Mart Võrklaev: No reason to hurry Language Act amendments

Mart Võrklaev.
Mart Võrklaev. Source: Tiit Blaat

Estonia is not in such a hurry to pass the Language Act only for it to be done with little heed and in violation of the good practice of legislative drafting, Reform Party whip Mart Võrklaev writes.

Minister of Education and Research Tõnis Lukas (Isamaa) recently wrote that the Reform Party "did not show much initiative" in the matter of Estonian-language education during the previous coalition talks and was rather "ready to scrap the relevant transition or water it down to a declarative goal with no concrete deadlines in order to overcome differences."

As a member of the Reform Party's negotiating team, I was present for the talks from start to finish and can confidently say that Lukas' claims aren't true. The Reform Party was after concrete transition deadlines during talks and considers the switch to universal Estonian education among this Riigikogu's crown achievements.

It would be peculiar were it any other way. It was the Reform Party that raised the matter at the 2017 local and 2019 Riigikogu elections. Back then, Isamaa mostly had skepticism in terms of the plan's feasibility and, at most, said that choice of study language should be voluntary. Because we [Reform] were in the opposition back then, the parliament voted down three of our relevant initiatives with the votes of Center, but also Isamaa and EKRE.

It was the Reform Party that sought the transition to Estonian schooling during coalition talks with the Center Party in January 2021, and unlike Jüri Ratas' governments, we managed to include the Estonian language activity plan as a tangible step in the coalition agreement.

More importantly, the process was the responsibility of then Reform's Education Minister Liina Kersna who finally kick-started the process after decades in dormancy. The activity plan was completed in the fall of 2021.

Allow me to recall that the switch to Estonian education was the reason the Reform-Center coalition ended after the Center Party joined EKRE in voting down legislation to mandate the use of Estonian in kindergartens, even after supporting the initiative when still in power. After that, Kaja Kallas asked the president to release Center ministers from office and launched coalition talks with the Social Democrats and Isamaa.

We need to commend local governments that have already launched the transition to Estonian schooling, such as Tartu or Keila (both run by Reform Party members, by the way). The state has been afforded the opportunity to learn from their transitions. And, indeed, we must also commend Tõnis Lukas who, during his third term as education minister, helped the Riigikogu turn the transition by 2030 into law. But claims that the Reform Party had nothing to do with it or has demonstrated lackluster enthusiasm are simply false.

As concerns the Language Act, 99 percent of it is a copy of Isamaa's election platform. It includes ideas worth discussing and getting done, but Estonia is not in such a hurry to pass the Language Act for it to be done with little heed and in violation of the good practice of legislative drafting. The sensible order would be foe the minister to signal legislative intent, involve and listen to target groups and send the document for a round of coordination that would allow the next government to take it forward, just as will happen with the Estonian education transition.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski

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