The Conservative People's Party (EKRE) wants the coalition to take back planned changes to the family benefits system and cancel at least a part of intended tax hikes, its leader Martin Helme told ERR on Thursday.
"Firstly, the family benefits bill is completely unacceptable for us in its current form – there's a reason why we are going along with obstruction. That is the source of the tension today. This has been the opposition's main demand from the first; that in order for the bill to be improved, it needs to be retracted first. /.../ So, retraction has been our condition," Helme told ERR.
He stressed that he does not trust the coalition's proposal to pass the first reading of the family benefits bill and then try to improve it as part of the second reading. "We all know that the farther the process gets, the more difficult it will be to introduce changes," Helme remarked.
The EKRE chair also said that taking apart the government's tax changes "cluster" bill, which the government decided to do in four parts on Thursday, was also among their demands.
"But it (taking apart the tax cluster – ed.) is a mere formality. The content of both bills is still what we find unacceptable. And in a situation where we have not been able to reach an agreement regarding that content, the fact it was separated into four parts does not change the end result – we are negotiating the content," Helme said.
Asked whether EKRE is demanding changes be made to the government's tax proposals, Helme said, "Of course that is what we're demanding. Simply put, we are categorically opposed to all manner of tax hikes."
Helme said that the first thing the coalition needs to drop is the plan to abolish Estonia's so-called tax hump (gradual basic exemption system – ed.). "My first answer is – ax your plans for this tax break for the rich, set to cost the state budget €300 million. That's a big part of the deficit dealt with right there."
He said that other tax changes and rates should also be revisited to help move the budget closer to fiscal balance.
"If we agree on margins, say that we will not do these things or cancel some parts of child benefits, it will free up certain sums for an effect on the state budget. From there, it is the government's business to try and figure out how to balance the budget – whether it's austerity, loans, different priorities. The government cannot want the opposition to put together the budget for them – it is harebrained," Helme said.
"At least a part of tax hikes must be canceled," he later said again.
The EKRE leader said that blocking amendments to the Family Act (to legalize same-sex marriage – ed.) still matters to the party. "For us, there is also the values issue. The values of freedom of speech and protecting the traditional family," he said.
However, Helme failed to give a clear answer when asked whether EKRE plans to bring obstruction also regarding that matter. "We cannot go into such detail yet. Those bills do not yet exist. The government has not approved them yet. That said, the attack on the traditional family and families in general is one of the things we find most distasteful about the current government. That is also the problem with the child benefits draft legislation, going after families. /.../ Leaving aside them ruining the economy and people's prosperity, which is a practical concern for everyone, and which we oppose, the other part of it is Estonia being turned into a disfigured country where men are not men, women are not women, and where babies are traded. We find all of it completely unacceptable."
ERR asked Helme what other initiatives could spark EKRE to resort to parliamentary obstruction. He gave the example of a situation where the current coalition of the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE) would attempt to amend Riigikogu rules and procedures to render obstruction of this magnitude impossible.
He also warned the coalition against attempts to bypass the current obstruction using other procedural tricks and have sittings concentrate on other matters. "I believe such a sitting would be impossible to hold today. There would be pieces of furniture flying, quite literally. Such a sitting could not be conducted."
Helme said that the opposition is capable of maintaining obstruction unto extraordinary elections.
Editor: Marcus Turovski