Juhan-Markus Laats: Rõivas's Sweet Deal ({{commentsTotal}})

Taavi Rõivas
Taavi Rõivas Source: Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

Taavi Rõivas, 34, with 15 months worth of ministerial experience, is set to lead the nation for the next 12 months, and unless Russia expands its recent ambitions to Estonia, it could be one of the easiest jobs around.

The job will come with a monthly pre-tax salary of 5,200 euros, a 30 percent increase compared to last year, which is nice of course, but the main selling point for Rõivas, who mysteriously saw off Reform Party members higher on the political ladder, such as Urmas Paet and Kaja Kallas, is the lack of pressure.

Few will expect him to initiate anything, the IRL-Reform coalition's bigger projects will be scrapped or frozen, such as administrative reform, or have already been finished, like Elron, political party financing and penal reforms. Any new topics can be pushed into the future, after the 2015 elections.

Rõivas's only real task will be to curb the new coalition partner's social ambitions, which will amount to debates over the 2015 state budget in the fall. The current budget is locked and the Social Democrats have already received plenty of coverage over the pledge to increase the child allowance from 2015, and they are unlikely to risk that with an early election in November-December, the worst-case scenario if the two parties failed to agree on the next year's budget.

More reform, less party

Yet this is his and the party's big chance. The old political elite, Kallas included, has had very few ideas lately. The only initiative has come from finance minister Jürgen Ligi, but his ideas have been shot down mostly by his own people.

Ligi's battle to reduce tax fraud is important, true, but not really suitable as the main idea for a nation that prides itself on moving forward, and on positive change.

Instead of shifting the tax burden by one or two percent, the government should look to new areas for reform. The economic structure is not the main problem, and improving it will have little effect compared to similar policy changes in the 90s or even to the 00s. It's time to go a little deeper with reform.

For instance the wage parity with Finland. The current average salaries in the two nations differ threefold. It's not the tax system; it's a whole range of deeper problems, such as the lack of efficiency. The simple fact is that while Estonians are generally thought of as hard workers, Finns do their jobs faster and better.

There are many causes of low efficiency, including alcoholism (health and violence), arrogance and ignorance, and experience. Decreasing the effects, if not the volume, of alcohol consumption, by let's say 20 percent, could increase economic growth far more than decreasing income tax by a point.

Another untackled issue is the matter of 300,000 or so people who feel distant from the state. Recent international events have highlighted this little fact, yet the state has few ideas how to move forward and win them over.

Besides economy and social matters, political reform could also be considered. Direct democracy, Swiss-style, could be experimented with, or maybe going in the other direction with political party memberships – limit a political party to 100 members, meaning more local parties, more parties in general and fewer lifelong politicians.

Estonia led the way in innovation in the 90s and 00s, largely because we had nothing. But unlike Germany after the last World War, which still leads the way in economic drive, Estonia has slowed its imagination, and is in real danger of becoming another boring and stable nation. That shouldn't be the dream.

In that sense, a 34-year-old with little experience, and few expectations, even if he visually has little charisma and has done nothing noteworthy, should have been choice number one instead of a 64-year-old who has seen it all and done it all.

Juhan-Markus Laats is a senior editor at ERR News. 

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