Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that the Reform Party supports hiking child benefits but wants more time to deliberate over changes proposed by the opposition and its coalition partner Center and find ways of paying of covering costs.
Kallas said in a statement released Monday morning that the government needs to look at the big picture when making plans and consider that Estonia has no shortage of fields in need of extra funding, giving the examples of defense, higher education, long-term care, energy and salaries of teachers, rescue workers and police officers.
"That is why these proposals will be discussed as part of the budget as any decision to hike long-term expenses requires due diligence – how to cover them over an extended period of time," Kallas reiterated her point from last week.
"The Reform Party supports higher child benefits. The only thing we asked last Monday, when our government partner first introduced its proposal, is what we are asking now: time to discuss it (especially considering the finance minister was away last week)."
Since the initial proposal would see benefits hiked from February 2023, in next year's budget, Kallas has asked for time to properly analyze taking on an additional financial obligation of €300 million a year. Fixed costs can be covered by cutting back elsewhere, canceling planned measures or through tax hikes but not using loans, the PM suggested, adding that hiking taxes requires a public debate.
"Responsible governance requires decisions with a long effects horizon to follow thorough consideration, which is why I am once again asking all Riigikogu parties for enough time to deliberate and for the government to present its point of view. This cannot be done in a situation where the bill is scheduled to come up for a vote this Monday (after being entered into proceedings on May 12)."
Kallas also urged the Riigikogu to use the weeks leading up to the summer holiday to process bills already in proceedings, giving the examples of draft legislation to remedy accessibility concerns for people with disabilities and planned wind turbine fees. "The Riigikogu must also pass the supplementary budget aimed at ramping up our defense before the end of May."
Center Party whip Jaanus Karilaid presented the parliament with a bill aimed at supporting families with children last week signed by 54 Center and opposition MPs.
The bill would boost monthly child allowance to €100 per child plus €700 a month for those raising three to six kids and €900 for people raising seven kids or more.
PM Kallas said at last week's government press conference that the bill constitutes an ultimatum from Center, and should the bill be voted into law around Midsummer, it would signal the birth of a new coalition without Reform. "The votes behind this political agreement differ from those of the ruling coalition today, meaning that I would no longer be in charge of such a coalition," Kallas stabbed.
The PM added that should Center seek to break the coalition, Reform would pursue an alternative with the Social Democratic Party and Isamaa.
Ratas: Center not seeking a government change
Center party leader Jüri Ratas said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show on Monday that Kaja Kallas should take back ultimatums according to which passing the Family Benefits Act bill would signal the end of the government.
Ratas said that some Reform members have described the bill as sensible, and that it would be sensible to try and find common ground between the coalition and opposition in this matter, which is why decisions should be made before 2023 state budget deliberations.
Ratas refuted suggestions Center is using the child benefits question as a safeguard in solving another matter and said he does not agree to suggestions that global events make it inappropriate to raise other issues.
"Center is not aiming for a change in the government. We do not want a different coalition. Had that been the goal, I suppose we would have gotten it done. We have a Reform and Center government today, and what we want is for a particular bill to be voted into law."
Ratas said Center is in a hurry to pass the bill for it to serve as input for the government when budget deliberations start in August or September. "So it would be there as something that needs to be considered. The Riigikogu would not be able to change fiscal balance to that extent after the budget bill moves to the parliament," the Center leader explained.
Ratas said he does not believe an extraordinary election to be likely. "We are on course for elections on March 5, 2023. We are not aiming to change the coalition and just want to pass this family benefits bill. I believe we are headed for regular elections," Ratas said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski