Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation ({{commentsTotal}})

Ministers of the current Estonian government. September 2016.
Ministers of the current Estonian government. September 2016. Source: (Hanna Samoson/ERR)

On Friday, the ministers of the Social Democrats (SDE) and the Pro Patra and Res Publica Union (IRL) began calling back Reform Party members from the boards of state-owned companies and funds. The Reform Party’s reaction was an announcement published on Sunday — a rather strange one, finds ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

In the announcement, the affected Reform Party members rather loftily declared that they were going to ask to be recalled in the interest of the country, saying that there were more important matters to worry about in Estonia, and that they had decided “spoil the game” of the Social Democrats and IRL.

Foreign Minister and party heavyweight Jürgen Ligi said on Sunday that seeing as this issue was such a big problem, they had decided to “resolve” it.

While in fact, their move didn’t “resolve” anything. It didn’t spoil SDE and IRL’s fun, either.

If someone wants you to leave, you then refuse to get up, and they position themselves to grab you by the scruff of your neck and help you out, well — at this point, you may get up and walk out of the room yourself, but make no mistake: you have been thrown out. The junior coalition partners’ stunt worked.

This latest example of that coalition’s penchant for petty bickering is mainly about party-controlled sinecures. Secondary political leverage, maybe. But it certainly isn’t about any kind of grave development on the whole. That the MPs affected by SDE and IRL’s Friday stunt evoke “the interest of the Estonian people, parliament, and the [affected] businesses” seems rather melodramatic.

Especially as at the same time, party members ranging from its senior ministers to the chairman of its parliamentary group are doing what they can to play down the current upheaval in the government. Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas said on Saturday that he saw no reason to fear that the government might collapse over the matter. He might have changed his mind in the meantime: The Reform Party acknowledged on Monday morning that the government was in a crisis.

When there’s no practical angle, get emotional

MP Urve Tiidus, who heads Reform’s parliamentary group, said on Sunday that “The procedure how the board members are appointed needs clarification, not political games and attempts at improving one’s ratings at the expense of Estonia’s reputation, tagging every MP’s connection to business.”

Tiidus also finds what happened on Friday “neither dignified nor appropriate,” which is likely how plenty of locals would describe the way her party tried to keep its members on those supervisory boards by dragging the matter out.

Another attempt at de-escalation, and at the same time a wonderful post-Soviet treat, is Foreign Minister Jürgen Ligi’s Sunday evening statement that the MPs’ being on the supervisory boards wasn’t unconstitutional, only the way they were appointed was.

This is wonderfully telling. In the Estonian perception of position and power, it doesn’t matter much how anyone reaches their position. What matters is that they have it. This way of looking at things, perhaps rooted in the fact that no matter how corrupt leaders were in the Soviet Union, people had no other choice but to accept them, demands respect for people entirely based on the power that they wield — a form of fear, in other words, rather than appreciation for merit of any kind.

But Estonia’s reputation is at stake!

No, it really isn’t. The opposite is the case. Every snake pit you clean up, every local political machine that is finally dismantled, every nest of old privileges you get rid of, and every good old boys’ club you dispose of translates into a better reputation.

In the case currently discussed, ministers appointed their party colleagues in the Riigikogu to positions on the supervisory boards of state-owned companies in their area of jurisdiction. That is precisely an example of the kind of privilege that does not contribute to Estonia’s good reputation abroad.

That the Reform Party’s board members are now forced to step down, and that their replacements will hopefully be elected in a more independent and transparent manner, is a good thing. And any party that respects the ideas of accountability and transparency should support it, not whine about it pointing to the minutiae of procedure involved.

Editor: Editor: Aili Vahtla

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