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Reform leader: We'll use every means possible to halt pension reform mess

Party leaders Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Helir Valdor-Seeder (Isamaa) on Tuesday's
Party leaders Kaja Kallas (Reform) and Helir Valdor-Seeder (Isamaa) on Tuesday's "Esimene stuudio" broadcast. Source: ERR

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas says that the large number of proposed amends opposition parties made to the coalition's pensions reform bill to be vote on today were needed, given its huge socio-economic impact, and that she and her party intend to fight the bill every step of the way.

"What worries them most is the pension system being dismantled in the way it is," Kallas said, speaking on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Tuesday night.

"The experts have pointed out the flaws; there are [also] the constitutional flaws. That is why we are fighting it. We are taking every opportunity to prevent this 'crime', so to speak, "Kallas added.

The bill has been a bone of contention ever since the Isamaa party got its acceptance as part of the coalition deal signed with the larger two parties, Center and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in late April.

Criticism mostly revolves around it providing a short-term shock to the economy if large numbers of people withdraw accumulated funds once the option is available, which have to be done in one go rather than in installments, from the second pillar – employee contributions, which had been mandatory for most wage earners since 2010 – followed by problems related to a shrinking pension pot alongside an aging population.

Both the Bank of Estonia and the IMF have noted their concerns, as well as questions about how well thought-through the bill has been in advance of its passing.

The coalition has tied Wednesday's vote to a vote of confidence in itself; late night sessions at the Riigikogu in the weeks leading up to the vote had seen nearly 1,000 amendments to the bill being tabled by Reform and Social Democratic Party (SDE) members.

Isamaa leader: Needless filibustering is going on

Isamaa leader Helir Valdor-Seeder, champion of making the second pillar voluntary, also appeared on "Esimene stuudio", and said that the vote of confidence move was intended to reverse the paralysis of parliamentary work that the large number of opposition amends had caused.

"The path chosen has been one of the opposition's methods of blocking the work of the Riigikogu for weeks," Seeder said.

"To move forward, the law provides for the possibility of linking the adoption of the bill to a vote of confidence, which has been done before. This is a sensible solution to the situation."

Kallas: No other government bills in progress at the Riigikogu currently anyway

Kallas did admit that some of the proposals for amends had been stretched out, but nonetheless many of them were meaningful.

"(First) We tabled our bill to imrpove the second pillar - how funds could be used, how deposits and disbursements might take place. Second, we made a number of substantive amendments. There have been many concerns, so why should we not discuss (the bill) - especially given that there are no other bills currently coming from the government, making the Riigikogu's agenda essentially empty, we did not hide the fact that we made these amendments to use every opportunity we can to prevent the mess, "Kallas said.

Seeder noted that among the proposals submitted were hundreds of proposals made on the dates of entry into force of the Act. 

"The vast majority of the proposals that have been put forward are not substantive but submitted leisurely," he said.

Prime minister's U-turn on pensions

Interviewer Andres Kuus also asked Seeder to comment on what Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) said in October 2018, i.e. that under no circumstances should funded pensions be voluntary, as this would mean lower pensions in the future.

Seeder replied that all humans are capable of development.

"If you do the right thing and you are convinced, you can persuade others and make your requests clear and justify your views. And people are capable of development," he said.

Seeder: Justice chancellor overstepping role

As to Andres Kuus' question on shedding light on the chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise's criticism of the bill , Seeder replied that it was not a criticism, but rather a statement of opinion.

"I did not make any criticisms, I simply made my comments based on the proposals made by the Chancellor of Justice, and I am still at that stage.

"It surprises me how much of the press has reacted so painfully."

"I continue to keep in mind that these various proposals by the Chancellor of Justice include both legal analysis and legislative proposals, (but also) socio-economic proposals, and political injunctions on the Riigikogu, which is definitely not the competence of the Chancellor of Justice, "said Seeder."

Madise has faced claims that she was dabbling in politics when questioning whether the bill conflicted with the constitution; the Chancellor of Justice's role includes the option to take bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling. The last time Madise did that, in the summer, she lost the case and the bill - slashing alcohol excise duties - passed.

The original "Esimene stuudio" broadcast (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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