SDE leader: Kallas-led coalition sacrificing societal harmony for austerity

Indrek Saar, delivering a speech in Paide recently.
Indrek Saar, delivering a speech in Paide recently. Source: Paide Theater

Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar says that the Reform/Center coalition's foisting of cuts on society, particularly in its recent state budget strategy program announced last month, heighten societal inequalities, creating a fertile ground for the growth of populist movements and may end up with a situation where Estonia could resemble more the United Kingdom, and not so much the Nordic countries.

The Reform component of the coalition in particular is to blame for this, he said, while its fixation with austerity measures as a lynch-pin program are more based in dogma than rational behavior.

"It is not the allegedly bloated state apparatus that is facing cuts – it is children's recreational activities, culture, foresight, higher education and also defense capability," Saar said, according to BNS and speaking at the party's convention Saturday.

Cutting down the public sector jeopardizes it ability to function, he said, while the claim that the private sector is subsidizing it leads to further divisions and may lead to Estonia resembling the U.K. in the past century, presumably a picture which Saar would want to avoid.

"We are faced with a decision which Estonia we should strive towards after the crisis -- should it resemble the past century's U.K. or instead foster well-being like modern Nordic societies?" he went on, as quoted by BNS.

While he did not name them, Saar was likely referring to the opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), while Estonia ending up like the U.K. may have referred variously to Margaret Thatcher's period in office, or to the more recent developments surrounding the 2016 Brexit referendum and subsequent withdrawal from the EU.

"Why paint your own people on opposing barricades? How are our doctors and teachers, cultural workers and carers, police officers and rescuers supposed to feel when they're constantly being told by the highest level of the state that they are yet another mouth to feed," Saar asked rhetorically.

Reform leader Kaja Kallas recently doubled down on austerity measures, in the face of evidence that economic recovery stronger than previously anticipated may be on its way as coronavirus rates recede and restrictions get eased.

Kallas said at Friday's Reform Party convention that: "The last few weeks have confirmed what is common knowledge: It is very easy to borrow one billion, but it is terribly difficult to save one million."

Indrek Saar, speaking at a time when many major political parties are holding board meetings ahead of the summer recess – which will be more active than usual in part due to the imminence of October's local elections – said that: "Kaja Kallas, [social protection minister] Signe Riisalo, [education minister] Liina Kersna and [finance minister] Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, who struck a rather caring pose during their time in opposition, now almost appear obsessed in their repetition of their cost-cutting mantra."

"The Estonian public sector being over-sized is being highlighted as the reason [for cuts], despite its actually being among the smallest in the EU" Saar went on, quoting figures of a 21 percent of the workforce compared with an EU average of 25 percent, rising to 30 percent in the case of the Nordic countries.

On the contrary, areas such as healthcare, education and defense require increased spending, he said.

Continuing the current trajectory and promises that increasing prosperity will come despite lower tax rates than many other states can only lead to disillusionment, and with it the rise of populist parties and movements, Saar went on.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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