On Wednesday, January 13, Estonia's Prime Minister Jüri Ratas resigned from his position, triggering the resignation of the whole government. ERR News outlines what will happen next.
At the moment, this article is a summary of ERR and ERR News' coverage on January 12 and 13.
Update: A "progress report" and additional media coverage from January 14 and January 17 has been added to the bottom of the article.
At around 3 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) announced he would resign from the post of prime minister of Estonia after corruption allegations related to a €39-million loan to the Porto Franco real estate development in Tallinn were made public the day before.
The decision to resign came after several hours of discussions with board members of the Center Party.
Ratas then handed his resignation letter to President Kersti Kaljulaid, who accepted his resignation.
What does this mean?
According to the Estonian constitution, if a prime minister either dies or resigns this triggers the resignation of the whole government. So, this means Estonia's Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa coalition government has resigned and a new coalition must be formed.
What happens now?
Ratas will act as a caretaker until the new government has been formed. During this time, the government can continue its activities but should avoid making any decisions that increase the expenditure of the state budget, unless it is strictly necessary.
On Wednesday, President Kersti Kaljulaid said she would give the Chairman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas permission to form a government.
The Reform Party won the most seats – 34 – at the last election and must now negotiate with other parties to reach the 51-seat mark, giving the government a majority in the Riigikogu.
Kallas will meet with Kaljulaid on Thursday (January 14) and she will then have two weeks to form and present a government. If she cannot do so, another party will be asked to form a government. If that party also cannot do so, this may lead to extraordinary elections.
Which parties will be part of the new coalition?
At the 2019 election the following parties won seats in the Riigkogu:
- Reform: 34
- Center Party: 26*
- EKRE: 19
- Isamaa: 12
- Social Democratic Party (SDE): 10*
*Raimond Kaljulaid was elected a Center MP, but left the party following its negotiations with EKRE. After a period as an independent, he joined SDE's Riigikogu group.
So, the next coalition will be a combination of two or three of the above parties. ERR's Estonian portal ran through some potential coalition scenarios here (link in English).
It is assumed that no more than three parties will be involved in the formation of a coalition and that a minority government, with less than 51 seats, will not be pursued.
The likeliest options are thought to be:
- Reform Party + Center Party: 59 seats
- Reform Party + Isamaa + SDE: 57 seats
- Center Party + EKRE + Isamaa: 56 seats
- Reform Party + EKRE: 53 seats
It is possible the Center, Isamaa and EKRE government could re-form.
Will EKRE be part of the new coalition?
At the moment, this seems unlikely – but it has not been completely ruled out.
EKRE would need to form a government with Center or Reform to reach a majority but neither seemed keen on Wednesday.
Deputy chairman of the Center Party Mailis Reps said the party does not want to continue working with EKRE in the current three-party coalition and that several MPs are tired of the scandals caused by EKRE.
Reform and EKRE do not see eye-to-eye on values, so even though the two parties have enough seats to make a two-party coalition it is thought to be unlikely this will happen. Reform's leader, Kaja Kallas, said on Wednesday, January 13 that she didn't think working with EKRE was viable.
SDE has ruled out working with EKRE, so those two parties will not be in a coalition together.
Which ministers will be part of the new coalition?
We don't know yet because this depends on which parties form the next coalition.
The coalition ministers have not resigned as such, aside from Ratas. There are 14 ministers, five for each of the three parties including the prime minister.
While there have been several changes, particularly with EKRE ministers, since the end of April 2019 when the coalition agreement was signed, the current line-up is:
- Minister of Public Administration: Anneli Ott (previously Jaak Aab).
- Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure: Taavi Aas.
- Minister of Education and Research: Jaak Aab (previously Mailis Reps).
- Minister of Social Affairs: Tanel Kiik.
- Minister of Finance: Martin Helme.
- Minister of Foreign Trade and IT: Raul Siem (previously, in reverse order, Kaimar Karu, Kert Kingo and, for little more than 24 hours, Marti Kuusik).
- Minister of the Interior: Alar Laneman (previously Mart Helme).
- Minister of Rural Affairs: Arvo Aller (previously Mart Järvik).
- Minister of the Environment: Rain Epler (previously Rene Kokk).
- Minister of Foreign Affairs: Urmas Reinsalu.
- Minister of Defense: Jüri Luik.
- Minister of Justice: Raivo Aeg.
- Minister of Culture: Tõnis Lukas.
- Minister of Population Affairs: Riina Solman.
New coalitions often change the name of some ministerial posts or sub-divide roles formerly held by one minister, or amalgamate those which were held by two.
