Ratas: Energy crisis solutions needed urgently

Jüri Ratas (Center) on Wednesday's edition of 'Otse uudistemajast'.
Jüri Ratas (Center) on Wednesday's edition of 'Otse uudistemajast'. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

There is no time to assess the functioning of the current support measures, while the need to develop more universal energy subsidies is urgent, Center Party leader and Riigikogu speaker Jüri Ratas says.

Ratas told ERR Thursday that: "We need a quick debate and rapid solutions, today. There is no time for waiting analysis on what the measures will do, some of which have not yet been implemented."

"It is clear that people and companies today need much faster solutions, they need such universal solutions," solutions which Center had proposed earlier in the week, Ratas added.

"Solutions are needed which are clear, universal, and with zero bureaucracy, so that people and businesses can get help quickly," he continued.

As to differences on the issue between his party and its coalition partner, Reform, or with any of the three opposition parties, Ratas said that he: "Did not think it is really such an ideological issue any more. This is a question of whether people will cope, whether companies will have faith in tomorrow or whether there will be a wave of bankruptcies, in which people will start taking out quick loans, something which is by no means right or sustainable." 

The debate on the matter should take place in the coming days, Ratas added, though noted that a Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) call for a vote of no-confidence (see below) would not mean Center would join in.

"No, EKRE does not dictate what the Center Party does. The Center Party still sets its own steps, conducts discussions within the party. However, of course, the Center Party also takes its steps in politics to protect its voters, its supporters, and the Estonian people," Ratas added.               

"The final point is that we are seeing from this current energy crisis that we need clear, fast, universal solutions, and that we can no longer go on with fine-tuning."

Ratas told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) said that the government will discuss the issue further next week.

"The Center Party is satisfied that we can really help people and businesses in the energy crisis, come to the rescue quickly. If these discussions take place next week, the Center Party will take part in these discussions," he told AK

Center's proposals included measures not only aimed at electricity, but also at natural gas. The price of natural gas would be slashed to to €0.6 per cubic meter, and the network connection fee would be reduced to zero, from its current level of 50 percent for electricity (the fee is already completely removed for natural gas connections, while the government is reimbursing suppliers in both cases).

EKRE leader says all opposition parties considering no-confidence motion in Reform-Center coalition

EKRE chair Martin Helme told ERR that his party was considering a vote of no-confidence in the government, one which he said carried with it more at stake than any other in recent years.

"While we may think that a no-confidence motion is usually made to state a political position or to amplify a political position, this time we are talking about the possibility that the government will certainly fall apart," Helme said, on the anniversary of the collapse of the Center/EKRE/Isamaa coalition in which he was finance minister.

"And the reason is not that the opposition has gained votes, that today 's government has proved incapacitated and that incapacity is evident from every angle, "he said.

"It is abundantly clear to me that the discussions currently taking place at governmental level can, at best, end in roughly similar solutions, a case of too little, too late, or incomprehensible, or not at all, and everything that can go wrong there, will go wrong," he continued.

"However, we will have to wait. Actually, the government still has the responsibility to solve the energy crisis and the crisis regarding people's livelihoods. They have to offer something. If they don't offer anything, they will have to step aside," he continued, adding that if this did not happen, a vote of no-confidence would see to it.

Helme also said there was a severe polarization in the Reform Party over the premiership of Kaja Kallas, though did not put a number on MPs who oppose her nor a name to any candidate who could potentially replace her without the party losing its position in office.

"Broadly speaking, if you take into account the political situation at present, there are those who think that Kaja Kallas must continue, and there are those who think that Kaja Kallas is a disaster, not only for their party, but to the whole of Estonia," he said.

"And since [Reform] are very experienced politicians and have a very long history of political activity, they are very good at hiding [the split]; they all understand perfectly well that this weakness and internal divisions must not be on show. As soon as they display that, it will become much more difficult for them to direct or control political processes in any way," Helme continued.

Helme said the proposed motion will be processed next week, while the coalition could be given another opportunity to present a new package to resolve the crisis.

Helme also said that he was not speaking solely for his own party, but also for the opposition, or at least their leaders, Indrek Saar (SDE) and Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa), who Helme said he had spoken to and who both, he said, view the current government an incapacitated disaster, many of whose members do not understand the magnitude of the current energy and inflation crises, nor how to manage the pandemic.

For Center, meanwhile, the danger is of being somewhat shackled to a corpse in the current coalition, which would result in the party's current 25 seats being halved to almost 15 at the next election in March 2023, Helme added.

Reform MP and Tallinn councilor: I hope party and government considers other options

One leading Reform Party member who has been visible recently in relation to the energy crisis is Kristen Michal, who heads up the party's Tallinn city council group. Reform is in opposition in Tallinn.

Michal told ERR, also on Thursday, that he hopes the prime minister will consider a proposal he made this week tp provide a one-off lump-sum support to every pensioner, and to all families with children, with the aim of alleviating the energy price shock. 

An energy price ceiling, dubbed the Norwegian option after one country where the principle is used, could also be considered, he said.

"There are certainly those who say that today's mechanism is great, but I have taken the view that much more concrete steps are needed," Michal said.

"I also recommend that the subsistence mechanism be revised, both in terms of its organization and so that subsistence rates take account of rising prices," he added.  

Ultimately, it was down to his party's leader and head of the national government, he said.

"No one can dictate to the prime minister how to do things; maybe the Riigikogu give a little input, but let's just say we've given our input," he went on.

Michal added that the current situation is not a temporary one.

"If you look at the inflation figures, for example; last year it was a little less than five percent, while next year the figure will probably be higher. This price shock will actually continue, moving from electricity to food and other services," he went on.

There is nothing stopping the state, the government or parliament saying that it has a better solution in mind than the current one – including the Norwegian model noted above, which Michal said he had asked the economic affairs ministry to run some numbers on.

The emotional issue of people who had made it under their own steam up until recently, now having to apply for support and the administrative burden of that support mechanism add impetus to the need to find a solution, he added.

At Thursday's traditional government press conference, Kaja Kallas said that while the government had not taken any decisions on the support measures yet, they were prepared to make amendments to make the current system easier.

Kallas noted Thursday that the measure was designed for 380,000 households, or 800,000 people, while the total population numbers 1.3 million.

Local government is responsible for doling out support up to 80 percent on energy bills for lower income households, and has had to hire extra staff to process applications.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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