Estonian prime minister dismisses junior coalition partner from government
The junior coalition partner Center Party and its seven ministers were dismissed from the government by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) on Friday after weeks of political deadlock. Reform has said it will now start negotiations with Isamaa and SDE.
"Estonia, now more than ever before, needs a functioning government based on common values. The security situation in Europe does not give me any opportunity to continue cooperating with the Center Party, which is unable to put Estonia's interests above those of the party and its various factions," Kallas said on Friday afternoon.
The move comes after several weeks of deadlock in the Riigikogu over the draft family benefits act. The Center Party partnered with the opposition to pass a bill hiking family and child benefits that would add €300 million in fixed annual expenses to the budget.
Kallas said the decisive factor to end the coalition was the rejection of the preschool education bill on Wednesday which was proposed by the government, but voted down by Center and opposition party EKRE. This would have paved the way for a transition to Estonian language education in kindergartens.
"I believed that February 24 and Russia's genocide in Ukraine had opened every Riigikogu party's eyes to just how important it is, from the point of view Estonian independence, to have a common understanding of threats as a neighbor of Russia. Unfortunately, it turned out the day before yesterday (Wednesday - ed.) that there are two parties in the parliament that just cannot shape up, even in the current situation, and make sure our independence and constitutional values are protected," Kallas said.
"When I became prime minister, I promised to dedicate my strength to reinforcing the future of the Estonian people. This cannot be done through military spending alone but, rather, through our people's united and unwavering will to defend out independence. Estonian proficiency is both a precondition and the foundation of this. In a situation where the Center Party is actively working against Estonia's core values, we cannot continue to cooperate with them," she added.
"Coupling this with the fact that no Center minister, except [interior minister] Kristian Jaani and [foreign minister] Eva-Maria Liimets, has NATO secrets clearance, ruling with such a composition of ministers in wartime is impossible. That is why I have made formal a situation that has been in de facto effect for some time and asked Kadriorg to release Center ministers from their posts."
Estonia now has a minority government as Reform does not have enough seats for a majority in the Riigikogu. Kallas said she has proposed new negotiations with Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party (SDE).
If Kallas fails, Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas will have the opportunity to form a government.
Reform and Center have been in coalition since January 2021.
President dismisses Center Party ministers
The Office of the President said at around 3 p.m. on Friday that President Alar Karis has released Center Party ministers from office following the proposal of the prime minister.
The president released from office Minister of the Environment Erki Savisaar, Minister of Culture Tiit Terik, Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab, Minister of the Interior Kristian Jaani, Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eva-Maria Liimets.
"Prime Minister Kaja Kallas came today to Kadriorg with a proposal to dismiss all the Center Party ministers of her ruling coalition. I hope that this step will be followed by others which will bring a functioning government back to Estonia," he wrote on social media.
Center Party ministers will be replaced by Reform Party ministers until a new coalition has been formed, following existing protocol.
This means Aab is replaced by Minister of Finance Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Kiik by Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo, Liimets by Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology Andres Sutt, Jaani by Minister of Defence Kalle Laanet, Savisaar by Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse and Terik by Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna.
Reform makes formal proposals, announces negotiating delegation
Formal proposals to start coalition negotiations were made to Isamaa and SDE by the board of the Reform Party at 4 p.m.
Reform's delegation will include Kaja Kallas, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Jürgen Ligi, Timo Suslov, Mart Võrklaev, Gerrit Mäesalu, Valdo Randpere and Erkki Keldo.
Kallas said it had been a "unanimous decision" to start discussions with the two parties.
"The board's unanimous decision was, that in the current turbulent security situation, Estonia cannot afford to have a non-functioning government," she said, adding the parties hold common views on the transition to Estonian-language education, pro-European foreign policy and support for people during volatile economic times.
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Editor's note: This article was updated to add comments from Kaja Kallas, information about ministerial replacements, and again to say formal negotiations had been extended by Reform.
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Editor: Helen Wright, Marcus Turovski