Reform chief whip: Essentially a minority government in Estonia right now
Reform is essentially ruling as a minority government, the party's Riigikogu whip says, after an attempt by the party to block the processing of a bill raising family benefits was voted down at parliament on Monday.
Reform's chief whip at the Riigikogu, Mart Võrklaev said: "We are continuing as if we are in a coalition, though these steps by the Center Party have demonstrated that it is more of a minority government on the part of the Reform Party."
Reform has considered its next move in relation to the family benefits bill, Võrklaev added.
He said: "We will discuss further and then we will take our next steps. We are now discussing what they are and the next few days will clarify that," he said.
The coalition's regular cooperation in the coalition ceased the minute Center submitted the family benefits bill unilaterally, and in concert with the opposition parties, Võrklaev added, noting that while Reform is ready to discuss the matter and review it and other important topics, this will take time.
Center is also working in cahoots with the opposition parties to step up pressure on the existing coalition, as evidenced by the recent vote, Võrklaev said, but was unable to say why this was being done.
Health minister: Center wants to stay in office with Reform
Revisiting the topic Tuesday morning, Võrklaev told ETV breakfast show "Terevisioon" that: "Our sincere desire is that the Center Party realizes that such a high-impact issue cannot be decided in days, and that there is no need to do that," adding that he hoped Center would slow down on the issue.
While many bills which could have potentially broken up the coalition in the past have been tabled at the Riigikogu, this outcome is usually avoided via mutual discussions, he added.
Health Minister Tanel Kiik (Center), also taking part in the "Terevisioon" broadcast, said that his party wished to remain in coalition with Reform.
Võrklaev's counterpart in the Center Party, Jaanus Karilaid, had said Monday that his party was awaiting discussions with the coalition partner on the bill.
He said: "Four out of five parties have initiated it," referring to the three opposition parties – the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) – who all voted in favor of the bill, in addition to Center itself.
"It would represent high political culture if we could come to an agreement during a time of crisis. But unfortunately the moment is that the Reform Party does not want that," adding that it was Reform who were talking about crisis and not Center.
Isamaa chair Helir-Valdor Seeder says he, too, does not understand what has been going on in the government, adding that there are no discussions underway to form a new coalition.
The family benefits bill was tabled at the Riigikogu Monday, while Reform submitted a motion to strike it off the agenda.
Reform's proposal was voted down 56 to 32 on Monday, meaning the legislative procedure continues, with the deadline for amendments being Wednesday.
While the 32 votes in favor were from Reform's 34 MPs.
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told ERR Monday that if Center went ahead with the bill without discussion, the coalition would no longer function in its existing form, though added this was not an ultimatum either, simply a new political reality.
Reform says it is opposed to the bill on the grounds of having to find an additional €300 million per year, at a time when a supplementary budget worth over €878 million has just been issued.
Other legislation to pass Monday included the bill which will transfer responsibilities for maritime surveillance over to the Estonian Navy (Merevägi) – organizationally a part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) – and away from the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA).
The bill, tabled by the Center Party on May 12. would if it passes boost the monthly child allowance benefit to €100 per child plus €700 a month for those raising three to six children, and €900 for people raising seven or more children, and attempts to tackle soaring prices – in April, Estonia had the highest rate of inflation in the Eurozone, at 19 percent.
While Center wants the bill to be passed before the Riigikogu breaks up for summer, ahead of Jaanipäev – midsummer (more accurately, the start of summer – ed.), the prime minister has previously stated that the only option for this happening would be if the government collapses and re-forms anew.
Reform has also said that the amendments were due to be under discussion in fall, as part of the state budget debates for 2023, a point which Võrklaev also made while appearing on "Terevisioon" on Tuesday.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte