Prime minister: I have no cure for Riigikogu deadlock
Just as there seems no magic bullet answer to Tallinn's currently gridlocked traffic, the same can be said of political deadlock at the Riigikogu, at least going by the prime minister's take on the latter, as related to ERR Thursday.
Kaja Kallas (Reform), the prime minister, does not sit at the Riigikogu, but appears there to answer questions, as do her ministers, particularly when presenting a new bill or bills, as happened at the start of this week.
This process got mired in a filibuster from Monday onwards, however, with all three opposition parties, the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, getting in on the act and, if their desire is to continue the obstruction tactics until spring 2024, for instance, the prime minister says she has little at her disposal to halt that.
EKRE chair Martin Helme has said that in fact, the opposition can continue in the same vein through to off-schedule, extraordinary elections – which would be a first for Estonia since its independence was restored over 30 years ago; even the weekly agenda at parliament was not approved, due to the filibuster.
Speaking at the regular government press conference, Kallas said Thursday that: "I am the representative of the executive power, while the legislature must be able to corral its own work."
"This is precisely what both the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act and the Estonian Constitution are there for. Should there arise a cross-party consensus to amend the rules of procedure, in order to close up these loopholes, then it could transpire that EKRE clearly states its goal is to bring down Kaja Kallas' government, while they would then intend to do this in such a way that they do not entertain allowing any matter to be processed [at the Riigikogu].
"I don't really have any antidote to that, if I want to act within the law," Kallas went on.
"The will of all should be such that the constitutional institutions, Riigikogu, are able to process legislation," she added.
Kallas reiterated that the charge at the root of the procedural issues, namely that the government deliberately "clustered" VAT and income tax hikes and family benefit cuts together as a way of forcing them through parliament, is a false one and "not to be taken seriously."
"The first measure we conducted on our part was that we separated this [tax bill] package into four different parts," she went on.
Kallas added there is some hope, given her hands are tied, that Isamaa may move to resolve the deadlock, since the party has stated that parliamentary democracy is crucial, and said that she is willing to discuss proposed amendments with the opposition.
Before this happens, however, she said, these amendments should be presented to the Riigikogu and discussed there.
"They (the opposition - ed.) say that we have not read these amendments yet and do not know what they will entail. But for as long as the Riigikogu has not debated these in any case, we cannot come to any agreements, because to do so would be undemocratic," the prime minister went on.
The tax hikes the government proposed were unveiled as it signed the coalition deal – involving Reform, Kallas' party, Eesti 200, which had just won its first ever Riigikogu seats, and the Social Democrats. The proposal to up VAT and income tax by two percentage points each were not explicitly mentioned prior to the March 5 Riigikogu election, nor was a planned car tax (the latter not a part of the currently held-up bills).
Additionally, a boost in large families' (meaning three or more children) benefits which only entered into force at the start of the year, would also be cut down as a part of the same raft of legislation presented Monday.
The coalition's hope was that the bills in question would have received their first reading (of three) on Monday. The opposition used the opportunity to present as many amendments as were possible within the time-frame, in a marathon Riigikogu session which lasted to midnight Monday, while the stalemate has remained in place since then.
Center has indicated that it will back down on the filibuster if the family benefits cut component is excised.
Friday would not normally be a main hall work day at the Riigikogu, as it is normally devoted to foreign affairs and EU affairs committee meetings, but this Friday an additional session has been called in order to try to resolve the stalemate.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Madis Hindre, Marko Tooming