Siim Kallas: Reform Party need to revise basic arguments ({{commentsTotal}})

Kallas has had a great part in shaping the Estonian state and its politics. The new coalition led by the Center Party represents the first departure from the course his party set out in the late 1990s.
Kallas has had a great part in shaping the Estonian state and its politics. The new coalition led by the Center Party represents the first departure from the course his party set out in the late 1990s. Source: (ERR)

In an interview with daily Postimees published on Friday, former Estonian prime minister and vice president of the European Commission, Siim Kallas, said that in opposition, his party should look in the mirror and work to find a platform with which to enter the 2019 Riigikogu elections and get back into government.

Kallas said that right now he preferred to be careful making predictions about the new coalition’s politics. As with any coalition government, there would be problems, especially as there were three parties involved.

In 1999, Siim Kallas became prime minister with a coalition of the Reform Party, the Moderates, and the Pro Patria Union. Asked by Postimees’ Joosep Värk what his reaction would have been if back then someone had told him that the Reform Party would be in government for the coming 17 years, Kallas said it would have sounded unbelievable.

As for the outgoing government, there had been pressures inside the coalition, and that had to be accepted. One had to take things the way they are, Kallas said. To get busy afterwards and trying to find out who had put one over on the other might be interesting intellectually, but the Reform Party now needed to think about the future.

Considering how difficult the coalition negotiations had been between the Reform Party, the Social Democrats, and IRL in 2015, it could be said that problems had been apparent already then, Kallas observed.

Reform Party should revisit ideological positions

Kallas said that the Reform Party would need to reconsider its ideological positions, as 17 years in government had inevitably slowed it down. The attitude had been to rather not make experiments, as there might have been resistance to them.

As part of the opposition, the Reform Party needed to revise its basic arguments and come up with an alternative it could offer to the voters. They needed to work on a concept to get back into government in 2019. The party had a lot of capable people, and there had been disagreements among them recently, there was no denying that, Kallas said. The party needed to find a way to unite and get ready for the next political battle, which Kallas thinks are the 2019 Riigikogu elections.

The aim for which the party had been founded, namely the establishment of a free market economy and its development, were still up to date, Kallas said, especially as in Europe such an economy was often seen as a problem rather than a solution. The solution to the Euro Crisis had been centered on individual member states a lot, and afterwards those mechanisms that would have given people the ability to start over were not put in place, and there was no economic growth.

No alternative to liberalism

Referring to recent election victories around the world by parties and politicians that favored protectionism and closing borders, Kallas said that this wasn’t anything one could agree with. If Estonia chose the same path, if it became a protectionist country, he wouldn’t want to imagine what would happen. If Estonia introduced tariffs, so would the others, and those others were a lot more powerful, Kallas pointed out.

Asked about the Reform Party’s slow shift towards ideological conservatism, Kallas said that the party had managed to win elections this way, and that conservatism and liberalism weren’t mutually exclusive. German chancellor Ludwig Erhard (Minister of Economic Affairs 1949-1963, Chancellor 1963-1966) had been a conservative, but also one of the most prominent pioneers of European liberal politics. Mart Laar was a conservative, yet his economic policies had been liberal, Kallas pointed out.

The Reform Party’s future success with a liberal platform would depend on what the new coalition would do, Kallas said. The party needed to find a viable compromise between conservatism and liberalism.

The way forward

Kallas said that the party hadn’t taken the time to thoroughly think things through. This had been where the problems began. What exactly had gone wrong was still to be found out, but in about a month things should already be clearer. A true liberal always had to look in the mirror, Kallas said.

Asked about his own plans and ambitions, Kallas said that at the moment, he didn’t have much of either. He would want to join the party’s leadership in its next internal elections, but not likely go for the chairmanship.

A lot that had happened, and a lot of Estonian economic policy in general had his fingerprints on it, Kallas said. Of course he was proud of that, but it could all be interpreted in different ways, and he wanted to defend his contribution as well. But perhaps this would be less of an issue of someone else without his kind of past took this role upon themselves, Kallas added.

The interview was published in Postimees on Nov. 18, 2016 (link in Estonian).

Editor: Editor: Dario Cavegn