Social Democrats withdraw signatures from family benefits bill
The Social Democratic Party (SDE) parliamentary group decided on Wednesday to withdraw their signatures from the controversial Center Party-led family benefits bill.
"We've received confirmation in recent days that, under the cover of the children's benefits bill, the Center Party, together with Isamaa and EKRE, plans on toppling the current government," SDE party chairman Lauri Läänemets told ERR late Wednesday morning. "In the current security situation, we will not be going along with the breaking up of the government and formation of a new one. We do not support this, and we will be withdrawing our signatures from the bill."
Läänemets stressed that this does not mean that Social Democrats are withdrawing from increasing children's benefits altogether, highlighting that the party has two bills currently already introduced to the Riigikogu. "But we don't support the formation of a new government this way," he added.
The SDE chair noted that four parliamentary parties have sat together for a week now, where the Social Democrats proposed changes of their own to the bill, but what set the tone at the table was a callous attitude toward both the bill itself and SDE's proposed changes to it.
Center whip: SDE wants in on coalition with Reform
Upon hearing about the SDE's decision to rescind its support of the bill, Center Party parliamentary group chairman Jaanus Karilaid said that the Social Democrats passed up the opportunity to actually do something, adding that this may have been motivated by a desire to form a coalition with Reform.
"The true nature of Social Democrats has been revealed once again," Karilaid said. "Their great enthusiasm in supporting the family benefits bill has been replaced with plain old political combinatorics based on personal gain. Under pressure from Reform, they buckled so hard that two days after a vote in favor in the Riigikogu they decided to withdraw their contribution to the bill that would increase children's benefits and improve families' welfare."
Asked whether Reform and SDE might form a minority government (with 44 votes), Läänemets replied that their party has received no such proposal.
"The formation of every coalition requires a proposal, then a will, and then, finally, an agreement as well," the SDE party chairman said.
Opinions split within group
According to SDE MPs who spoke with ERR prior to Wednesday morning's meeting, they have nothing in principle against increasing the size of monthly family benefits, but if the bill should lead to the collapse of the current Reform-Center ruling coalition, that could pave the way for the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), one of the Social Democrats' main ideological opposites, to return to power.
Some SDE parliamentary group members, however, nonetheless clearly support increasing the size of family benefits and find that if the Social Democrats retract their support of the bill, that could leave them very vulnerable to attack through the next Riigikogu elections next March. They also noted that even if the SDE throws its 10 votes behind the Reform Party with its 34, that wouldn't be enough.
SDE's support of the controversial family benefits bill has of late drawn criticism from several prominent figures in Estonia, including Tarmo Jüristo and Rein Raud, who have focused on the fact that the collapse of the current Reform-Center government would pave the way for EKRE to return to power.
The majority of SDE MPs cosigned the initiation of the bill of amendments to the Family Benefits Act. When the Reform Party parliamentary group proposed rejecting the bill upon its first reading in the Riigikogu on Monday, four Social Democrats voted against rejecting it: Jaak Juske, Kalvi Kõva, Helmen Kütt and Heljo Pikhof. Another four SDE MPs abstained from the vote, however, including party chairman Lauri Läänemets, secretary general Eduard Odinets, Ivari Padar and Riina Sikkut. Former SDE chair Indrek Saar was absent from the vote.
The SDE has nine seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu, but can also count on the vote of the independent Raimond Kaljulaid. The Reform Party has 34 seats, meaning that between them, the two parties have 44 votes.
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Editor: Aili Vahtla