Coalition talks parties still not hurrying to strike agreement
The Reform Party, Isamaa and the Social Democrats (SDE) are in no hurry to reach any coalition agreement, one political scientist says, as the talks enter their fourth week.
The party chairs held talks on Saturday, but did not gather for a joint meeting of negotiators, while both the midsummer break and Reform leader and prime minister, Kaja Kallas, having to be away for NATO and EU meetings during that time, have also had the effect of slowing things up.
The head of state, President Alar Karis, has also spoken of the need to get things moving.
Pinch points have been found on child benefits and the transition to Estonian-only education, Saarts added, while whereas Reform does not have a plan B to form a coalition, or at least a majority coalition, with any other alignment (Kallas dismissed the Center Party component of the government just over a month ago, while Reform and SDE together had 44 seats, not enough for a majority at the 101-seat Riigikogu), Isamaa also received an offer from the Center Party to recreate the coalition it was in office with 2019-2021, along with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE).
Regarding Estonian-language education, which both Reform and Isamaa are in theory on the same page on, Saarts said: "In the case of this [potential] coalition, Isamaa, if it has made education in the Estonian language a shibboleth, such that even if the reforms that it has been offered to it in the current coalition talks do not materialize, meaning Isamaa will have to thoroughly reorganize its messaging system and also convince its voters that education in the Estonian language is not so crucial and is just one of many questions."
In general, as noted the talks have dragged because none of the three parties, and not just Isamaa, are in any hurry, Saarts added.
"Both SDE and Isamaa actually want to demonstrate to their voters that they will boldly stand by their election promises, attempting to get them entered into any new coalition agreement as successfully as possible."
"The Reform Party is not in a hurry either, it's the summer period, and they can definitely function as a minority government for another month," said Saarts."
"I think that it is in the Reform Party's interest definitely to finalize a coalition at least during the summer, but from their point of view, in the coming weeks, there is no tremendous pressure on them to do so, that an agreement would have to take place within days or weeks," he added.
Of concrete agreement, so far only hiking the income tax-free allowance to €654 has been established, though Mart Võrklaev, Reform's chief whip at the Riigikogu, says other major issues, aside from the agreed increase in the income tax-free minimum, continue to await compromises.
He said: "Especially in the case of family allowances, this concerns the numbers and then also the number of years for Estonian-language education in elementary school. Kindergartens and related things have been agreed upon, but primarily relating to elementary school."
Helir Valdor-Seeder, Isamaa's leader, said that the talks continued between the three leaders on Saturday, over the 'phone, and he, too, said that while compromise has not yet been reached, efforts are being made for that outcome and that talks will continue involving the negotiation delegations from the three parties, on Monday.
On the topic of family allowances, according to Seder, the question is not only about amounts, but also whether family allowances will be indexed in the same way as is done with pensions.
SDE leader Lauri Läänemets also said much the same on Saturday – that no major breakthroughs have been made but that the party is ready and willing to continue negotiations from Monday.
Reform leader Kaja Kallas decline to answer ERR's questions about progress in the talks, as of Saturday.
The Riigikogu is also in recess until September, but can be re-convened on an extraordinary basis in order to vote, for instance on a coalition line-up.
Reform has acted as a minority government for over a month now, while the resignation of one minister (Liina Kersna, education) has not been accepted by the prime minister until a new coalition is formed.
On Friday, President Alar Karis expressed concern about the situation and hoped for news of progress by Sunday.
Talks between Reform and Center ahead of the last coalition entering office, in late January 2021, lasted barely two weeks.
An added consideration is that the next general election takes place eight months to the day, on March 5 2023, while whoever is in office in the fall and winter will have to contend with the issue of high energy prices, inflation in general - Estonia has the highest rate in the EU at a whopping 22 percent - and the defense and security situation.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte