Lauri Hussar: Elections to decide whether Estonia will go forward or back
Speech by Eesti 200 chairman Lauri Hussar at the party's election congress held on January 15.
When I joined our party four years ago, I said that I was loathe to wake up one morning to find Estonia changed beyond recognition. Unfortunately, I have been forced to ask myself whether what I'm seeing is real many times in the years since.
We saw Estonia stray from the path of liberal democracy for almost two years, with politics moving into people's bedrooms via the marriage referendum debates. We felt the cost of not having made long-term decisions in crises, whether Covid or energy.
We have experienced sluggish and arrogant leadership where the state, under the illusion of infallibility, has treated entrepreneurs with suspicion. And trust scores have gone down among businesses. In a situation where a gas main exploded in Lithuania on Friday (January 13 – ed.), we still don't have independent LNG capacity, even though that is precisely what is needed for energy security.
And so, the final stretch of the project remains outstanding. We have seen countless examples of offense given and taken, rows and reconciliation. Burned into our minds are images of cakes carried as tokens of reconciliation, members of the government posing on the background of a red toy car, burying yet another hatchet.
We have seen politicians surrender everything they have just to cling to power. Principles thrown overboard and state coffers taken to the market to make good on election promises necessary to stay in office. We have seen backs turned and stabbed, one after another.
We could hear chairmen of ruling parties say the opposite of what they've done in speeches just yesterday (January 14 – ed.). Elections do not equal absolution for parties. We have seen a decade of embarrassing politics. Politics where public funds are shamelessly put toward cementing one's power, gratuities big and small to saddle the next government with today's state budget and its deficit of almost €2 billion.
That is why Eesti 200 is worried. We have been forced to look on as one government after another drops the ball, failing to even pretend to be looking for smart and future-oriented solutions. Instead, steps that have cost Estonia tens of millions of euros have been taken, such as freezing and then compensating people for second pension pillar payments. The impact of dismantling Estonia's mandatory funded pensions system is still being tallied up, while it is clear that it has left us worse off collectively.
All Riigikogu parties have been represented in different governments during the current elections cycle. The icing on the cake comes in the form of [so-called] Riigikogu protection money they've used to offer some little compensation for their mistakes and omissions before elections.
Milton Friedman was right when he suggested that any government solution is usually as bas as the problem itself. Only in the field of national security can we say that Estonia has managed to rise to the occasion quickly and adequately. However, truth and its acknowledgment are oft the first consequences of war.
I am glad to see every one of you here in this hall today. You look cheerful and active. I would like to extend my thanks to Kristina [Kallas] for her dedicated work on our program. I would also like to thank members of the board, heads and members of working groups. My thanks is extended to external experts who provided us with a lot of political input for the elections.
Eesti 200 have arrived to raise the political level in Estonia, make sure we sport a longer view than a single elections cycle, longer than just the duration of a single coalition, as it now tends to be. Estonia did not turn into a slow and haughty bureaucracy in a year. It has taken a decade and a generation of soft politicians. It will take at least as long to get it started again. And it is absolutely clear that this requires decisions to be made. Decisions are a prerequisite for change.
Eesti 200 is not afraid to take responsibility. We will do more than move papers from one desk to another. We aim to wake the state from its slumbering downward spiral.
Eesti 200's plan is centered around the people of Estonia we want to equip with faith and hope. Faith in that we can pull together and hope that life will improve, our prosperity will grow and we can feel safe and confident. That Estonia will go forward toward openness, wisdom and freedom.
We want everyone's prosperity to grow and catch up to the Nordic level. Estonia needs economic reforms if we want our businesses' competitive advantages retained and our economy, wealth of people and entrepreneurs to grow. Eesti 200 has that plan. Joakim [Helenius], who is also with us here today, is making preparations to take up the post of finance minister. I always listen to Joakim with great interest and would like to thank him for the opportunity to share this path.
Vital investments can be made using loan money, while we are against borrowing to cover current spending. Estonia's fiscal deficit has grown to 4.6 percent of GDP today. This figure is hardly reassuring in terms of Estonia being in safe hands (Reform Party election slogan – ed.). Joakim's hands seem much safer to me. We would use them to abolish the "tax hump" (Estonia's gradual income tax exemption system – ed.), which has created nothing but confusion. Estonia needs to restore a flat income tax system, which has served as one of the pillars of our success and stable tax environment.
