Ratas: It is the prime minister's words which are ending the coalition
The Center Party had no plans for a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), and the latter has in effect wrapped up its partnership in coalition with Center after remarks she made Thursday, Center's leader Jüri Ratas says.
Ratas told ERR Thursday lunchtime that: "This type of bitterness should not be on display. We are not arranging things in order to issue a vote of no-confidence [in the Prime Minister]."
"However, it seems that she (Kaja Kallas - ed.) has brought the coalition to an end by herself, by her statements. In other words she has to act accordingly. What you (ERR – ed.) wrote about, to create a new government with Isamaa and the Social Democrats, mathematically; she certainly has the option to do that," Ratas continued.
Ratas added that the current ruling coalition will not disintegrate, while the Center Party wants to submit a bill aimed at helping families with children in the light of current, high levels of inflation.
When asked why the bill, which would amend the Child and Family Benefits Act and was tabled today, Thursday, by Center Riigikogu chief whip Jaanus Karilaid, needed to be initiated right now, given its scheduled in-force date is the start of 2023, Ratas replied that this was to give the public confidence already.
He said: "It is preferable to do the major things ahead of starting the next state budget process, so that the Riigikogu will have made its decision in principle by then. That would be the right thing to do."
Kallas had issued criticism earlier on Thursday that four parties – Center, the Social Democrats (SDE), Isamaa and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) – were making financial pledges to the tune of €300 million which the Reform Party would have had to have found itself.
Ratas reply to this was that: "The Reform Party is not alone in the Estonian state," he told ERR.
Ratas also rejected Kallas' charge that Center had in drafting the bill submitted an ultimatum to Reform, on Tuesday this week.
The issue of boosting family benefits had been under discussion for a long time, Ratas said, while Reform had previously expressed support for the move.
This meant that the bill could not have come as a surprise to Reform, Ratas said.
The bill will, if it passes at the Riigikogu, raise monthly child benefits to €100 per child plus €700 per month for those with three to six dependent children. While the bill contained the signatures of 54 MPs from Center and the three opposition parties, EKRE, Isamaa and SDE, none of Reform's 34 MPs signed it.
Reform's chief whip at the Riigikogu, Mart Võrklaev, told ERR that the two parties had agreed to discuss hiking family benefits for the 2023 state budget and that tabling the bill now would negatively affect this process and relations between the two coalition partners.
EKRE chair Martin Helme said that raising child and family benefit payments was long overdue, exacerbated by Estonia having the highest rate of inflation in the EU at present, a development which he put at the door of the Reform Party.
Isamaa's chair Helir Valdor-Seeder said the move was in-line with his party's policies, while SDE boss Lauri Läänemets said that fighting child poverty and helping low-income families was priority.
Läänemets said: "The government cannot treat its obligations as a charitable work, only to be pursued when times are good. It is significant there is such broad consensus for supporting families today."
Kaja Kallas had said that Center was maneuvering to recreate the coalition it was in with EKRE and Isamaa, from April 2019 until January 2021, when the Reform-Center line-up entered office.
The bill would need to pass three readings to enter into law.
Jüri Ratas is also Riigikogu speaker, while Reform has the current finance minister, in Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.
Reform has 34 MPs, against Center's 26, EKRE's 19, Isamaa's 12 and SDE's 10; a minimum of 51 seats are needed for a coalition to be viable at the 101-seat Riigikogu.
The state budget process starts in September, with a view to passing the bill shortly before the end of the year.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte