Gallery: Monday coalition talks span Ukraine, hate speech, cartel-busting

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Coalition talks between the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) continued on Monday, this time with a focus on foreign policy and justice. Speaking at a press conference, party representatives confirmed significant common ground on issues ranging from Ukraine support and economic diplomacy to making hate speech punishable and boosting competition oversight.

The first half of the day Monday was spend discussing foreign policy topics, while the second half was spent focusing on justice-related matters, said Prime Minister and Reform Party chair Kaja Kallas, addressing the press together with Eesti 200 representative Liisa Pakosta and Social Democratic Party (SDE) representative Jevgeni Ossinovski.

According to the prime minister, the three parties have a significant amount of common ground when it comes to foreign policy.

"One major goal is ensuring Estonian security and stimulating the economy via economic diplomacy," she highlighted, noting that goals for the latter include improving Estonian companies' activity abroad but also attracting investors and companies to Estonia.

"We also talked about Ukraine; we support Ukraine's aspirations in joining the EU and NATO," she continued. "We will continue supporting Ukraine."

Kallas noted that the three parties are in favor of EU enlargement and support various countries' European aspirations, noting that they specifically discussed Moldova and Georgia in that context as well.

Regarding justice-related topics covered that day, Kallas said that Reform, Eesti 200 and the SDE discussed competition-related matters.

"We find it necessary to strengthen and reform competition rules, including strengthening the Competition Authority," she said.

The three parties also reached a consensus regarding speeding up court proceedings as well as reviewing conciliation procedures, which could be used as an avenue for reducing the burden on Estonia's courts.

Also highlighted as parts of a broader major theme were the improved use of data and reviewing related regulations, including how artificial intelligence (AI) could be better utilized in state governance.

"Estonia is precisely the country that could adopt its use," Kallas commented, acknowledging AI's potential in governance.

Representing Eesti 200, Pakosta stressed the importance to the newly parliamentary party of the modernization of data administration, which would in turn lead to more efficient management of delicate personal data as well as a reduction in bureaucracy.

"We want to see a serious leap here, and people's lives being made easier and bureaucracy being reduced as a result," she stressed.

Hate speech, cyberbullying to be addressed

The new coalition is also planning on revising the rules surrounding hate speech to bring them in line with the Estonian Constitution, which states that hate speech must be punishable, the prime minister continued, acknowledging that under current legislation, it's not.

"We're talking about prohibiting incitement to hatred as stated in the Constitution," she said, referring to a clause in Section 12. "The Constitution states that incitement to hatred is prohibited and punishable by law."

Cyberbullying was acknowledged as an increasing concern as well, and Kallas said the coalition intends to analyze areas of concern and review legislation in order to ultimately better protect victims thereof.

Among the types of situations not currently well regulated in Estonia are more serious conflicts between school-aged children, domestic violence that has moved online as well as the sending of unwanted sexual images, Pakosta cited.

Representing the SDE, Ossinovski said that there would be significant emphasis by them on Ukraine in the coalition agreement, which would definitely be "ambitiously reflected."

He also stressed the importance to all three parties of fundamental rights and personal liberty being ensured as well.

The former SDE chair nonetheless acknowledged that there are topics still ahead in the three parties' negotiations that will involve more differences in views.

Coalition talks on justice-related matters would be continuing after the press conference Monday, Kallas said.

Asked by ERR's Madis Hindre whether the incoming coalition had discussed the EU's principle of unanimity and calls by some for the EU to abandon it, Kallas confirmed that they had not.

Ossinovski expanded on this, adding that indeed some of his fellow Social Democrats in the EU are in favor of dropping the principle, but noted that others  favor a more cautious approach.

He personally would rather err on the side of caution, the former SDE chair said, considering the fact that this is a very fundamental matter, and that while abandoning unanimity now could serve some short term goals, in the long term it could cause trouble.

Kallas added that the current, outgoing Reform-Isamaa-SDE coalition government had only just confirmed its support for the principle of unanimity, stressing that it actually arms small countries like Estonia with a weapon.

"We were without a voice for 50 years when we were occupied, so it's a big deal," she said about Estonia being granted a voice by EU's unanimity principle.

Pakosta added that they do want to take on a more significant role as advocate when it comes to things like AI.

Current law makes it hard to pin cartel guilt

Asked by another journalist present whether Estonia's foreign policy would be facing cuts, the prime minister said that the three parties would be coming back to the topic of the state budget at the end of negotiations.

"In today's discussions we likewise constantly kept in mind not to increase these expenditures," she said. "If we look at some new area, then we should consider what we won't be doing instead. But we'll be coming back to this."

In response to a question by ERR, Kallas acknowledged that Estonia's problem is currently the fact that competition infringements such as cartels and the abuse of strong market positions by companies exist, and yet the country doesn't actually have many cases to show for it in which such activities are condemned.

"And why?" she asked. "Because [in Estonia], cartels are punishable under criminal law. That places restrictions on the collection of evidence as well as on the fact that with the identification of each cartel infringement, the guilt of a member of the company's management board must be identified as well. This is required by our Penal Code, and as these prohibited agreements frequently aren't concluded on the board member level, then it isn't possible to pin these on them."

The prime minister noted that similar agreements have ended up punished in Lithuania, for example. "And yet in Estonia they haven't," she added.

A related aspect, Kallas continued, is empowering Estonia's Competition Authority, but this is also tied to the financing of the authority.

"Bringing us to the question of where to find additional funding so that the financing of the Competition Authority would be analogous to that of the Financial Supervision Authority (FSA), for example — where market participants themselves maintain the authority, which leads to a stronger authority with stronger oversight of its matters," she highlighted.

Aggravating circumstance

Asked by Hindre again later about the topic of hate speech, Kallas clarified that the core issue at hand was incitement to hatred.

"All [three] partners had very detailed understandings ranging from how to define hate speech all the way through the fact that it should be considered an aggravating circumstance," she said.

These discussions were very detailed, she added, "indicating that everyone has given this thought."

Pakosta emphasized on Eesti 200's behalf that their party's views specified in detail the inclusion of the element of public order, as in "a threat to public order," ensuring that freedom of speech would still be protected as well, and that not every comment made on social media would end up being handled as an incitement to hatred.

Ossinovski, meanwhile, brought up two crucial aspects of the matter on the Social Democrats' behalf: the fundamental feeling of impunity, as hate speech can go unpunished so long as someone isn't actually literally procuring a weapon, and one of the points already brought up by Kallas — that it should be considered an aggravating circumstance if someone has committed a crime.

Asked whether Reform, Eesti 200 and the SDE discussed Russian citizens' voting rights on Monday, Kallas said no.

"We'll be discussing that as part of the democracy package," she said.

The prime minister also confirmed that Soviet occupation symbols weren't discussed Monday either.

Potential sixty-seat majority

Last Tuesday, March 7, the 2023 Riigikogu-election winning Reform Party decided at a party board meeting to invite Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party to initiate coalition talks, Prime Minister and Reform chair Kaja Kallas announced at a press conference that day.

Both parties accepted the invitation, and talks began at Stenbock House the next day.

Monday's talks focused on foreign and EU policy and justice-related issues.

Reform won 37 seats in the 101-seat Riigikogu in the elections to conclude March 5. Together with Eesti 200's 14 and the SDE's 9 seats, the anticipated coalition would command a 60-seat majority in Estonia's unicameral parliament.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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