Opposition leaders hit out at government pension reform bill ahead of vote

Reform leader Kaja Kallas at Tuesday's press conference.
Reform leader Kaja Kallas at Tuesday's press conference. Source: ERR

Leading opposition party members say they hope the coalition's pension reform bill will founder as a result of Supreme Court action.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said that: "I very much hope that once the fruits of this so-called reforms have come, when there will need to be a significant increase in taxes or a significant increase in immigration, the leaders of those same parties [behind the bill] will also be able to answer the question why we have reached this point."

Kallas said that Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), who had previoulsy fought for the preservation of the second pillar, which comprises employee contributions and has been mandatory for most wage earners since 2010, now puts the breaking of the second pillar at the top of his government's agenda.

"If we want people to save for their retirement, it shouldn't make sense to spend that money right away," Kallas said.

Should the bill pass, those in the second pillar will be able to start withdrawing funds – which must be done in one fell swoop – later this year.

Making the second pillar membership optional was a central plank of the Isamaa party's pre-election manifesto; the party managed to get the policy into the coalition agreement signed with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Center, in late April.

Indrek Saar, Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader, said linking the government's draft pension reform to the issue of trust, is taking advantage of a mechanism in order to take decisions at critical moments in society.

Saar added that the government's arguments are purely emotional and that the opposition is intent on making its protest known in the Riigikogu.

Former health minister Riina Sikkut (SDE) suggested that the move was a sweetener ahead of the 2021 local elections, and as such something which should not be allowed to happen.

The government approved its a draft pension reform on Monday, with its second reading and Riigikogu vote due Wednesday.

The government was last defeated on a bill reading just before Christmas, when its revised pharmacy reform bill was blocked.

The government, the prime minister, and interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) have also faced three no-confidence votes initiated by the Reform Party since entering office at the end of April 2019, surviving all of them.

That the issue of the bill could reach the Supreme Court largely hinges on reservations from the Chancellor of Justice, Ülle Madise, on how far it is in line with the constitution.

Some experts think that eventuality quite likely.

A recent precedent is the bill to hike alcohol excise duties on wines and beers, which the government passed last summer. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government that time.

The original press conference (in Estonian) featuring Kallas, Saar, Sikkut, and Reform MP Andres Sutt, is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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