Other non-ministerial key roles include Riigikogu party group leaders and the speaker of the Riigikogu and his or her two deputies. Since late April 2019 the Riigikogu speaker has been Henn Põlluaas (EKRE), while the deputy speakers have been Helir-Valdor Seeder (also Isamaa leader) and Siim Kallas (Reform).
What progress has been made by the end of Wednesday (January 13)?
The Center Party has said it would be advantageous to be in a coalition with Reform, but only if Isamaa was also a member.
EKRE has virtually resigned itself to the role of opposition.
Reform has not ruled out any options, but as noted said it would be unlikely to work with EKRE.
Isamaa has said no offer has been made by Reform.
SDE believe it would be wrong for Center to be part of the next government while they continue to face corruption allegations.
When will we know more?
Your guess is as good as ours.
The 2019 Riigikogu election took place on March 3, 2019, but it was not until late April that the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition agreement was signed.
When Taavi Rõivas was ousted by a vote of no-confidence in November 2016, it was around a week-and-a-half before Ratas became prime minister, after Isamaa and SDE, previously in office with Reform, did a deal with Center.
This time, President Kersti Kaljulaid has been anxious to invite Kaja Kallas to form a new government as the coronavirus pandemic makes the matter more urgent.
The president also invited Kaja Kallas to form a government after the March 2019 elections, but since Reform was only able to set up an alliance with SDE, this provided an inadequate number of seats (44) to be a viable coalition.
What's going on with Porto Franco?
The Porto Franco real estate development was given €39.4 million in state aid through KredEx loan last year to help counter the effects of the economic effects of the coronavirus.
Critics at the time questioned why a loan was being granted to an unfinished project as state aid was issued to companies demonstrably hit by the coronavirus pandemic and its restrictions, such as the €100-millon granted to ferry line Tallink or the €47 million issued to fuel retailer Alexela.
On Tuesday, an Internal Security Service (ISS) investigation into KredEx was made public.
The Center Party itself and five people have been declared suspects, including Center Party Secretary-General Mihhail Korb, Kersti Kracht, adviser to finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE), and businessman Hillar Teder.
Hillar Teder is a frequent donor to Center, providing the party with €60,000 in the fourth quarter of 2020, and his son Rauno Teder is the majority shareholder in Porto Franco.
Hillar Teder allegedly struck a deal with Mihhail Korb, who resigned Tuesday, to provide €1 million in donations to Center in return for easing the process of getting the contract for access routes to Porto Franco. This also involves the Center Party-controlled City Government.
Kersti Kracht is suspected of influence peddling and has been temporarily suspended as finance ministry adviser by Martin Helme.
The other two suspects have not been named and are reportedly not public figures.
In October, Ratas denied a €60,000 donation made by Teder to the Center Party is linked to the support loan granted to the Porto Franco development led by Teder's son. Mihhail Korb said the donation had been made due to satisfaction with the Center Party's policies. Teder said he agreed with the party's "bold decisions" and has donated over €1 million to parties since 2013.
What progress has been made by the end of Thursday (January 14)?
Chairman of the Reform Party Kaja Kallas was officially designated prime ministerial candidate by President Kersti Kaljulaid and she now has 14 days to form a government.
On Thursday morning, the Reform and Center parties said they would start coalition negotiations and Isamaa and EKRE have been excluded. Center said they would not contest Reform having the position of prime minister.
The Reform Party said Isamaa had not wanted to be included in the negotiations, which was denied by several members of Isamaa. Chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder said the corruption allegations had brought a swift end to the coalition and tensions had already been running high between EKRE and Center.
Jüri Ratas' government officially resigned, although the government will remain in power until the new government is sworn in but it should not make any important decisions during this time.
* NEW* What progress has been made by the end of Sunday (January 17)?
Coalition negotiations led by Reform Party Chairman Kaja Kallas and Center Party Deputy Chairman Mailis Reps continued on Friday (January 15) and Saturday (January 16).
Reform and Center have agreed to create a "general" coalition agreement allowing the new government to enter office as fast as possible and to be able to react to changes in the health and economic crisis.
It has been agreed to keep funding the development of Estonia's Eastern Border, to scrap the Aliens' Act in its current form and to continue to develop regional and transatlantic security ties. There are also discussions about ending the contract with U.S. lawyer and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
The parties have reached a compromise on taxes and also said there will be a bigger emphasis on science and innovation.
Negotiations did not take place on Sunday (January 17) and will continue on Monday.
ERR reported last week that the new coalition wanted to start work on January 25.
ERR News' coverage timeline
Porto Franco scandal
Jüri Ratas' resignation
New coalition negotiations
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include additional news coverage from January 14, 15, 16 and 17 and with a new "progress report" section which is a brief round-up of the day's news.
Editor: Helen Wright, Andrew Whyte