Member of the board of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) Jevgeni Ossinovski tells ERR in an interview that he believes Kaja Kallas has learned from mistakes made in the previous government. He says that it is the task of the head of government to make sure partners feel dignified and able to realize their political priorities.
You were convinced as recently as last Thursday that Martin Helme, Helir-Valdor Seeder and Jüri Ratas (chairmen of EKRE, Center and Isamaa – ed.) had a coalition deal in place. Did news from Isamaa from Saturday shake that conviction?
Clearly, their decision was the opposite of what I was expecting. One option is that my analysis was mistaken this time. Political analysis is hardly an exact science.
The other is that Isamaa made its decision in the conditions of both public and in-house debate. It is likely that pressure not to form a government with Center and EKRE was part of the reason. The truth of such matters tends to come out after the fact. We will see.
Heads of Isamaa said on Saturday that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) should resign. Why does that matter?
First, we should seek to answer the question of whether a coalition between EKRE, Isamaa and Center is still possible. And it is, theoretically, while we must go on what Isamaa have told us. That they are going into negotiations in good faith and seeking a coalition. How it will be formed, I believe, is a technical matter.
Some have suggested Isamaa is looking to pull a fast one. That they want to convince Kallas to resign after which they can switch partners, saying that it proved impossible to negotiate with Reform Party cheapskates.
As a relatively bald-faced move, it would seriously impact the party's credibility. I do not believe they are planning something like that.
Do you consider it likely we will see a coalition agreement?
Generally, an agreement is reached once it is decided to launch talks. But it is theoretically possible that differences will prove too great to overcome. That said, I believe an agreement will be reached with enough good will going in.
Isamaa has opened with rather strong positions. That the family benefits bill needs to be passed in its current form, taxes lowered, electricity market reformed and a loan taken to pay teachers' salaries if necessary. Reform represents tight fiscal policy and suggests we cannot afford everything. What are the Social Democrats' clear positions heading into talks?
We are probably dealing with different negotiating styles or tactics here. I believe that while one should be demanding once behind the negotiating table, putting public pressure on partners rarely does the atmosphere any favors.
We have put together a package of proposals and ideas for the talks in which subsistence, children, families, education etc. occupy a central position.
What do you mean by: "The Social Democrats prioritize price hikes being followed by bigger wages and pensions"?
Our aim is to get there. We can discuss how to achieve that with partners. For example, one proposal we have long stood by is hiking the minimum exemption to equal the minimum wage, which we believe would be a great way to hike the real income of less fortunate people. However, this is just one example.
Some say SDE will be overshadowed this way. That those who ask for a little get nothing, which would also be true for 2023 Riigikogu elections.
Like I said, I believe that the place to be demanding and stand up for your demands is behind the negotiating table. And that is just what we plan to do. Public feedback as to what extent we have succeeded or failed will come after talks and when the measures are being put in practice.
Is Reform under Kaja Kallas any different from the one you and Margus Tsahkna left behind (when the government collapsed in 2016 – ed.)?
Yes and no. Kaja Kallas has a different political leadership style than [then PM] Taavi Rõivas. On the other hand, the Reform Party is still the same party and still has many of the same people it did in 2016.
What about the arrogance, loftiness, failure to consider partners and treachery you held against them years ago, has it disappeared?
I have not shared a government with Reform since then. That is why it would be wrong to go into talks with a negative predisposition.
We know the general mood of the Reform-Center government, while who played which emotional role therein depended on the situation and persons involved.
And I'm sure the Reform Party leader has learned a few things going into the new coalition and will not be repeating some mistakes.
We have all heard Center members complain of how terribly they were wronged by Reform. What kind of change do you expect or which mistakes should Reform avoid repeating if this coalition is to last nine months?
I think that a government is more than just the people running ministries and making important official decisions – it is also a team. A team that needs to be able to work together.
And it is the task of everyone in it but especially its leader to create such an atmosphere. To make sure every partner feels dignified and able to carry out their political priorities. Also, an atmosphere where it is possible to find sensible compromise necessary for the country and its people even in the conditions of different visions.
Could there be any positions, potential challenges in the government that could lure you away from the position of Tallinn city council chairman?
Firstly, serving as chairman of the Tallinn city council is important. Secondly, one should never say what they're not willing to do in politics. It is full of new things and every day brings more. Right now, I am participating in mapping out how the Social Democrats could maximize our result at these negotiations.
Editor: Marcus Turovski