Representatives of the Reform Party and Center Party parliamentary groups have both found that the current ruling coalition could move forward, however, the two parties have rather different ideas on how to achieve the necessary unanimity to do so. Neither party intends to back down on their stance on family benefits.
Center Party MP Mailis Reps told ERR on Tuesday that she's sorry that the government crisis has gotten this far, but she believes that the Reform-Center combination hasn't been working since the get-go.
"Its capability for making big political decisions was damaged," Reps said.
"In Estonia there's no question regarding whether our officials are capable of making routine decisions because the state is functioning, but political decisions are needed regarding certain matters, such as whether the economic environment is merely a market economy. Right now we're in a spiral with high prices and a great deal of uncertainty. My first question is precisely this — does the capacity exist to discuss whether we have any solution whatsoever in energy that doesn't affect only the poorest segments of society, but also business-owners? Will business-owners be able to survive? We need political decision-making for this, and for that we need a functioning government."
In response to the signal that solutions need to be found that would support people this fall, the choice in the search for political consensus fell on children and youth, the former minister noted.
"They just looked for an issue to draw attention to the fact that fall lies ahead and we have groups that need support," she explained.
She does not believe, however, that the question of increasing the size of monthly family benefits can be discussed in the framework of the state budget. "Against a backdrop of difficult times, we're talking about an austerity budget here, not an increasing budget," she said.
But serious discussions regarding who wants what of this fall will be following soon, Reps continued.
"The elections are a ways off, and everyone understands that this fall will be difficult and that there must be political capacity," she said. "Will this be sought from the existing coalition? A government must be found over the summer that will make these decisions, in any case."
Nonetheless, talks are not currently underway for the formation of a new government, she confirmed.
"Also likely is the solution that the Reform Party and the Center Party will remain in a coalition together, but with a different composition," she continued.
"If I weren't involved in anything else, then I would be actively involved in politics," said Reps, who is currently in court on embezzlement charges. "It's difficult to assess. All combinations are possible; if they want it, the current coalition is possible as well. Certain corrections should definitely be made. When so many dramatic things have been said to one another, certain scene changes should be made on the part of both sides."
She believes that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas' domestic political position should be strengthened as well.
"Our main issue is economic survival, what electricity prices will be, what gas will be coming out of our pipes, how people will cope with inflation," Reps said. "People aren't asking who the prime minister is; they're asking how they're supposed to get by this fall."
According to Reform whip Mart Võrklaev, the family benefits bill is nothing more than a smokescreen providing cover for a plan to destabilize the current coalition.
"Monday was the first reading of the family benefits bill, and Wednesday is the deadline for proposed changes," Võrklaev said. "A day and a half to submit proposed changes to such a huge bill. This proves that this bill has nothing to do with children's benefits."
The Riigikogu's rules of procedure call for a ten-day deadline for proposed changes, he noted, adding that this is the time in which lawmakers can examine the content of the bill as well as communicate with relevant outside interest groups.
"This is essentially impossible to do in just a day and a half," he stressed. "The Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu received a letter from the Estonian Union for Child Welfare yesterday saying that children cannot be made into political targets. The Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu is convening Thursday, which has to review all proposed changes [to the bill], and then pass it next week already."
The Reform group chairman said that, as they have explained to their coalition partners, the Reform Party wants to substantially discuss this matter, and look for actual opportunities for helping children and families.
"Thus far, our focus has been on looking at the opportunities offered by the state budget as well as other services that children need," he explained. "This bill needs substantial analysis; impacts and actual needs should be examined."
The party will make a final decision regarding whether Reform intends to start filibustering the bill on Wednesday. If Center insists that they will still be moving forward with their faulty bill, then this demonstrates their clear desire to break up the coalition, Võrklaev claimed.
"Center should be asked if their plan is to bring [the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE)] into the government, which doesn't seem sane," he said, adding that Reform wants to actually help families, and take time to discuss things, not move forward with a faulty bill.
"After the Center Party submitted this bill together with the opposition, this coalition no longer exists in the conventional sense," Võrklaev said. "As I said yesterday, there's no functioning coalition, but there is strong trust in the government. We'd prefer to remain in a coalition with the Center Party. We haven't moved to break up the coalition; the Center Party did that."
Reform MP Kristen Michal wouldn't reveal what the party's planned next steps are with regards to the family benefits bill.
"Whether we will filibuster, we'll see tomorrow," Michal said. "We're discussing that issue right now; once these discussions are wrapped up, we can inform the public about it."
The MP noted that Kallas has said that the party is willing to discuss all steps that actually also help children and families, and wants to do so within the framework of the state budget, adding that that is the place for making major political decisions.
"I wouldn't lose hope in politics; negotiations will continue as long as possible," he said.
All combinations possible
Center MP Tõnis Mölder likewise wants to "believe and hope" that the coalition will remain intact through the next Riigikogu elections next March.
"We're prepared to contribute to that," he said. "This requires that we find common ground once the children's benefits bill is passed into law, and reach a deal on how we're going to start repairing the coalition so that we can move forward together."
Mölder said that he can see interest in the Riigikogu in passing the family benefit bill before Midsummer, adding that should Reform decide to filibuster, that isn't the right move.
"Obstruction of the Riigikogu's work and the supporting of children cannot be tied together," he said.
The Reform Party has to bear in mind that one cannot lead a state alone, and that the state can be led if both partners want to do so, the center MP said.
"But if Kaja Kallas has said that she will resign if the children's benefits bill is passed, then President Alar Karis will task someone with forming a new government, which we can expect will be Kaja Kallas, and then the ball will already be in Kaja Kallas' court and then it will be up to her who she wants to form a government with," he said.
Should the prime minister resign, then all different combinations in Estonian politics may be possible, Mölder suggested.
"Good chemistry has developed between the four parties who have submitted the children's benefit bill," he noted. "That is a message to the Reform Party as well — hop in and we have the chance to make this country better together."
Editor: Aili Vahtla