Estonia needs a functioning government and a new coalition needs to be formed to accomplish this, Riigikogu speaker and Center Party chair Jüri Ratas said Thursday, against the backdrop of a government split between his party and the prime minister's party, Reform.
Appearing on ETV politics discussion show "Esimene stuudio" Thursday evening, Ratas said that a functioning coalition was needed, while denying that he was seeking to head it up, and that it would necessarily exclude the Reform Party.
Ratas said: "I am not currently working to be the next prime minister. I am working for the adoption of this [family benefits] bill, which was signed by four parties," referring to a bill which Center tabled without Reform's consent and which is at the heart of the current coalition crisis.
"A new coalition must be formed. Estonia needs a functioning government, that much is clear," Ratas went on, though did not rule out that Center could continue in office with Reform, either.
"There are always different possibilities in politics. I think that opportunities must always be left open. Neither does this mean that we are not communicating with [Prime Minister] Kaja Kallas; of course we are," Ratas continued.
However, the coalition as a whole somehow is not functioning, Ratas added, and ruled out a motion of no-confidence in Kallas as premier, which he said would have gone ahead if his party had wanted it, but would have necessitated to major votes on the same day – the other being a Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) proposal to strike off a law shaking up the kindergarten system, which in the event passed.
"If the prime minister is tired, she always has the opportunity to say that she will not do the job anymore, and will resign," Ratas added, and also ruled out holding off-schedule elections ahead of the general election due for next March.
"We have a government. We have ministers, we have a prime minister. But when we talk about a conventional, natural, functioning coalition, then this is not the case. After several weeks [of this], the prime minister has said that this coalition is over. We can't say that we have a coalition here today," Ratas went on.
Ratas also doubled down on his commitment to the family benefits bill – supported by the three opposition parties as well as Center, but which is the subject of a filibuster from Reform, with less than two weeks of Riigikogu business to go.
"I will say once again that the Center Party is not relinquishing responsibility. We really have a desire to support children, families with children. And we have a desire to move forward with this [draft] and implement it. and he has said that this coalition will not go, then the prime minister has used the idea that /.../ I understand that he has also made corresponding proposals to both the SDE and Isamaa today."
"[Boosting family benefits] is our desire. We have said from the beginning that we do not want to end this coalition with child and family benefits," he added.
Ratas is both Center Party leader and Riigikogu speaker, meaning he oversees parliamentary business.
Prime Minister Kallas has been in Brussels recently, for the European Council meeting on a sixth package of sanctions on Russia, and is to be in London Monday, to pick up an award accompanied by a vote of thanks from British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and a recorded message from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
She has also made frequent appearances in the international media, aimed at keeping the Ukraine issue in focus and providing an alternative to the line presented by the leadership of France and Germany in particular.
Meanwhile, other domestic issues facing her party include the proposal of a vote of no-confidence in education minister Liina Kersna, over the alleged mishandling of a coronavirus rapid test kit procurement for schools, in October 2021. The motion is being proposed by EKRE leader Martin Helme.
Editor: Andrew Whyte