Supplementary budget bill going to second reading despite EKRE filibuster
The bill which would enact a supplementary budget worth over €800 million and issued following Russia's invasion of Ukraine will go to its second Riigikogu reading, despite opposition Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) issuing over 260 amendment proposals to the bill, a tactic the party openly admits is a filibuster.
The Riigikogu's finance committee opted not to address the 262 EKRE amendments and to send the bill for its second reading; EKRE has objected to almost a third of the total budget being earmarked for Ukrainian refugees, and also calls for a cut in excise duties, which the party says will help combat inflation.
While two of the Riigikogu finance committee's members supported the EKRE amendments, this only means that the issue has to be put to a vote in plenary, at the second reading itself – due at the house next Wednesday.
Center MP Andrei Korobeinik, who chairs the Riigikogu's Finance Committee, says the sheer number of amendments tabled by EKRE amount to filibustering and for this reason will not be addressed, adding that since they received at least two votes in favor on the committee, they will have to be put to a vote in plenary, at the second reading of the bill.
The amendment proposals did not have sufficient, clear focus, he added; the finance committee will make a single, consolidated proposal, which could make corrections to the draft bill and clarify the distribution of expenditure between government agencies and program activities, Korobeinik added, to be discussed at the next committee meeting Monday.
Aivar Kokk (Isamaa), the committee's deputy chair, said the entire supplementary budget's focus should have been broader.
He said: "It should have been necessary to find the means to support people in order to help them cope with the rapid rise in energy prices and inflation, and to find sources of cover for that."
Kokk's party is in opposition also.
While EKRE tabled 262 amendments to the supplementary budget bill, Isamaa put up six, while the other opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDE), proposed 10.
The finance committee also examined two other bills, which also received many amendments. In the case of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act, these totaled 222 and were nearly all issued by EKRE, while 216 amendments were submitted to the Value-Added Tax Act, all bar four of them from EKRE.
Both bills' scheduled second readings (of three) take place May 18, as does the supplementary budget bill's second reading.
In total, 712 amendments were received in relation to the three bills.
The supplementary budget, issued in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, is divided into three sections of roughly equal size - €255.6 million is slated for defense and security, €257.3 million is earmarked for energy security and €242.7 million towards refugees fleeing Russia's war on Ukraine, making the supplementary budget worth €802.9 million it total.
Helme: Ukraine refugee budget component just money-spinner for NGOs
Of the latter component, EKRE chair Martin Helme criticized its inclusion, adding that nothing of import will happen if the supplementary budget is not adopted whatsoever.
He said: "The €270 million is just going solely to the Ukrainians, and in fact they will be getting less money, whereas all the NGOs possible, and the whole other refugee ecosystem, ticking the boxes for the Ministry of Social Affairs, are making a lot of money from it."
Another sticking point for EKRE and motivation for the filibuster is the lack of cut in fuel excise duties within the supplementary budget's provisions.
Compromise will be needed on this for the bill to move forwards, Helme, a former finance minister, added, claiming that cutting excise duties would curb inflation, while the €31 million in the total which is going towards mitigating rising energy price rises, Helme added, could come from the government's reserve.
EKRE has 19 seats at the 101-seat Riigikogu.
As per standard practice, the bill will require a third reading which, if it passes, will be followed by its being sent to President Alar Karis, for signing into effect.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte