Prime minister: Michal pensioner energy bill support solely his idea

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform).
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform). Source: Government Office.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) says a proposal by a leading party-mate to provide a one-off lump sum payment to those most in need amid soaring energy prices was unilateral, and not her or the party's official line. Kallas also said that discussing proposals from the Center Party were off the table, adding that a meeting was set to take place directly with energy producers, on Thursday and after the regular cabinet meeting.

"It's purely a solo effort," the prime minister told ERR's Vikerhommik radio show Thursday morning, with reference to the proposal, from Reform's Tallinn city council leader Kristen Michal.

Kallas added that the government is not gong to discuss the proposals made by either its coalition the Center Party, or by the opposition parties, at its regular Thursday cabinet meeting, but instead will look at the energy situation in general.

A further meeting involving Estonian electricity producers later on Thursday will look at possible solutions to the ongoing record-level energy prices in electricity, natural gas and district heating, all at a time when vehicle fuel is also at all-time high and inflation is being experienced in other essential areas of consumption such as food.

Full implementation of the support measures adopted at the end of last year should be reviewed first, Kallas went on, and then supplemented or amended only if it turns out that they are insufficient.

The prime minister had tasked the Center Party and more specifically economic affairs minister Taavi Aas with coming up with proposals for additional support measures to those already rolled out.

She said: "We are not going to discuss these [Center Party proposals] because they are not on the agenda. At the end of December, we agreed on measures."

Center had made its proposals Tuesday evening, though by Wednesday morning, the head of the prime minister's office, Gerrit Mäesalu, said that these had been ruled out.

"It's difficult with [the Center Party]. We had a coalition council meeting on Monday, and we weren't provided with those thoughts there. It seems to be a struggle for people's attention in the media. But the government should speak with one language and voice and not fight for political points. Kallas.

The prime minister also said that she anticipated further proposals from MEP and Reform Party mandarin Andrus Ansip also.

"Yes, in this respect of this victory parade, one who will further emerge is Andrus Ansip. Andrus Ansip and his proposals are imminent. All this is to be expected," Kallas told Vikerhommik.

Kallas also hit out at claims that obtaining support online is difficult, noting that people had contacted her to say that doing so was easy, and it was only via the media that the impression had been given that this was not the case.

Other issues on the table Thursday include bottlenecks in getting renewable energy going, Kallas said.

Kristen Michal proposed a one-off payment of around €200 for each pensioner, to help them with their electricity and other energy bills, daily Eesti Päevaleht reports (link in Estonian) in a piece Michal penned himself, adding that with 300,000 pensioners in the country, this would cost €60 million.

Kristen Michal (Reform). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The respective figures for families with children would be €300 across 155,000 recipients, coming to €46.5 million, he said, adding that if anyone wanted to refer to this as populism, they were welcome to have at it.

It would also be simpler than the model currently in place, where potential recipients have to apply to their local municipality, and would transcend national politics, Michal said.

"At a critical time, there would be a strong message of solidarity for those most at risk in society, plus a solution," he said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister also said she had spoken to Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre, discussing that country's support measures – which have, ERR reports, been recommended as a model for Estonia – but said that with all electricity producers being owned by the state or by local municipalities, this was simpler to do than in Estonia.

Kallas said Wednesday that the state lacks sufficient data to enable a simpler energy support system.

Center's proposals included full compensation for the electricity network fee – a discount which mainly affects and is aimed at larger consumers like companies – as well as 50 percent compensation for overall bills for private and commercial consumers alike (for natural gas), and the same measure for private households alone in the case of electricity bills.

This would cost in the order of €170 million for the rest of the winter, Ratas said.

The current compensation measures provide up to 80 percent relief for households with a gross monthly take-home pay of less than €1,124 (in the case of a single adult earner, or a little more than twice that for a family with two or more children).

This funding must be applied for, with the administrative burden placed on Estonia's 79 municipalities.

The scheme runs to the end of March.

President Alar Karis recently criticized the system and the lack of use of Estonia's oft-referenced e-state.

Additionally, the network connection fee has been discounted by 50 percent for electricity, and by 100 percent for natural gas, with suppliers being reimbursed by the state.

Ultimately, the prime minister said the support should be focused and targeted and not more generic – over 237,000 consumer accounts, or 60 percent of all household consumers, see electricity bills for Eesti Energia of below €50 for the month, the prime minister said, with two thirds of the state-run generator's customers being on fixed-price contracts rather than those which track the NordPool price.

The prime minister also made remarks Wednesday that not all pensioners require state support to afford to pay their energy bills, highlighting her parents as an example of this. The statement prompted somewhat of a backlash in the popular press, having been interpreted in a Marie-Antoinette-like light. It could equally be interpreted as a call to stop whining and to be strong, a common strand running through the Estonian national character.

Andrus Ansip has clashed with Kallas in the recent past. Two months ago he referred to her as a "mõisapreili", again, something of a lady of the manor-type figure, common to Estonian literature and culture.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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