Center Party deputy chair: Defense Forces' chief should be warned

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Deputy Chairman of the Center Party, MP Jaanus Karilaid, told ETV current affairs show 'Esimene stuudio' Thursday that the Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform) should give a warning to the commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Martin Herem for bringing the expense cuts in Defense Forces to the public without coming to an agreement with the government. The decision regarded disbanding the EDF's orchestra and chaplaincy service. If necessary, relieving Herem of his post should be considered, Karilaid said.

Karilaid told "Esimene stuudio" that Herem had made the announcement to the media before talking at the political level. "I think he made a huge mistake," Karilaid said.

"This a moment where Kalle Laanet should at least make a verbal warning, and if Herem doesn't understand it, then the government should relieve him of the position. To destabilize the society in this way, create confusion and send out messages that haven't been discussed through - I think it's a huge mistake," Karilaid said.

"It was possible to argue through these cuts and come before the public when the time was right. For some reason, subordinate bodies decided to act faster than was necessary," he added.

Karilaid said that the Center Party's desire is for the EDF orchestra to continue.

Martin Herem announced on Sunday via a press release that for cost savings, that the EDF orchestra and the chaplaincy service will wind-up their activities in their current form.

The cost-saving from disbanding the orchestra - alternative suggestions have included merging it with the police equivalent - is estimated at €1.4 million. The government has said it wants to make €10 million in defense spend cuts, but that these should come in the form of reduced operating costs, while planned investments should be left intact.

The Center Party is demanding compromise from the Reform Party

Karilaid said that the Center Party is also doing everything in its power to ensure that money is not cut from children's extra-curricular hobby education. He pointed out that when drafting the plan, the coalition partners, the Center Party and the Reform Party, agreed that the cuts won't start affecting the public.

"I hope the Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister and the whole government realize that it is useful to return to the agreement that the Center Party and the Reform Party made, so that we do not impact the public via the cuts, and it is important to stick to this agreement," Karilaid said.

"As of today, I have the faith and hope that we will be able to agree on the state budget in late summer and early autumn in such a way that if people have lived through severe constraints for a year, we will not touch the budget. Such a compromise should be made by the Reform Party. Is that possible? I believe it is possible," said Karilaid.

Reform have traditionally been identified as the austerity party, particularly dating back to the premiership of Andrus Ansip, during the last economic downturn over 10 years ago. Center have tended to borrow more during the coroanvirus crisis so far.

Karilaid: Ratas will announce his decision to run for president on May 31

Karilaid said that Jüri Ratas is currently seriously discussing running for president with his closest colleagues. The presidential elections take place in the autum.

"I understand that the final decision will be made on May 31, as to whether he will run for president or not. If he does run, he has pledged to give up his position as party chairman by that time," Karilaid said.

Presidents in any case cannot be a member of any political party; Ratas is also current Riigikogu speaker - the first rounds of presidential elections are held at the Riigikogu, and Ratas has in the past expressed a desire to get the president elected in these ballots rather than moving on to the regional electoral colleges.

Kersti Kaljulaid has hinted that she might run for a second term.

Jaanus Karilaid also said that if Ratas decides not to run, the Center Party will not support Kersti Kaljulaid if she does put herself forward.

"If Jüri Ratas says no, he will definitely present his vision of who [the candidate] could be, to the Center Party, the public and the Reform Party," Karilaid said.

While it was in opposition, Reform was closely identified with Kersti Kaljulaid's stance on, for instance, social issues, but now it is in office with Center, that has changed the dynamic.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Andrew Whyte

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