The Reform Party has decided to postpone decisions regarding the expansion of an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) training ground until after the Riigikogu election.
Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur is from the Reform Party; the training area is an existing facility in Nursipalu, Võru County, whose planned expansion to around 9,000ha has met with opposition from local residents.
After talks with Reform MPs Monday morning, Minister Pevkur said that the consensus was to await the XV Riigikogu, which will enter office following the March 5 Riigikogu elections.
Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur discussed matters related to the Nursipalu training area with the Reform Party faction in the morning, and it was jointly concluded that it is reasonable to leave the necessary changes to the law to the decision of the new Riigikogu, the press service of the Ministry of Defense announced.
"Taking into consideration the fact that the Riigikogu elections are just around the corner and possible changes to legislation need a more thorough analysis, it is reasonable to leave the final decisions to the new Riigikogu, and the government which is to be formed," Pevkur said, via a Ministry of Defense press release.
"It is also not my desire that Nursipalu become the subject of political confrontation ahead of the elections, since the development of national defense must be in the form of a cross-party agreement," he went on.
The Center for Defense Investment (RKIK) will continue with the preparation of the necessary studies and assessments, he said.
"There is a clear need for a training area, but there is equally an overwhelming need for consensus across the political parties, which means that various studies and other activities that need to be carried out in one way or another can continue to go ahead, while now seems to be a more reasonable time to pause from this for a while," Pevkur continued.
Nursipalu was recommissioned for EDF use in the 2000s and is currently around 3,000ha in size. However, the changed security situation, the development of the 2nd Infantry Brigade (South Estonia) into a fully mechanized unit, the need to host NATO allies and their heavy equipment and the overloading of existing facilities, including those in Latvia as well as the EDF's Central Training Area in northern Estonia, led to the plan to expand Nursipalu, after several other potential sites were looked at.
Over 20 householders would have to vacate their properties due to the expansion, and would receive compensation, while residents outside, but nearby, the planned and existing zones have also protested the plans.
The head of state has also weighed in on the matter.
Pevkur has said last week that there was a chance to expedite legislative changes at the XIV Riigikogu, which has only two more weeks left in session, after this week.
Reform's leader and prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said other parties had exploited the issue for political gain ahead of the elections.
Isamaa MEP: Decision is 'incomprehensible'
Former EDF commander and current MEP Riho Terras (Isamaa) has hit out at the decision, calling it "incomprehensible".
"Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur's comment that the matter of the Nursipalu expansion must be postponed to the post-election period is completely incomprehensible, considering the security situation," Terras said via a spokesperson.
"It is the task of the politicians, the prime minister, the defense minister and the government to decide. The country must also be managed in the pre-election period [too," he added.
"The task of the Minister of Defense, together with the EDF leadership, is to ensure the safety and security of the Estonian state. The fact that this topic is uncomfortable or causes disagreement cannot be an excuse for postponing important security discussions and projects. Expanding the training area is a necessity," Terras continued.
Terras added that while those affected by the expansion should be compensated, this was no reason for delay.
This article was updated to include comments from Riho Terras.
Editor: Andrew Whyte