Veteran Reform Party politician Heiki Kranich, who has decided not to run in the 2023 general elections, told ERR in an interview that smaller partners bear no responsibility in ruling coalitions formed on an unequal basis. The MP suggested this is why Reform often plays to role of kindergarten teacher in its governments, adding that Reform are labeled arrogant by those for whom the lead role is unattainable.
Why did you decide not to run in next year's Riigikogu elections?
Looking back to when I was secretary general of the party, generational renewal was among my guiding principles. That young people should take over the everyday side of things. Today, we once again have reason to expect younger people to take over and the old-timers not to cling to their seats. I was away for years, and the fact I am an MP today is rather a coincidence. (Kranich later explains how he found himself with free time and suggested running to the party, which Reform went along with at the time – ed.)
To what extent has this generational renewal happened in the Reform Party? We know that several high-ranking Reform politicians (including former PM Taavi Rõivas – ed.) have decided to quit the party in favor of the business world.
It is only natural. A politician's job does not have to be forever. But talking about whether it has happened, the change of generations used to take place quite painlessly back in the day. People who were young then – Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Taavi Rõivas, Arto Aas – confidently took over, rose to notable positions and did their jobs well.
You also had Remo Holsmer and Kalle Palling. Quite a list really.
Yes. No one can say that the generational shift didn't happen that time. I believe the time has come again.
Who do you see as the drivers of that change, forming the new Reform Party?
Let us start with the party chairman (PM Kaja Kallas – ed.) as a party's leader does a lot to shape it.
Would you say Kallas has long at the head of the Reform Party? How has she managed in terms of running the party?
I believe she has improved over time. Rather, what I fear is that Estonia might prove too small for her.
Who are other future leaders of Reform?
There are more than a few, while I also think that naming them ahead of their day would be premature. Time will tell.
How would you sum up your recent Riigikogu stay?
The Riigikogu today cannot be compared to what it was in the early 1990s. We were not thinking about how to amend legislation back then but what we needed in terms of laws in the first place. It was an exciting time. Everything happened in months, days or sometimes even hours, and it was very different from today. On the other hand, it makes no sense to pine for those times. Everything is good in its own time, and it is natural that everything changes.
Is the Reform Party's policy on track?
That is a deeply philosophical question. I would see more emphasis on former core values of fiscal balance, a simple tax system and supporting entrepreneurial spirit instead of just picking up every tab. But as you know, Estonia has coalition governments and coalitions often require compromises that one might not like in the interests of general stability. Time will tell. Hopefully, the voter will back Reform at elections and we can start moving back towards those core truths in order to move forward more successfully.
To what extent has Reform's worldview changed in the interim? We are talking about generous benefits the Reform Party wouldn't have been caught dead proposing a few decades back.
I don't think our worldview has changed. What has changed is that while Reform could dictate terms as a junior partner in earlier coalitions, it has been the leading force recently, which necessitates making concessions when involving junior partners. Unfortunately, and irrespective of our partners' declared worldview, the idea that we can just pay for everything is spreading. Whereas no thought is given to where to get that money. So, I do not believe Reform's worldview has changed. Simply, our role is one where you need to compromise more.
Allow me to ask a question that Reform have been asked a lot lately? Why are you regarded arrogant by other parties, coalition partners and perhaps also the public?
I disagree. Everyone has tried to pin that label on the Reform Party and used it to justify not their incompetence, but inability to take that lead role. It is always easier to blame others than it is to take a look in the mirror. No, I do not think arrogance is a component here. Rather, it has to do with the role where everyone around you wants to go on a spending spree, while not wishing to admit that where the money comes from might be associated with very painful decisions. They want to be nice and generous, with Reform inevitably saddled with the role of kindergarten teacher. And who likes teachers that much.
It has been suggested the way coalitions are formed in Estonia is not quite right. All partners have been given an equal share irrespective of their Riigikogu presence lately. Do you think that is the right way and what could be some of the effects?
It can culminate in deadlock. Desperate attempts to find consensus see agreements on the level of the lowest common denominator. And smaller coalition partners are no longer responsible for their actions. They are praised for fighting for things, while they bear no real responsibility as they can always threaten to leave [the coalition]. In truth, the government could simply vote on important matters. And junior partners would have to decide whether to accept the compromise or walk away. This constant search for compromise leads to stagnation.
Do you think Reform will one day form a government with the Conservative People's Party (EKRE)?
That is the million dollar question. EKRE have done everything they can to render themselves unacceptable, looking at their statements, behavior. As with any party, there are different people, attitudes inside EKRE. But the EKRE mainstream has made working with them very difficult.
It is unlikely for as long as Kaja Kallas remains chairman. But what about the next Reform leader?
Never say never. Though I would look at it the other way around, that it may not happen during the day of the Helme family.
It seems to me that Martin Helme is not about to disappear from EKRE's bridge, while Kallas has been head of Reform for a while.
I have not noticed any desire for a new leader inside Reform. There are those who would like to see a stricter fiscal policy, demand a simpler tax system etc. But everyone also understands that Kaja has navigated these waters quite elegantly.
Let us also have a prediction regarding the next Riigikogu. Will we see new parties in the parliament after March 5?
That makes for another million dollar question. While several newcomers are very critical, I can see none of them bringing something that Reform or some other party aren't already doing to the table.
It could be a repeat of the previous elections where failure to attach meaning to new slogans saw them fall down. What we know is that the election will go to Reform and EKRE. Center will surely remain [in the parliament], and Isamaa and the Social Democrats are also likely to make it.
The fate of newcomers will be decided less by their ideas and more by people being fed up with the status quo. However, making election decisions based on tedium alone is hardly fruitful. Rather, I would consider what I'd like to see happen in the next four years and who could be able to make those things happen. Everyone can shout out slogans, while perhaps not everyone can turn them into policies.
Heiki Kranich (born October, 1961, in Haapsalu) is an Estonian politician. He has been a member of the VII, VIII and XIV Riigikogu. Kranich served as minister of finance in 1994 and minister of the environment 1999-2003. He has been a member of the Reform Party since 1990.
Editor: Aleksander Krjukov