Andrei Tuch: SDE's coalition amendments – sounds good, now get it done (1)

(ERR)
Andrei Tuch
8/5/2015 12:48 PM
Category: Opinion

Just a few months after an election and the troubled formation of a new government, a junior partner seeks to make changes in the coalition framework. Andrei Tuch reads the dull political manifesto so you don't have to.

If there is any clear trend in Estonian politics this decade, it is the negative effect of entrenched party bosses. In a parliamentary republic like Estonia (or Germany, or Britain), a Prime Minister can remain in power theoretically indefinitely – and our previous PM was, in his time, the longest-serving leader in Europe. Party chairmen loathe retiring, even if it is for the greater good. So it was a remarkable thing when in May of this year, the old chairman of the Social Democrats decided to concede the party leadership to Jevgeni Ossinovski – an impressive young politician with a large burden of expectations (and, being the son of Estonia’s richest man, undoubtedly a large war chest).

Ossinovski, who had served as the Minister of Education in the previous cabinet, spared no time in making his presence felt, by proposing to re-negotiate the coalition agreement. The Social Democrats are a junior partner in the current government and the current blueprint was signed off by Sven Mikser, who led the party at the time. It took less than two months for Ossinovski’s SDE to publish a list of amendments that they would like to see.

While a change of leadership naturally (and hopefully!) brings about some change in policy, the proposed amendments are not exactly groundbreaking. Some of them are irrelevant nitpicks of wording; others demand something that already exists, somewhere in the depths of governmental guidelines. Still, the Social Democrats are continuing its tradition of publishing concise (if not sufficiently detailed) program statements, which is something the other parties ought to emulate.

SDE’s proposals can be generally split into two camps: money and politics.

The Money

Raise the tax-free minimum to 400 euros a month.

o This is double what the government has already committed to (205 euros, eventually, up from the current 154 euros). It is also, conveniently, right around the current coalitional commitment for the minimum wage.
o Only applies to personal income tax, not the rest of the payroll taxes.
o Would give employees a maximum of 46.32 euros per month in extra take-home pay, at no extra cost to employers.
o The budgetary shortfall is to be funded from increasing the income tax rate – presumably making it progressive, since the scheme is supposed to be a net benefit for everyone making below 1600 euros a month.

Higher salaries in education.

o Decent (unspecified) salaries for kindergarten workers.
o School teachers’ minimum salaries at 120% of the national average.
o Doctoral students’ stipends at 80% of the national average – no explanation why a postgraduate scientist is only two-thirds as valuable to the country as a rookie teacher…

Affordable electricity, fast Internet access and good roads for rural residents.

o Estonia’s electricity market has opened up in the last couple of years, so there is little scope for centralized regulation and subsidizing of energy prices.
o Universal broadband access is already a national policy.
o It’s common for Estonians to complain about the quality of their roads, but there has been a lot of EU money pumped into roadworks. Country lanes may not be as good as those in Finland, but they’re a hell of a lot better than in Latvia…

Municipal authorities must have the right to introduce local taxes.

o Unclear how this would make them more attractive to business investors.
o Given that only a handful of municipalities have the leverage to make this viable (a tourist tax in Saaremaa, a pollution tax in Ida-Virumaa?), and Tallinn’s attempt to introduce a local sales tax was incredibly unpopular and swiftly killed, this looks like a red herring – an outrageous demand that SDE will surely sacrifice in negotiations.

SDE’s claim is that the income tax exemption will significantly stimulate consumption and the local economy, improve people’s willingness to stay in small towns and villages rather than moving/emigrating, and create a surge in entrepreneurship and Estonia’s labor competitiveness. How much of that will be accomplished by giving people an extra 46 euros a month is debatable (for reference, the median monthly payout to employees at the end of last year was 757 euros – although it’s naturally lower in rural areas), especially since elsewhere in SDE’s list of amendments, they propose a drastic increase on alcohol tax.

Overall, this is a re-wording of SDE’s old and not particularly popular policies – and it carries the same moral hazard. Low-income voters need to keep paying tax, because that is the best way to force them to care about what their government is doing.

The Politics

Explicitly include the need for financial and administrative autonomy at the county and municipal level in the coalition agreement.

o At least one major government agency in each county.
o At least 3000 public-sector jobs that can be done remotely, out-of-office.
o New jobs created as a metric for a municipality’s success, to be used when assigning extra funds from the central budget.

A special law for the capital city.
• A law establishing the rights and obligations of village elders.

The expansion of county and municipal rights is certainly in line with classic Social Democratic values, but its relevance in today’s Estonia is questionable: municipalities have been merging to save on administrative costs, and creating more levels of government, with more bureaucratic jobs, is not the Estonian way.

The rest of this section includes lots of well-intentioned but nebulous statements, most of which invite a natural response: if SDE has been in the coalition for years, why haven’t they already implemented this stuff? It’s all reasonable, it’s all common sense, but it’s not something an established party should be proposing for the future – it’s what they should be boasting as their accomplishment, the results of their efforts over the last decade.

