Ministers: We took justice chancellor pension reform comments on board

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE) and foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) both say that the government Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise's legal proposals into account when amending the pension reform bill.

The government approved its own funded pension reform bill at a sitting on Monday, holding a press conference afterwards. The main bone of contention in the bill has always been making the so-called second pillar, which deals with employee contributions, voluntary, whereas it had been mandatory for most wage earners in Estonia since 2010. Critics say the move will lead to diminished pension pots in future, in an aging society, as well as pointing to what they say is a lack of analysis or preparation ahead of the law coming into effect.

The bill has already passed its first reading, and is to undergo the second on Wednesday, at the Riigikogu.

In a letter Ülle Madise wrote to chairman of the Riigikogu finance committee Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) last week, the chancellor noted several concerns about the bill.

Martin Helme directly addressed these at Monday afternoon's press conference, BNS reports.

"One important point that the justice chancellor drew attention to throughout was the deadlines of implementation and sufficient preparation - this we took into consideration throughout," Helme said.

"The other [concern] related to the justice chancellor's stance that the bill is retrospective. We do not agree with this, and also we also included an explanation in this regard in the explanatory memorandum," he added.

Foreign minister: Chancellor engaging in politics

Urmas Reinsalu, whose party Isamaa championed the reform and included it as a key point in its pre-election manifesto, said that the coaltion processed Madise's letter point by point.

"There were a number of statements by the Chancellor of Justice, which were substantively taken into account," he said, adding that Madise presented legal arguments, but also entered into the realm of politics in proposing alternatives.

Madise had previously received criticism for taking a political stance as well, in a climate which has recently seen claims from ministers that state officials in general have been politicized.

Interior minister and EKRE leader Mart Helme, father of Martin, said last Thursday that by highlighting constitutionally questionable aspects in the pension reform, Madise interfered in politics, with Isamaa chair Helir-Valdor Seeder adding his voice to the claims, saying that Madise has adopted an anti-reform and political stance in her assessments concerning the pension reform, and had thereby exceeded her powers.  

The Chancellor of Justice (Õiguskantsler) in Estonia is an independent supervisor of basic constitutional principles, and the protector of individual rights. Madise is a lawyer, who has held the post since 2015.

Among other things, the justice chancellor suggested that people retain the option of withdrawing from the second pillar assets earned in the future only, not the assets collected to date.

"This was the justice chancellor's political plan," Reinsalu added.

"We discussed it, and found that this is not what the public expects to such an extent. We decided that we will take into account the legal arguments made by the chancellor of justice, but not the political reform model she proposed," Reinsalu continued.

Madise's response to critics

Isamaa was able to get second-pillar reform on to the coalition agreement signed between it, the Center Party, and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in late April.

Ülle Madise responded by saying that she is, and will continue to be, politically impartial.

Madise described Helme's words as a grave public accusation towards her, in the light of the oath of office and the pledge made before the Riigikogu to highlight problems related to the constitution, as her role would require, dismissing them as "inappropriate".

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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