Deputy head of the opposition Reform Party Jürgen Ligi on Wednesday criticized the government's fiscal policy and plan to hold a referendum on the definition of marriage, said he would prefer a coalition with Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) over a marriage with Center and urged government to keep schools open on ERR's "Otse uudistemajast" webcast.
Budget poor, protection money practice loathsome
Jürgen Ligi, who has worked as Estonia's finance minister for six years in the past, said on "Otse uudistemajast" that Estonia's state budget is the worst in the European Union and that the country's loan burden is growing the fastest in the union, which is why Reform will definitely be voting against the state budget bill.
Asked by host Toomas Sildam which is lying when talking about the budget, Ligi or Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, the interviewee said: "With Ratas, it is not clear to what extent he is lying and to what extent he simply cannot understand things himself."
Ligi said that because most of the budget is fixed expenses, the government's decision to borrow on this scale is especially unfortunate. "It is like a father who takes a payday loan to pay the bills," he said.
The veteran politician added that the government's decisions have created all the necessary preconditions for future tax hikes.
Talking about the so-called Riigikogu protection money (direct regional investments), Ligi said the practice was introduced in the mid-2000s to prevent stalling tactics and obstruction from the opposition. "The opposition was bought and paid for. It was used to neutralize the opposition and stop them torpedoing initiatives," he said.
Ligi said that rules were introduced during his time as finance minister so the money would not end up in the pockets of politicians' friends and relatives or unknown organizations and to avoid unfair advantages. According to Ligi, these rules have been abandoned by now. "It is fundamentally loathsome," he said.
Ligi also admitted that the Riigikogu does not have the capacity to introduce meaningful change to the state budget as it lacks the competency and in some cases will to do so. "Having put together six state budgets, I cannot in good conscience claim to be on top of the current one," he admitted, suggesting that putting together state budgets is the work of hundreds of state officials and not a few MPs.
Reform would prefer to shack up with Isamaa and SDE as a trademark
Asked about the glue holding together the coalition of the Center Party, Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Isamaa today, Ligi said it is self-interest.
"As long as the swan, pike and crawfish are not bothered, they can keep working together. Everything is forgiven," the MP said.
Ligi added that he is not in favor of a quick government switch in the current situation as changing governments too often would cause people to lose trust in politics.
He also said he does not support overusing motions of no confidence. "I have told them that they need to phrase the thing they are challenging, instead of just protesting the government as a whole. I'm of the mind that we should not be addressing trifling matters, we need to pick our battles and go after the important things."
Asked who he would like to see as Reform's partners in a new coalition, Ligi said that as "an old-school guy" he would prefer a coalition with Isamaa and SDE in terms of its trademark and human material. "But it would not be the same. There is not much left of Isamaa. They have sold all of their core political positions, soiled them," Ligi added, referring to the state budget and protection money.
"The Center Party's material is definitely weaker and their party culture much nastier historically speaking," Ligi found.
However, he added that he is a pragmatic person and those are the choices made by voters.
More on Estonia 200, SDE, Isamaa
Commenting on Estonia 200's growing rating and the non-parliamentary party overtaking Isamaa and the Greens in the polls, Ligi said the reason is that "they are more or less decent people with better human material than the Greens."
Ligi also said that he cannot understand why SDE refuses to use its potential. The Reform vice chairman said that the party lacks a wholeness it had during the days of the Moderates. No one is in charge of political offspring, which is why there is a lot of inexperience in the social democrats' ranks. "They have people who came to the government during Ratas' time and haven't even served as MPs."
The politician was very critical of Isamaa, including its Parempoolsed (Right-wingers) in-house opposition group.
"Isamaa is decaying. The Parempoolsed group lacks ambition. I would understand them if they said that the coalition is not acceptable," Ligi said. But despite the fact Isamaa MPs Siim Kiisler and Viktoria Ladõnskaja-Kubits have been somewhat critical of their party, they remain Isamaa members. Ligi finds Mihhail Lotman just as vague. "Even Lotman says that what has been done over 17 years [of Reform Party rule] needs to be undone. Really, together with EKRE and the Center Party?" he asked.
Commenting on former Prosecutor General Lavly Perling voicing support for Parempoolsed, Ligi said it was handled poorly and the group failed to give Perling enough support. "Parempoolsed could have given Perling some advice after securing her support. But they didn't and instead allowed her to be shot full of holes," Ligi found.
Closing schools constitutes protecting ourselves at the expense of children
Talking about the coronavirus struggle, Ligi said that shutting down society cannot be the solution and that society needs to learn to live with the virus. Ligi commended the government's handling of the crisis in fall, adding that, unfortunately, the government is unable to communicate its positions. "I credit them for refraining from draconian restrictions, oversalting things," Ligi noted.
He urged the government not to put kids on remote learning. "Closing schools would cost society too much, leave a gap in the next generation. It constitutes protecting ourselves at the expense of children," Ligi said. "You cannot lock children away, they have a psychological need to communicate," the MP said, pointing to statistics according to which suicide rates and eating disorders are growing among minors.
Commenting on breaking news that the government has just ordered schools to close, Ligi said: "I hope they realize what they have done. The government is in its rights because this is a new situation, but it is a monstrous sacrifice to make."
Ligi also found that teachers should be among the first to be vaccinated, next to medical professionals.
Talking about the possible marriage referendum, the politician said he is not in favor of putting up for referendum private matters that are ill-prepared, only concern small groups in society and have the potential to split society.
Editor: Marcus Turovski