Mayor of Tallinn: Holding marriage referendum during elections is dangerous

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Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) told ERR he is critical of holding a marriage reform referendum during local elections next year. The city has also had to take many development projects off the table but will continue with the construction of Tallinn Hospital and Linnahall.

Coalition party EKRE, headed by Minister of Finance Martin Helme, is proposing an amendment be added to the constitution which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The party has suggested holding a referendum on October 17, 2021, the day of the local elections saying that holding two votes on one day will save public money.

Kõlvart said that while he does hold some conservative views, he does not consider himself a conservative. When it comes to the referendum, Kõlvart considers the marriage referendum and the local elections as two separate entities.

He said: "The results of the local government council elections would not depend on party programmes, but rather emotions stemming from the referendum. We would not be dealing with kindergartens, roads and other large objects, but rather with emotions."

The mayor added: "This referendum will divide society and will create tension. I do not want to deal with the topic of the referendum during elections."

He said since only citizens can participate in the referendum - not residents - this could create additional tensions if two votes are held at the same time.

Kõlvart said: "It is hard to explain to the public that local elections and the referendum are not connected and it is even harder to state that at a polling station."

Opposition politicians are opposed to the referendum with Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas calling it "an EKRE provocation others should not join", while the chairman of the Social Democrats (SDE) Indrek Saar has called it a "hate referendum".

Among other things, the coalition agreement agreed upon by the coalition parties of Center, EKRE, and Isamaa, states (page 30): "Among other national issues, we will conduct a referendum on the proposal to amend the Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The vote on this issue will be implemented in 2021, concurrently with the elections of municipal councils."

Construction work on Tallinn hospital and Linnahall to proceed with state funding

Kõlvart said over the summer that many projects in the capital city have been put aside, as funding for such projects is currently hard to acquire. While the projected tramline to the Old Harbor district and Rävala puiestee constructions are largely off the table for now, the city is looking to move forward with a central hospital in Tallinn which will become the largest in Estonia.

The government has turned to the European Commission for a €380 million loan, with Tallinn supplementing the hospital project with €100 million of its own.

Kõlvar said: "Tallinn hospital is the main and only major project funded from the state budget. The amount is just so big that other projects did not even come up. There are single objects where we can acquire supplemental funding, like the Tallinn City Theatre."

The mayor of Tallinn confirmed that the city had also turned to the European Commission to acquire approval for a state loan to repair Linnahall, with a concert hall and conference center planned for the iconic brutalist structure.

Tallink Group's CEO Paavo Nõgene told ERR on Thursday that Tallink would not join the city hall project, at least for the time being.

"Today, Tallink is aimed at restoring the company's core business. We have been in contact with the Mayor of Tallinn and have expressed our readiness to discuss joining the project in the next stages," he said.

According to Nõgene, when and whether Tallink joins the development of the Linnahall also depends on the city of Tallinn. "Depending on how fast the city can proceed with the development of the City Hall, we can also talk in more detail about the possible time and volume of Tallink's accession," said Nõgene.

Editor's note: This article was updated to add Paavo Nõgene's comments.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste, Helen Wright

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