The Conclusion

SDE’s amendments are an interesting, but not very consequential event in a slow political season. There is nothing in them that fundamentally contradicts the spirit of the coalition framework, but where the proposals are specific, they are often good and worth implementing. But this is not an opposition’s shadow manifesto – it’s a policy statement from a party in power. It’s good when parties keep refining their platforms even outside of an election year, and the Social Democrats will only benefit from a leadership reshuffle. But the most use we can get out of this document is to keep it around until 2019, and then ask Ossinovski’s SDE: how much of this did you actually get done?


The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia needs hands-on approach to promote foreign trade
    17.01

    Talking about foreign trade, there are no simple solutions, which is what makes it an unpopular topic with politicians. All the while, Estonia needs an active minister that could work in just that particular area, former minister of trade and entrepreneurship and current Reform Party MP Anne Sulling writes.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Hannes Rumm on the yet-unseen reconciliation in the Reform Party
    16.01

    The events of Friday’s meeting of the Reform Party leadership, in which the new chairman Hanno Pevkur switched out party secretary general Reimo Nebokat and director of the regional development division Kalev Lillo following a 7:6 vote, showed that the the party remained polarized, found Hannes Rumm, one of the hosts of Sunday's Vikerraadio broadcast "Samost ja Rumm."

  • foto
    Imbi Paju: Can our shared culture manage to save the world?
    14.01

    As the media is dominated by headlines which stir up memories of political threats, torture, deporations and escapes from years of occupation in the Baltics, Estonian author and filmmaker Imbi Paju considers whether culture is enough to keep man's basic instict for destruction in check.

  • foto
    Rain Kooli: Calling fake news 'alternative media' like calling outhouse 'alternative restaurant'
    10.01

    When talking about "alternative" or counter media, one must distinguish between fake news, the producers of which are at least self-aware, and partisan media, which rejects anything not fitting their worldview as biased or outright false, ERR Opinion editor Rain Kooli writes in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Reform Party needs to make a number of changes
    06.01

    Estonian society is expecting changes from the Reform Party, including a return to liberal values and losing the attitude that the party is infallible and alone fit to govern the state. Should Saturday’s general assembly produce a result reflecting steps in this direction, this year in politics can be counted as off to a good start, Center Party board member Raimond Kaljulaid writes in an opinion piece published by daily Õhtuleht.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Administrative reform and the accuracy of the population registry
    05.01

    The disappearance of local governments from the Estonian map is a radical but no doubt effective motivator for registering one’s actual place of residence in the country's population register. Thus there is reason to hope that, regardless of how the population itself is doing at the moment, the country can get at least the population register into model order, Alo Lõhmus finds in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Security sciences academy in Narva would work against prejudices
    04.01

    Moving the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences to Ida-Viru County would contribute to local development. It would also work against the prejudice Estonians hold against the area, and improve the quality of state institutions, the Justice Ministry’s deputy secretary general for the Prison Department, Priit Kama, wrote in an opinion piece in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Pevkur can become chairman of Reform only if able to mobilize less active party members
    2016

    Michal had the current inner circle of the party on his side. Pevkur needed to mobilize party members that were much less active in order to win, political commentators Hannes Rumm and Anvar Samost said on Sunday. In addition, he couldn’t bring up the pary’s 2012 financing scandal and Michal’s involvement in it, as it might cost him additional support.

  • foto
    Peeter Helme: What kind of conservatism does Estonia need?
    2016

    Estonia needs a unifying conservatism. In a society in which left-wing and liberal forces are taking advantage of people’s various understandings of nationalism, immigration, same-sex unions, gender roles or family models, nothing unifying can come from anywhere but the conservative wing, writes ERR editor Peeter Helme in his opinion piece.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Open Enterprise Estonia’s consultation services and assessments to competition
    2016

    Enterprise Estonia handed out advice to companies, and assessed whether or not they should receive public support, without being economically accountable, lawyer Taivo Ruus wrote in a Postimees opinion piece on Monday. This needed to change, and these activities delegated to professionals.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: The Reform Party’s new role
    2016

    After 17 years in government, Reform needed to find to a new role, and instead of being the manager of the Estonian state become a debater. How the party would get used to its new position, no longer able to dictate the political agenda, remained to be seen, said political scientist Mari-Liis Jakobson in a comment on Vikerraadio on Friday.

