Coalition looking at options to deal with SDE's ERJK bill filibuster

Indrek Saar and Katri Raik behind the blank papers representing the proposed 50,000 amends to the coalition's bill to remove the ERJK
Indrek Saar and Katri Raik behind the blank papers representing the proposed 50,000 amends to the coalition's bill to remove the ERJK Source: Tiina Jaakson/ERR

After the opposition Social Democrats (SDE) last week tabled 50,000 amendments to a bill looking to remove party finance watchdog ERJK, making passing the bill ahead of the Riigikogu breaking up for summer, the three coalition parties, Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia )(EKRE) and Isamaa, are looking at many options on how to deal with the amendments.

The Riigikogu ended its spring season of meetings on Thursday, with 63 new laws being passed. However, a bill looking to remove the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) has been pushed to the autumn season, as there was not time to deal with SDE's proposed amendments.

Arguments presented by the bill's sponsor largely revolve around perceived bias on the ERJK, which is headed up by an SDE member and former entrepreneurship minister, Liisa Oviir, as well as questioning claims that the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll) would be more effective at providing the role.

Critics say the move is an attempt not only to conceal the ruling Center Party's finances, subject of scrutiny and penalties in recent years, but would also head off fines totaling €1.2 million likely to be due Center in the fall, by containing a provision setting a deadline which would wipe the fines from the table.

Processing of the bill in question is made complicated because there are 50,000 amendments to it proposed by SDE, which can be put to vote one by one with ten-minute breaks in between. That would prolong the discussions by more than a year - i.e. over 500,000 minutes or over 8,000 hours of Riigikogu time.

To avoid this outcome, the coalition Center, EKRE, and Isamaa have many options on the table, ERR's online news in Estonian reports. One of these is to void processing of the removal bill and replace it with a similar one, tying that to votes of confidence. That would mean the amendments would not be voted on.

According to Helir-Valdor Seeder, Isamaa leader and deputy speaker of the Riigikogu, another option is to formalize the ERJK bill as an amendment to another bill, and to accept it as an amendment. He acknowledges that while it is not good parliamentary practice, it's been done for exceptional cases.

Helir-Valdor Seeder, thinks that the question about the removal of ERJK is overemphasized: "The goal of the bill is to repair and strengthen supervision by giving the responsibility to an independent and more efficient organization which the National Audit Office is."

Deputy speaker Siim Kallas (Reform) does not think the efficiency of the supervision is key to the bill, but rather the dispersion of mistrust around political decision-making, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Thursday.

Kallas said: "The issue is that we are going to change the field of trust and mistrust. We are going to raise doubts about ourselves, saying that there is a problem and I, purely tactically speaking, would recommend the coalition simply replace all those people [heads of ERJK]."

President of the Riigikogu, Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), said the 50,000 amendments represent the worst form of interfering with the parliament's work: "I hope the Social Democrats understand that such behaviour is not appropriate and will retract their proposals."

The Riigikogu will resume its regular sessions on September 14.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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