressure on experts and officials will grow, as EKRE believes that objective arguments and facts are part of a conspiracy theory against the government. 

We know that the head of government is shying away from red lines and is prepared to compromise, although Estonia cannot afford to drive away intelligent people. I want for arguments and facts to count in politics, and that nobody has to fear political revenge for criticizing the policies of this or that party.

The Riigikogu and its committees are one place where the opposition can ensure that the government does not force through policy filled with half-truths, party censorship and politically embellished arguments.

Happy beginning of the political season!

Kaja Kallas’ post originally appeared in her blog here (link in Estonian).

The article was first published in English at: https://news.err.ee/978789/kaja-kallas-government-may-not-have-red-lines-but-estonia-does

Edited by Aili Vahtla

Kaja Kallas
Academy of Liberalism