  • foto
    Andrus Karnau: Minister of Rural Affairs likely to be replaced
    2016

    Speaking on Sunday’s Raadio 2 broadcast of "State of the Union," radio show host Andrus Karnau found that the scandal to break out last week involving Martin Repinski’s goat farm was likely to culminate on Monday in his replacement as a minister of the newly-installed Estonian government.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Baltic states on front line of new Cold War
    2016

    While the Baltic states would prefer full defensive capability, NATO is emphasizing its reinforcements’ function as a deterrent. The alliance would have to round off its military presence in the area with diplomacy, and political stability and dedication to liberal democratic values would play an important role maintaining the West’s solidarity, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote in an opinion piece published in daily Postimees.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putting Rail Baltica in its strategic context
    2016

    In an opinion piece in daily Postimees, former EU commissioner Siim Kallas points out that Rail Baltica goes far beyond considerations of its route on Estonian soil, and the money the government will have to invest. On the contrary, there is a broader European meaning that includes considering the strategic situation of Estonia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Dynasties and democracy don't go well together
    2016

    Speaking about the recent US presidential elections on Vikerraadio’s Sunday broadcast of "Samost and Rumm," hosts Anvar Samost and Hannes Rumm recognized that Donald Trump’s election win is being considered as the destruction of two political dynasties there, however democracy and dynasties don’t go well together anyway.

  • foto
    Opinion: Estonia’s lasting isolation
    2016

    The fact that too many foreign journalists do not understand the Estonian language, and that they have no access to the local political culture and its players, has distorted reports abroad of what happened this week, writes ERR News editor Dario Cavegn.

  • foto
    Alo Lõhmus: Left turns and ‘silent submission’
    2016

    The embarrassing conflation of the Reform Party’s self-image with the Estonian state is proof that it is high time they are sent into opposition, says journalist Alo Lõhmus.

  • foto
    Opinion: Getting rid of ruling party's privileges doesn't damage Estonia's reputation
    2016

    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.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Ärma is more than just numbers
    2016

    Ärma Farm’s funding scandal was overshadowing the achievements of Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ presidency, including the fact that Estonia had benefited from state visits that Ilves hosted in Ärma, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (Reform) said to ERR on Thursday.

  • foto
    Benno Schirrmeister: Do Estonians dream of electric sheep?
    2016

    On a journalist exchange in Estonia, Benno Schirrmeister of Bremen’s TAZ is highly informed, yet a blank slate as far as a foreigner’s experience of Estonia is concerned. In his first op-ed about Tallinn, he spots something beyond IT that Estonia could advertise — but doesn’t.

  • foto
    Erkki Bahovski: Was 1940 approach better than modern journalism's 'war hysteria'?
    2016

    Linguist Urmas Sutrop has claimed that Estonian journalism is scaring people with the specter of war. Editor-in-Chief of monthly magazine Diplomaatia Erkki Bahovski, however, doesn’t agree.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Kremlin in danger of losing sense of reality
    2016

    According to Ingo Mannteufel, head of the Department for Russia and Europe at Deutsche Welle, there is a possibility of the Kremlin starting to believe its own propaganda, which could lead to dangerous decisions both domestically and internationally.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Estonia’s stagnating politics
    2016

    Estonia’s largest political parties had been going through the most serious crisis in their existence, and on top of that they had lost their most important function, namely to formulate a vision of the country’s future, daily Postimees wrote in its Friday editorial.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Putin exploiting power vacuum created by U.S. presidential elections
    2016

    According to director of Tallinn’s International Centre for Defence and Security and former ambassador to Russia, Jüri Luik, the increased tensions over the past few weeks between Russia and the West indicate Putin’s wish to exploit the ambiguous mood before the U.S. presidential elections as much as possible.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Time to return to discussing serious issues
    2016

    In a stinging opinion piece in published in the daily Eesti Päevaleht, member of the Riigikogu Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform) condemned the Estonian media as well as the country’s elites for their obsession with what he sees as pointless topics, while disregarding the last few weeks’ unsettling developments concerning Russia.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Legally speaking, everything is proper
    2016

    After Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ decade in office, and after he promoted Estonia like no other president did before him, his legacy is now tainted by the fact that he seems to have gone for a substantial state grant in 2006 that he never put to use — and of which he will now pay back just a tenth.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Closer to Warsaw, farther away from Estonia
    2016

    In a recent opinion piece in daily Postimees, columnist Ahto Lobjakas wrote that one way to look at Rail Baltic was as a step towards the level other countries had already reached in terms of speed and comfort of their railway connections. The main weakness of this point of view was the fact that in Estonia, it lacked the necessary social context.

  • foto
    Opinion digest: Leadership change in Reform needed for potential coalition with Center Party
    2016

    For a potential future coalition with the Center Party, the Reform Party needed to change its leader as well, Social Democratic MP and chairman of the Riigikogu’s Foreign Affairs Committee Sven Mikser wrote in a comment on social media on Friday.

  • foto
    Matthew Crandall: President Ilves’ global impact
    2016

    The greatest accomplishment of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is that he branded Estonia as a modern and innovative 21st century country, and brought it out of post-Soviet obscurity, writes Tallinn University’s Matthew Crandall.

  • foto
    The shackles of history and modern life in the fast lane: Estonia's experience in the migration crisis
    2016

    The uncertain public performances of Estonian politicians and poor explanatory work were to blame for a considerable increase in public distrust during the migration crisis, found ERR journalist Greete Palmiste, working in Bremen on an international journalists' exchange, in an opinion piece written for German publication taz.die Tageszeitung.