The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has started to submit hundreds of amendments to the Riigikogu to block various bills. Martin Helme, the party's chair, said that EKRE has already forced the coalition to make concessions on several occasions, adding that the party will continue with the tactic through to the March 2023 general election.
"Our job in opposition is to understand when the government is going to sell us a bad bill of goods; those things that we think are either dangerous or harmful to society or which we think will seriously harm our voters - we fight hard in those areas," Helme said.
"And we have done it successfully - for example, we have just completed the second reading of the Media Services Act, where we put in place several hundred amendments in the same way and forced the coalition to negotiate with us. We also reached a compromise that suited us," he added.
Marek Jürgenson (Center) Chairman of the Legal Affairs Committee at the Riigikogu, told ERR on Wednesday that 285 amendments to the draft law on the protection of whistleblowers (the so-called Whistleblower Act) have been submitted, most of which were submitted by EKRE MPs. According to the Riigikogu's website, 15 EKRE MPs have submitted amendments, ERR reports (EKRE has 19 seats - ed.).
On Wednesday, it also became clear that one of its MPs, Ruuben Kaalep, had submitted approximately 600 amendments to the draft bill amending the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act, aiming to prevent changes in the crypto-currency sector which the amendments would entail.
Helme also noted EKRE's previous success stories in the spring of amending the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act (known in the Estonian media by its acronym in Estonian: NETS).
"Yesterday, the parliament was reading the Equal Treatment Act, which is clearly creating a framework for the state to harass the conservative worldview, giving weapons to the authorities to start harassing conservative people by the state.
He also pointed out the draft Public Health Act, which EKRE strongly opposes, as the implementing acts of the Registered Partnership Act are hidden there. "We absolutely do not agree that the law on cohabitation will be implemented through the back door, and we will not let it go through this House in this way," Helme said.
The chairman of EKRE confirmed that the party does not fight every bill submitted by the coalition, but mobilizes itself only in matters of principle. "These are, in particular, very ideological or very fundamental, issues of fundamental freedoms and fundamental rights - we just don't dissect. There are about twenty bills in the Riigikogu all the time every week, we (EKRE - ed.) have maybe half a dozen such bills, which we are working on actively," Helme said.
Helme: Democracy works
Helme said that EKRE's activities show that parliamentary democracy is working and the tactics applied since the spring of last year have repeatedly brought them success.
"The tactics are the same as we did in the spring: if there are things that we think are completely unacceptable, then the coalition must be forced to take into account the opinion of the opposition," he said.
"I think that from the point of view of Estonian democracy, things are very well at the moment - I can't remember a time when the coalition parties would have considered the opposition's proposals in the way they are considering ours at the moment. Otherwise, these laws will not move forward if at least some of our proposals and incorporation into the law has been taken into account," Helme said.
"Unlike the time when the Reform Party was in the coalition, where they just insulted and bluntly and had little effect on the government's policies, we can be very loud and strong in the opposition, but we also have the results in the opposition," the chairman of EKRE added.
EKRE leader: We are hardworking
Helme said that the activities of the members of his party in the Riigikogu show their diligence.
"I can safely say that the deputies of our Riigikogu earn their salaries fairly. Making hundreds of amendments to one bill does not stop at morning coffee - it is still a very big job and we have the whole faction busy with it," Helme said.
He said that drafting amendments means hard work for parliament members. "We are talking here about each member making about twenty amendments to one bill, four to five or six of those bills, and it will take several weeks to amend the bill to that extent."
"After that, they also need to be defended in committee, to vote in the Chamber - our group is currently extremely busy, it is not just that we are throwing over 200 or 500 amendments here. This is preceded by very good and very serious work and the whole our group is doing the job," he said.
Using the same tactics until elections
Helme said that the party plans to continue with the same tactics until the Riigikogu elections in March next year.
"Our clear goal is to get things out of these drafts that are very disturbing to us, or to have the bill essentially stand still in the drawer, when we overwhelmed them with the amendments," Helme said.
Editor: Roberta Vaino