A prolonged filibuster by the three opposition parties at the Riigikogu, the Center Party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, has entered its fourth day Thursday with no light at the end of the tunnel. Wednesday's session overran overnight into Thursday's as the opposition blocks any progress on the government's tax hikes and family benefits cuts.
The first four working days of this week have seen a failure to approve the week's agenda, not to mention the failure to get the first reading of the raft of legislative amendments which would hike income tax and VAT, and cut family benefits.
Opposition and coalition sides in the stand-off are accusing each other of failing to address the issues substantively.
Wednesday's session lasted in effect overnight to Thursday morning, which is as late as it could have done since at 10 a.m., Thursday's session began. This was accompanied b an interpellation by the opposition, i.e. the agenda once again could not be approved.
The legislation's first reading had been due to take place Monday, while an additional session has been added for Friday – normally set aside for committee work and not debating in the main hall.
Riigikogu Speaker Lauri Hussar (Eesti 200), who only started in the post last month, says that the numerous submission of interpellations and amendment proposals has placed the Riigikogu in a unique situation. "This issue has been discussed at the level of the Riigikogu Council of Elders, and various solutions are being proposed here in terms of procedure; hopefully some kind of consensus will be reached," he said Thursday.
The all-male council of elders (see gallery) consists of party chief whips and the Riigikogu's board, ie. the speaker and his two deputies.
Isamaa leader Helir-Valdor Seeder told ERR Thursday morning that overnight, no progress had been made, adding he was not optimistic about Friday's additional session – which does not start until 3 p.m.
Seeder said: "These meetings have brought clarity to the content of the requests and arguments are. But as to any will on the part of coalition MPs to find an agreement and enter into substantive negotiations - I have seen no evidence of that," adding that parliament was not a zero-sum game, but rather a place for compromise between six different political parties (Reform, Eesti 200 and the Social Democrats (SDE) make up the coalition, while the opposition consists of Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia and Isamaa).
The legislation which is in focus and which the government has failed to pass is the Family Benefits Act and the Family Benefits Act, Family Law Act and Employment Contracts Act amendments law, as initiated by the coalition.
As reported by ERR News, the government subsequently split its proposed amendments across four bills in an effort to break the deadlock, while the Center Party has suggested it will back down if the component slashing family benefits - the current regime only entered in force at the start of the year - is expunged.
Wednesday's session had had 154 interpellations and 56 amendment proposals tabled, bringing the total of each to 218 and 119 up to that point.
Tuesday's session lasted 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and consisted of MPs questions, while Monday had seen a 3 p.m. to midnight opening session, which failed even to get the week's working agenda approved.
Monday had also seen Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) having to respond to interpellations from MPs concerning the government's proposed cut in benefits for large families, and the imposition of a needs-based approach to family benefits.
Opposition MPs have been exploiting the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act, in order to conduct their filibuster.
SDE MP Jevgeni Ossinovski, also the party's chief whip, has suggested changes need to be made to avoid lengthy obstruction of this kind, while EKRE leader Martin Helme has said the filibuster will last to next spring if need be, by which time it would roll over into extraordinary elections, a first for Estonia.
The tax hikes and family benefits cuts in question were not explicitly referenced in the pre-election manifestos of any of the three coalition parties, and only unveiled concurrently with the coalition agreement's signing.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi, Marko Tooming