Isamaa to stick to child benefits hike demand in potential Reform coalition

Priit Sibul.
Priit Sibul. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Isamaa party Secretary General Priit Sibul believes that the Riigikogu will spend the whole of next week on the contentious family benefits bill irrespective of which major coalition partner Isamaa will pick. The party maintains that family benefits must be hiked.

The Riigikogu had voted on 68 proposals to amend the controversial bill to hike family and child benefits by 1 p.m. on Thursday. The next sitting is to be held on Monday when over 1,100 further proposals need to be processed.

Priit Sibul believes that the Riigikogu will be tied up by the proposals to amend until next Thursday after which the parliament will head into its summer break. The Isamaa party council deciding in favor of either Center or Reform for Estonia's next ruling coalition will not automatically bring a new political reality.

"That will be created once a coalition is agreed, not at the start of negotiations," Sibul said.

Isamaa opting for a coalition with Reform and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) would make it easier to end the deadlock.

"It is technically possible to withdraw proposals to amend, stop requesting breaks between voting and quickly vote on groups of proposals. It all depends on the agreement," Vice President of the Riigikogu Hanno Pevkur (Reform) said.

That is precisely what Isamaa would like to see Reform, currently filibustering proceedings, do were the two to share a coalition.

"The things that matter to us are included in the current bill. If someone can propose a more sensible alternative, then we have something to talk about," Sibul suggested.

Asked whether that alternative could be a watered-down version of changes, Sibul said "no," as the goal is to address the demographic crisis and problems in society.

Reform Party leader, PM Kaja Kallas, who would like to form a coalition with Isamaa and the Social Democrats, said that negotiation remains a possibility, while the current version of the benefits hike would require canceling other expenses or hiking taxes.

"These amendments (family benefits hike – ed.) would cost €285 million in 2023. We would have to hike VAT from 20 percent to 23 percent. Or we could tax income, hiking the tax rate from the current 20 percent to 24 percent. Were we to look to excise duties, they would have to be raised by 30 percent," Kallas said.

She added that Reform will not be able to compete with Center in terms of sheer promises of money.

Overcoming obstruction would be more complicated should Isamaa see more common ground with Center and EKRE.

During its summer break, the Riigikogu can only convene for extraordinary sittings. Because the agenda of extraordinary sittings does not depend on work in progress, the prime minister's no-confidence vote could replace the family benefits bill.

The next extraordinary session could be used to give the new government a mandate after which it would be possible to enter a new family benefits bill into proceedings, Sibul suggested.

While extraordinary sittings could be used to vote the new bill into force, the old one would still be in proceedings as a bill cannot be recalled or its reading terminated in the middle of amendment proposals voting. The parliament would have to return to it first thing come fall.

It is unclear whether things will come to that as the prime minister can ask the president to declare extraordinary elections after a vote of no confidence passes. Kaja Kallas said on Thursday that her party is likely to make the request.

The PM added that the final decision is up to the president.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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