Minister: Military band spending cuts do not mean end of the institution

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Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Spending cuts falling on the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) military orchestra do not mean it will cease to exist, defense minister Kalle Laanet (Reform) says, adding that while communication on the issue could have been better, a final decision has not been made, and there is no reason the orchestra could not continue to exist under the defense ministry's remit.

Appearing on ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Monday, Laanet said that: "The government's state budge strategy (RES) takes the view that all state ministries must save a certain percentage of their operating costs," adding that operating costs are not the same as investments.

Since personnel costs come under the first of these, this was a factor in EDF commander Lt. Gen. Martin Herem in making the cuts to the orchestra, and also chaplaincy, Laanet said.

Laanet conceded that communication on the topic had not been the best, because it seemed as if the future of the EDF's orchestra had been decided for all time, whereas a clearer decision is likely next month.

Defense spending will not fall in 2022, he added.

Laanet said: "The total budget for the defense sector will grow by €66 million next year, making a budget of over €700 million, which is the highest in history."

As reported by ERR News, the EDF's orchestra chief, Cpt. Simmu Vasar, sent a letter to all members last Friday, informing them that the orchestra will be laid off in full capacity starting September.

Laanet also said that the orchestra could potentially be retained under the Ministry of Defence's remit, rather than the EDF's. In any case the news need not spell the end of the military orchestra, he said.

"I agree with both the EDF commander and that we need to find suitable solutions for the EDF orchestra, because traditions are important, and we are working on this," Laanet said.

Estonia's two national conservative or right-wing parties have spoken up in opposition to the proposed orchestra cuts.

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) leader Martin Helme said that the current government will run up a budget deficit similar to the previous administration, adding the government's activities in this area will be detrimental to Estonia.

Helme said: "Minister, when the Titanic went north, the orchestra played until the very last moment ... It played for a very simple reason: To instill faith in the people."

Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder meanwhile said that Laanet's line on the orchestra does not coincide with his (i.e. Laanet's) and the government's activities in financing national defense, adding that the decision implies the Reform/Center coalition is focused on defense cuts rather than rises in defense expenditure.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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