Reform to filibuster family benefits bill in Riigikogu on Monday

Center whip Jaanus Karilaid (left) and Reform whip Mart Võrklaev (right).
Center whip Jaanus Karilaid (left) and Reform whip Mart Võrklaev (right). Source: ERR

The Reform Party is still trying to convince its coalition partner Center Party to hit the brakes on its family benefits bill, however should they fail, they are ready to employ more serious tactics in the Riigikogu, such as obstruction. Center, meanwhile, still intends to pass its family benefits bill into law before Midsummer.

The first reading of the family benefits bill, the source of current infighting in Estonia's ruling coalition, is scheduled for Monday, May 30.

Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas said during Thursday's government press conference that the party's MPs have not ruled out resorting to obstruction tactics in order to impede progress on the bill. Should they do so, it will be one coalition party stalling its own coalition partner's bill.

Reform parliamentary group chairman Mart Võrklaev told ERR that the Reform Party expects Center to withdraw the bill or at least shelve it so that it or a new bill could continue to be more thoroughly discussed in the fall.

"First and foremost we're still hoping that the Center Party as our coalition partner together with the opposition will not move forward with this bill," Võrklaev said. "This is not the logic of a normally functioning coalition, and they understand that we will hold this discussion in the fall."

Should Center nonetheless move forward with the first reading as scheduled, however, Reform will have the opportunity to initiate a vote to reject the bill, and if that doesn't succeed, then filibustering can't be ruled out either. A vote to reject the bill could be initiated on its second reading as well.

"We are currently of the opinion that we'll see how we react during the first reading," the Reform whip said.

"We are convinced that this discussion should take place during the budget process," he continued. "In this case, this isn't actually a discussion about family benefits; there are clearly political tactics behind this."

The deadline for proposed amendments to the bill is June 1, and a day later, the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu must schedule the bill's second and third readings. The Social Affairs Committee's next steps will also depend on how many amendments to the bill are submitted by Reform.

According to ERR's information, two possible sets of dates are currently being weighed — the second reading on June 7 and third on June 9, or the second reading on June 9 and third on June 15.

Karilaid to Reform: We want to move forward together, keep up!

Center parliamentary group chairman Jaanus Karilaid told ERR on Friday that it wouldn't be reasonable to delay the bill, as IT applications related to increasing family benefits need improvements and time.

"This would impair the implementation of our political idea," he said. "And so I don't believe that the Reform Party will start obstructing the paying out of child benefits. I'm also still calling on them to join the bill, all the moreso because we've begun further improving the bill."

Asked whether the government may fall due to Center's actions, Karilaid said that it is only Reform that has talked about this.

"For the Center Party, it's altogether strange that there is talk about the prime minister resigning in the context of child benefits and the supporting of families," he said. "We want to pass the bill before Midsummer. But which is more important — supporting families, or maintaining someone's apparent comfort zone? Clearly the former."

ERR asked Karilaid whether Center is overtaking its ruling partner, thus also casting doubt on the coalition's capacity.

"We're not overtaking [them]; we want to move [forward] together," the whip replied, adding that Reform should keep up.

"We have repeatedly told our partner that the ability of the people and families and Estonia to get by is very important to our party," he added. "Why didn't they listen sooner? That's the question that has brought us to the current solution."

Political scientist: Next week to decide coalition's fate

Speaking to ERR, political scientist Ott Lumi said that next week will be pivotal to the survival of the current government coalition.

"They may not disband formally yet, but I believe that tensions between the coalition partners, but also the Center Party's internal tensions, have lasted too long already," Lumi said. "They likely won't be able to stand it any longer."

Regarding the Center, Lumi highlighted tensions between its MPs and its government members.

"If the Reform Party has frequently said that they've reached their limit, I think this time they don't plan on taking it anymore, as their position in terms of the approaching elections is relatively secure," he said. "Regarding the Center Party, the party chairman is apparently in a relatively difficult situation. The party has adopted rather rigid positions. I don't see the Center Party as really having much room to fall back."

According to Lumi, if Reform opts to start obstructing in the Riigikogu on Monday, then that will essentially be the end of the government coalition.

He doesn't consider it possible for the coalition to simply decide to ignore the increasing antagonism between its two parties and move forward as a coalition.

"I think that the Reform Party isn't motivated to act this way, and there will be no detente from their end," Lumi said. "The forecast for the government is looking pretty cloudy."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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