Opposition criticizes government's haste to pass laws

Helir-Valdor Seeder, Henn Põlluaas, Jüri Ratas.
Helir-Valdor Seeder, Henn Põlluaas, Jüri Ratas. Source: ERR

Leaders of the opposition parties, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), the Center Party, and Isamaa, have harshly criticized the power coalition's haste to pass bills, its intention to present them as cluster bills, and the plan to link them to a vote of confidence in the government.

"The Riigikogu is not a rubber stamp. The Riigikogu is a legislative body elected by the supreme power, which must have a reasonable amount of time to process legislation. And we also have a good practice in the processing of laws, and it is also a good practice that no cluster bills are introduced," Jüri Ratas, the leader of the Center Party, told ERR on Friday.

He also pointed out that presidents Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Kersti Kaljulaid have been critical of cluster bills in the past, and Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise has also criticized this practice.

"In addition, it is good practice to tie as little as possible to a vote of confidence. This presupposes the coalition initiating negotiations and reaching compromises. It seems to me that the current coalition does not want that," Ratas added.

Henn Põlluaas, vice-chair of the EKRE, was much more direct, describing the coalition's plans to increase taxes, reduce family benefits, and implement marriage equality as "utterly insane and humiliating towards the Estonian people."

"We have already heard from various ministers that they will use a vote of confidence to pass them [tax increase bills as a cluster legislation -ed.] through the state legislature." Põlluaas told ERR.

"This means that the committees will not consider them, nor will the tax increases be debated in the halls of the Riigikogu. There will be only one vote, a vote of confidence in the government, and everything will be passed."

Seeder (Isamaa) pointed out that the government initiated an amendment to the Family Benefits Act on its first day of work, giving organizations 72 hours to formulate their position. "And now in parliament they are trying to rush it through, probably with a vote of confidence, which excludes any parliamentary debate, which means that even amendments tabled in parliament will not be debated or voted on. So the opposition will be completely neutralized if this is the way it goes through," he said.

"And now we hear that the government is going to do the same with all these different tax laws. There is a whole bunch of them again. This kind of cluster bill does not allow you to discuss them one by one, to voice different options, to perhaps find compromises or make changes," he said. "All the income tax changes, the VAT changes, the VAT changes in the accommodation sector, the car taxes, all of it is thrown together and the coalition tries to push it through as a cluster bill with a confidence vote."

"This is an unprecedentedly bad practice in free Estonia, which indicates we no longer have anything left of parliamentary democracy," the leader of Isamaa said.

Most of opinions are sidelined

Both Seeder and Ratas pointed out that by avoiding debates, the coalition of the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and Social Democrats is essentially sidelining the opposition parties and the voters they represent.

"I think that all the justifications that have been put forward [for processing the bills in this way - ed.] are absolutely ridiculous, and they not only concern the content of the bills but the entire democratic process, where 40 percent of the parliament, 40 percent of Estonian voters and society are completely excluded from the debate," Seeder said.

Seeder: Parliament can also work in summer

Seeder further criticized the comments made by Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur (Reform) on Friday's "Terevisoon" in which he said legislative initiatives regarding the expansion of the Nursipalu training field must be adopted before the conclusion of the summer parliamentary session.

"Parliament can hold additional sessions, as well as extraordinary sessions. The previous government of Kaja Kallas assumed office in mid-summer of the previous year, requiring the parliament to convene, which it did. This is not a problem at all: if needed, the parliament meets in July or August and debates individual legislation on separate days, he said.

"It seems to me that the Reform Party, which won a landslide election, has lost connection to reality and is floating above the ground," Seeder said.

Põlluaas: we would be convinced by impact assessments

Põlluaas, who was the most critical of the government's plans, said they had no choice but to obstruct.

"We have no choice but to filibuster when the government declares up front that there will be no meaningful discussion and debate and that these matters will be brought up for a vote of confidence. Essentially, this implies that the opposition should be silent," he said.

"The government should not deliberately circumvent the legislature, but the current administration considers this to be perfectly normal," one of the leaders of the EKRE, said.

Põlluaas referred to impact analyses when asked under what conditions EKRE is ready to discuss the substance of power coalition laws.

"We could agree if these things [draft laws] were accompanied by impact analyses demonstrating that they are truly beneficial to our society, our business, our economy and the well-being of our people. /---/ Any legislation must begin by analyzing all ideas and thoughts, considering the pros and negatives, and shelved or removed from consideration if they do not produce the anticipated benefits. However, they bring undeveloped, ill-considered, and unanalyzed legislation to the parliament with the hope that the opposition will back them. They will not," Põlluaas said.

The coalition has made it clear on numerous occasions that it wants to expeditiously pass its bills through the state legislature, combining several initiatives into a cluster bill and tying them to a vote of confidence in the government.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Information Technology Tiit Riisalo (Eesti 200) said on Thursday in the "Esimene stuudio" that the government intends to combine all tax reform bills into a single cluster bill and submit it to the Riigikogu in order to expedite the implementation of difficult and unpopular fiscal policy decisions.

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) sent the draft on reducing support for large families for approval on April 17, the day after the government assumed office. A week later, the government approved it in an e-session and sent it to the Riigikogu.

Thursday May 4, the minister of social protection also sent a draft on marriage equality bill for approval, for which feedback is expected by May 9.

Thursday, the government also approved a draft law regarding the expansion of the Nursipalu training field and submitted it to the Riigikogu, with Minister of Defense Pevkur (Reform) expressing his hope that it will be adopted before midsummer.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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