The Center Party wanting to sharply and significantly increase the size of family benefits due to high inflation has given rise to speculation that its true intention is to break up the current ruling Reform-Center coalition. Center whip Jaanus Karilaid, however, said that the party's interest is genuine and that it's not worth seeking political intrigue in the effort.
The Center Party announced on Wednesday that it has begun collecting signatures in an effort to drum up broader political support for a bill of amendments to the Family Benefits Act with which it is seeking to significantly increase the size of child and family benefits.
The bill calls for €100 in monthly benefits per child, €700 in monthly benefits to families with three to six children, and €900 in monthly benefits to families with seven or more children.
It likewise calls for the benefit for families with many children to be indexed, which would allow the size of the benefit to be maintained in line with a changing standard of living. This means that as the standard of living increases, so does support for families with many children.
Ekspress: Second attempt to break up coalition
Investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress published a claim Wednesday (link in Estonian) that recent steps by the Center Party, whose support is waning, may be motivated by hopes of breaking up the current government and recreating its previous coalition with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa.
One example cited was the fact that Center's proposals regarding family benefits are identical to Isamaa's previous proposals on the matter.
The paper said that the Center Party may utilize the supplementary budget as an opportunity to break up the government. Namely, EKRE has submitted several hundred proposed amendments to the supplementary budget bill currently in the Riigikogu, and the only way to circumvent having to vote on each and every one of them separately is to tie the supplementary budget to a confidence vote on the government. Should Reform say no to the sharp increase of family benefits, Center would have the opportunity to use that as an excuse not to support the budget.
Reform whip: This is a state budget strategy matter
Reform parliamentary group chairman Mart Võrklaev told ERR on Wednesday that the Reform Party agrees with the need to increase the size of family benefits in connection with increasing prices, however he believes that this should be done from a 2023 state budget and state budget strategy perspective.
"We are prepared to review family benefits," Võrklaev said. "We discussed this with our coalition partners on Monday. Despite price increases, we also have other needs, such as higher education financing, teacher and police salaries, and the tax system is outdated as well."
Asked whether behind Center's proposal may be the desire to break up the coalition over a single issue, the Reform MP said that their coalition partners have confirmed that they are not interested in breaking up the government coalition.
Karilaid: Our proposal is genuine
Center Party parliamentary group chairman Jaanus Karilaid told ERR that Wednesday's Eesti Ekspress article was a reflection of the paper's fears and political preferences, and that the Center Party has no interest in breaking up the government.
"Our proposal is genuine," he said. "Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas has repeatedly said that this issue is important to us."
He compared the importance of reforming family benefits to the introduction in the past of Estonia's parental benefit system, and did not agree that increasing these benefits should be discussed only in the context of the 2023 state budget or state budget strategy.
"We're constantly taking time and delaying things by three, four months," Karilaid said. "If the will is there, we could get this decided by around Midsummer."
The Center Party has 24, EKRE 19 and Isamaa 12 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu. Center can also count on the support of independent MPs Anastassia Kovalenko-Kõlvart and Martin Repinski, meaning a potential total of 57 votes.
Nonetheless, not all Isamaa or even Center MPs may support forming a coalition with EKRE again.
Editor: Aili Vahtla