Külli Taro: Serenity for the Riigikogu to tackle things in its power

Külli Taro.
Külli Taro. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Political scientist Külli Taro urges the Riigikogu to tackle real problems, such as energy policy, when the parliament returns to work on Monday.

"Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped and the insight to know the one from the other." This is the original form of the widely-known Serenity Prayer by American theologian, ethicist and political thinker Reinhold Niebuhr from the 1930s. Several versions of the prayer exist. Niebuhr's original emphasizes courage to tackle things the changing of which is in our power. It is best not to waste energy on the rest.

The Serenity Prayer could also serve as a universal guideline for matters of the state. It too often happens in the public sector that problems the solving of which is feasible are nevertheless overlooked. Unto forgetting one's immediate tasks. Untangling several clusters of problems has run aground. Because one group cannot (for lack of proficiency) and others do not want to (or are unable to) do it. The problem of responsibility was widely discussed last year – whether regarding the Health Board cold storage incident or the failures of vaccination organization.

Proceeding from the Serenity Prayer, we could add the need to distinguish between topics that must be tackled and those on which it is best not to waste resources. And the courage to tell the difference! Because time and attention are the most critical resources in policymaking. Which is why it is downright sinful to waste the former on matters without the potential of improving people's lives. Setting the agenda, or deciding what to tackle on the state level, constitutes great power.

I would list under topics that absolutely must be tackled energy policy, the green turn, development of the border, teacher shortage, digital study solutions, healthcare workers crisis, availability of medical care and the general vaccination organization (not just for Covid).

Whereas things that were tackled but should not have been in the last year included, for example, the marriage referendum, presidential election procedure, legal addresses of ministries or dragging out Riigikogu sittings with ceaseless questions and remarks.

It pains me to recall it, but the Riigikogu Constitutional Committee held a nine-hour marathon sitting to discuss the bill of the marriage referendum exactly one year ago on January 10 (on a Sunday no less). No fewer than 20 hours of sittings had already been held on the topic during the first week of the year. We can add to that countless more hours MPs spent on discussing the matter before and after the fact. Wasted time, money and attention.

Even had the planned referendum over the definition of the concept of marriage taken place, it would have done nothing to improve people's lives in Estonia. No matter the outcome. Because making people happy in their private lives is not in the state's power.

I would like to see at least the same measure of zeal from MPs today when every single person is affected by colossal energy price hikes and many are having trouble making ends meet.

It is the Riigikogu's first day of work this year (Monday – ed.). And they seem to be debating some things – the effect of the EU climate package (six months after it was passed) or compensating the CO2 quota component of energy sold from the state budget. However, I am not convinced the realization that people are responsible for their energy choices has hit home. The state's role is to give them the chance to make better choices. And to help those who really are in trouble.

The current partial compensation of energy expenses scheme leads to the same deadlock as trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus using measures. Failure to tell the difference between what is in the state's power and what is not.

The state is in charge of support rules. I understand that the circumstances are extraordinary and the number of people who need help greater than normally, but shouldn't the existing subsistence benefits system be used to help people? That is incidentally just as bureaucratic and demeaning as the scheme used to compensate people for energy costs. The subsistence benefit is a temporary measure provided by law to ensure that people's primary needs are met, including, among other things, electricity expenses. Should the conditions, sums or organization of the subsistence benefit need changing, that is precisely what the Riigikogu is for.

Therefore, I would like to wish everyone serenity for the new political year – courage to change what matters, mental fortitude to avoid tackling things that are not in the state's power and wisdom to tell the difference.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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