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'Olukorrast riigis': Politicians afraid to decide

'Olukorrast riigis' hosts Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja.
'Olukorrast riigis' hosts Indrek Lepik and Hindrek Riikoja. Source: Siiri Lubasoo/ERR

Continued deterioration of the coronavirus crisis and high energy prices speak of politicians' reluctance to make unpopular but necessary decisions," hosts of "Olukorrast riigis" Hindrek Riikoja and Indrek Lepik found.

Riikoja pointed out that as the infection rate surges, vaccination is coming along very slowly, with travel agents admitting foreigners are deciding against traveling to Estonia because of the Covid situation. "I would say we are on course for a disaster," Riikoja found.

Lepik said that neither Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) nor Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) have the courage to order tougher measures right now, in a situation where support for the opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE) is soaring, even though restrictions will likely be ramped up after local elections. The host added that the social ministry has wanted new measures for some time as there is no other way to bring down the infection rate.

Riikoja said he is worried by talk of new measures but not steps with which to speed up vaccination. "It cannot continue forever that a clear minority gets to dictate how the majority lives. Other countries' experience also suggests that the higher the vaccination rate, the lower the number of cases. It cannot go on. Why should the majority that takes care of the whole of society suffer because of that minority [of people refusing to vaccinate]," Riikoja said.

Lepik pointed out that the government has left measures up to state agencies and private companies out of fear of being unpopular. This has seen several agencies adopt their own rules.

"It is very low to leave institutions, such as the Defense Forces or the Police and Border Guard Board [that had little choice but to make vaccination mandatory] to their own devices and their leaders facing criticism because the government doesn't have the guts," Riikoja found.

Lepik said that Estonia is once again looking at last fall's coronavirus scenario and described it as sad.

"It is a question of whether there is statesmanlike character in the government or not. Things are left undone because the cabinet feels it would add to EKRE popularity," Riikoja said. "We need decisions, while there is no courage to make them," he added.

"There is none to be seen, and we can only hope it will be created after next Sunday when the next election will be some time in the future again," Lepik agreed.

Different policy would have kept energy prices in check

Lepik and Riikoja also found that the effects of soaring electricity and gas prices would not have had such an impact in Estonia if adoption of renewable energy sources would have been prioritized years ago.

Lepik described the situation as a concurrence of several unfortunate developments that resulted in sharp price hikes and Estonia's lackluster plan for switching to green energy. "The plan was lopsided to begin with and has now been knocked over," he said.

Riikoja said the problem should be looked at from two aspects. On the one hand, we should address rapid price advance of various energy carriers for which proposals of slashing excise duties and introducing subsidies or benefits have been made. In the long term, Estonia should boost its available renewable energy sources.

"Unfortunately, no [government] party has done enough to make sure we would have more renewable energy sources. What have you done to boost the number of offshore or terrestrial wind farms, solar plants?" Riikoja asked. "It has been easier to submit to criticism and fail to address the problem in an unstatesmanlike manner, even though the price advance we are seeing today was forecast ages ago," he said.

Riikoja said that he believes politicians fail to realize what the price hike means for people. "It is not just about people who have been using electricity for heating, whose power bills might go from €200-300 to over a thousand. People living in apartments and looking at a hike of a few dozen euros might also have problems," he said. "I feel that politicians do not really understand that."

Lepik said that the high electricity prices could not have come as a surprise as the entire sector is in a transitional phase. "It is just that any party that would address the problem would immediately be labeled misanthropic by all the others for seeking higher prices, which results in a situation where no one does anything. But collective decision-making would help do something about the problem," he said. "It fits into the same framework we have been discussing… of there being no strategic thinking," Lepik said.

The hosts of "Olukorrast riigis" also discussed the legacy of outgoing President Kersti Kaljulaid, local elections and especially the future of Tallinn.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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