Isamaa could not be stated to have more common ground with the Center Party and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) than with the other political parties in Estonia, Helir-Valdor Seeder, Isamaa's leader says. Seeder particularly expressed doubt over the two parties' – both of which Isamaa was in office with 2019-2021 – motivations in rejecting a Reform Party bill addressing the kindergarten system in Estonia, in an interview with ERR's Indrek Kiisler which follows.
As Isamaa chair, how do you view the game of cat-and-mouse taking pace between the leaders of Center and Reform? Neither of them wishes to take responsibility for the potential collapse of the coalition.
I still see worries, as there is in Estonia the need for an active and functioning government, with a united team. However, this is not the case, and has not been since the outset. I've said this repeatedly. It could be that journalists initially took my statements very lightly, but it was evident during a number of disputes which took pace last year, where the initiatives of each were balanced but only got proposed via the media, and which had not been discussed with each other (i.e. between Reform and Center – ed.). This imprint and culture has been around since the beginning, and has been getting worse. This naturally, is a major problem for the Estonian state.
It can ultimately be resolved by someone within the governing coalition, but not from outside. Nor can opposition MPs resign. They can still be coalition MPs. The prime minister can operate; the other party in the coalition, the Center Party, can make its own decisions on whether it is in the coalition or not. As of today there is this schizophrenic situation in Estonian politics, whereby both parties are saying that there is no coalition, while at the same time, cooperation on certain issues goes on – and I would venture to say that this relates to ideological common ground.
One thing is the vote of confidence, where the coalition was completely united but just before that a bill had been voted on where there was no consensus and where the coalition parties voted differently. Now this week for instance the barring of transit through Estonia into Russia has been on the agenda. On this, once again, the coalition parties were united. I cannot quite figure out whether thy really want to find any alternative solutions, or not.
Both Jüri Ratas and Kaja Kallas have certainly called you already, to sound out what Isamaa's position might be on a possible coalition?
Yes, I have spoken to all party chairs and leading politicians over the past few days. The main theme has been the bill concerning the Family Benefits Act, and also concerning pre-school education. We have spoken on these topics already and I have illuminated Isamaa's positions on them.
However, I have also been asked what my estimation of the situation is. I think that which I have told you. I have nothing more to say on it at this juncture. We are also ready to take responsibility. Those contacts that have been made as of today have been very general, but there are no concrete negotiations in any direction that could be considered coalition negotiations.
Ideologically, however, it would be more natural for you to form a coalition with EKRE and the Center Party than if you were to form a coalition with the more liberal parties, the Reform Party and the Social Democrats?
We're starting to speculate here. I would not venture to say that. Is this an ideological difference or unity, which comes out of negotiations? Based on what I have dealt with so far, I would not venture to say that.
When I think of the law on pre-primary education, which EKRE and the Center Party voted down between them and which is a very modest step, but one which is still in the right direction in the transition to Estonian-language education, then this is a very fundamental issue for Isamaa. But if EKRE and Center do not support that, then we can hardly be talking about ideological proximity here.
The same is true of the Ukraine-Russia events here, if we consider the Center Party's statements and actions. So it goes we are all different, and common ground must be found. There has been very little talk these days about this common ground, but there is talk about who will align with whom. However, I can honestly say that what matters to Isamaa is not so much about who deals with whom, but what kind of a policy is being pursued.
As of now we have contributed to the adoption of those bills we believe are significant, and parliament is still active. In every democratic state, the executive must also accept the legislature's decisions and positions. It is the representative of the people who makes the decisions and which is also the government's employer, not vice versa. In this context, naturally, the current prim minister has certainly behaved very unequivocally and, in my opinion, not in the most appropriate manner.
Extraordinary elections have also been talked about. Do you feel that the MPs are thinking about it, or is it just a topic of conversation?
There has been speculation about this, but Estonia does not have any such experience from the previous political history that extraordinary elections would have been seriously considered at all, since the restoration of independence (there is a provision for extra-ordinary elections in the Estonian constitution, but otherwise the next general election falls on March 5 2023 – ed.).
Perhaps the most difficult situation came during the administration of Mart Siimann (1997-1999), when there was a minority government then, too, and while the prime minister himself wanted us to hold extraordinary elections, the Riigikogu did not. I think this is still a more theoretical, than a real, possibility.
It is quite clear that next autumn, and especially the coming winter, will be very difficult for people, as prices will continue rise rapidly in all sectors, especially in the energy sector. If a new government coalition is formed, it will be quite difficult to do without Isamaa. If the party were to enter a potential new government coalition, what would your definite demands be? For example, would you call for an immediate reduction in fuel excise duty?
We do not have any definite red lines in place, but we still follow our principles and our best understanding, which is useful for Estonia. It is not possible to predict all the current problems today, so in this sense, every coalition must also make ongoing decisions which may not have been agreed in the coalition agreement before.
This presupposes such a strong cooperation and the fact that the ship would also have a captain who creates a spirit of cooperation, which does not exist in today's government. Now, in answering the question, it is certainly important for us to pass the same law on family benefits, be it in any coalition. We should definitely move forward with that.
The second point is the same high fuel prices which are a problem for everyone at the current level of inflation. We have also submitted such bills. So far, the Reform Party has been firmly opposed to them. But that is certainly another issue.
The third issue is the current benefits, which need to be implemented and which can be implemented more rationally than was carried out last winter, and were still late. Then the transition to Estonian [-language education], of course. It can always be stated that current issues are more important than those long-term issues, but then we may not get to those long-term issues. The transition to Estonian-language education is a very good example. Everything else is more important and it is being pushed aside.
So there are definitely a lot of these things and it is not that they are more convenient for the Center Party and EKRE, for example, and are not so convenient for the Socialists and the Reform Party or vice versa. There is a common ground here with both and there are also great differences with both. But if there is a will, we can agree.
Do you think that Kaja Kallas has enough flexibility? Do you envisage being flexible in negotiating with your party's Riigikogu group, plus EKRE's and the Social Democrats, taking all the proposals into account?
So far, it can be said that the statements that have been made do not show such a mature flexibility, but I do believe that this type of communication and negotiation, finding common ground in the various political groups, is possible and the prime minister is ready for that. We have met before, both within the party Riigikogu group and in the narrower circle. So this is certainly viable, and I think that Estonian politicians are ready for it.
Editor's Note: This interview, from ERR's radio news, published before the news broke that the Reform-Center coalition was being disbanded.
Editor: Andrew Whyte