We are also a party for education and find that education policy is the best economic policy. Paying good teachers €3,000 a month is just one part of our plan to complete the world's best general education with taking Estonian universities among the top 100 in the world. Ambition is what motivates us to make the effort and, through it, open up new horizons. Without education, we will not achieve anything. It is even more important for us than the green transition.
But the green transition is of crucial importance. We have every lever with which to turn Estonia into a competitive electricity exporter. All it takes is will and courage. Estonia is already using nuclear energy generated elsewhere, and we can agree to construct a nuclear power plant in Estonia should it prove necessary. The world around us teaches us that no possibility can be ruled out on the path toward environmentally friendly solutions, and that rather we need to seek new ones. I would once again recall this Friday's [gas main] blast in Lithuania. We are small, and our openness and location make us vulnerable.
Eesti 200 offers the people of Estonia a comfortable and well-oiled state apparatus where they do not have to run from one official to the next carrying documents or register their newborn child immediately after birth just to get a kindergarten place years down the line. We offer a personalized state where officials are there for the people, as opposed to people being there for the state. We offer an Estonia where the government has the data to come to the aid of people when it notices need and where help is looked for.
And finally, we must talk about security. I am very glad to have Margus, Kalev, Igor and Peeter with us. Their expertise and decisiveness have given us a strong, well-weighed and a highly ambitious vision for a national defense agreement that I would like all parties to get behind. National defense and developing allied relations are extremely long processes. That is precisely why we need common clarity in terms of how to defeat the enemy should it come against us.
All our thoughts are with Ukraine, and we form their home front. And we will not settle for anything less than a Ukrainian victory because our neighbor (has, unfortunately, turned into a crazed monster who) will balk at nothing. We must also learn from Ukraine the fragility of civilian society during wartime and how many will suffer. We must learn to go on the offensive, survive and continue as a people in whichever conditions.
Four years ago, we were a young party with just a few months' experience. We put in a strong result against all odds and forecasts but were just left out of the parliament. Eesti 200 is ready today. Ready to put in its best election result yet.
Let me assure you that Eesti 200 is prepared to bear government responsibility. We have a strong program and an ambitious candidates list, with experts and top players from many fields. I'm very glad that we will also hear from Marek [Reinaas] today on our elections campaign, what and how we will say, as well as how it will all come together. I would like to thank Marek and all our helpers for giving the Estonian people the chance to vote for Eesti 200 instead of the established parties.
With us is also my good friend Jüri Lehtmets to remind us that everything is possible. Please give a hand to a man who goes through life on sheer willpower, showing all of us that everything is possible even if you can only move a single finger. Everything is possible if you have the will and courage to look life in the eye.
Our goal is to make sure everyone in Estonia is cared for, able to dream and realize those dreams in a positive way. This joy of life gives Eesti 200 certainty that it is possible with us (party's slogan for the elections – ed.).
These are the most important elections since 1992. For a long time, we've been told by our leaders how nothing can be done. The prime minister tells us that nothing can be done because her coalition partners are against it. The latter say they don't have the necessary votes. The bureaucracy tells us that everything is too complicated.
However, it is impossible to construct wind farms and new roads like this. Impossible to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas. Impossible to offer children the chance to go to school close to home and the elderly a more dignified life. Impossible because there is always something missing. Usually it is money, while the obstacle can also be red tape or arbitrary decision-making by officials. It is bothersome to do something or put more of our tax money to work for the people.
Good will is well and good, while it is useless unless it leads to decisions. Words cannot light a torch or cross a river. But we must move forward and these elections will decide whether Estonia will move forward or back. The Reform Party have long since given up on reforms. Their own choices and those of others have made them prisoners in a gilded cage – they have sacrificed fiscal stability for their own ambitions.
This does not sit well with Eesti 200. We know that we need more courage, volition and decisiveness. The true obstacle is fear of losing one's position or a few votes at elections. This cannot be our lot. Eesti 200's long plan has ideas to take Estonia to a new level. We will not settle for mediocre leadership and policy as we deserve the best.
What is our ambition? We need to achieve a new level in education, security, administration, healthcare, economy and energy. We will not settle for excuses according to which nothing is possible. Everything is possible with us. To be smart and prosperous, different and special.
Estonia needs a new progressive government. Eesti 200 is willing to work with all forward-looking parties to give Estonia back momentum. To become the best in the world. Good ideas and reforms are only good if they are carried out.
Believe me, we will carry them out, together, because everything is possible. Long live Estonia! Long live Eesti 200.
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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski