The opposition wants public debate moved behind closed doors, the role of the Riigikogu reduced and marginalized. It is far removed from how a democratic society should function, Maris Lauri (Reform Party) writes.
I imagine that most voters expect the Riigikogu to make efforts for a better Estonia. While there are different ideas of what constitutes a better Estonia, we have always had common ground, especially as concerns foreign and security policy, but also that state finances must be in order. Even if that "order" has meant different things at different times, no party has until now gone after what EKRE, Isamaa and Center or EKREIKE are aiming for today. A fiscal deficit of 12 percent of GDP.
How do we figure that? The Ministry of Finance's forecast puts the deficit for 2023 at €1.7 billion, which is set to grow to €2 billion by 2026. That comes to 4.3 and 4.5 percent of GDP respectively. Bills entered into proceedings by EKREIKE MPs in recent days would add at least €3 billion for 7.8 percent of this year's GDP. In total, over 12 percent of GDP. For context, Greece's deficit was 13.4 percent of GDP in 2013, before disaster struck.
The Estonian voter – even if they are partial to benefits – can understand that endless tax cuts and unbridled benefits hikes are not sustainable. The results of the parliamentary elections from a little over two months ago serve as proof. Allow me to recall that Center proposed the biggest spending and was handed a major defeat, while Isamaa, after blackmailing partners into hiking family benefits, and EKRE did not fare much better.
If we want to boost defense spending (which most people seem to want) and benefits, we need to pay and collect more taxes. The thing with benefits is that those who are entitled always want more, while they are also hard to give up. However, we need to make choices as a society as we simply cannot afford everything. No one gets everything they want, also when putting together the family budget.
I can hear the EKREIKE argument according to which the Riigikogu majority lacks a mandate for hiking taxes now. Allow me to quote the Reform Party's election program: "...to keep the tax burden as low as possible and sufficient for covering common expenses." I expect everyone with the tiniest bit of functional reading to understand the meaning of this sentence. I will only add that tax burden stands for the ratio of taxes to GDP and not individual tax rates.
We can cut some costs and do things cheaper, while sweeping austerity just isn't realistic this time. State budget income is forecast at €15.2 billion for this year, including €12.7 billion from taxes.
The entire government sector's (including local governments, Health Insurance Fund etc.) income forecast is €14.8 billion, while expenses amount to €16.5 billion. This year's deficit is over 10 percent of the country's total spending, while additional spending proposed by EKREIKE would quickly take that to 20 percent. Are they willing to cut pensions, education or healthcare? I doubt it, while you never know.
Passionate debate over Isamaa's family benefits hike last year culminated in a compromise where the hike was smaller than originally planned, with attention also paid to singe parents and smaller families. But it was also concluded that the next government would have to find how to pay for it. Therefore, the previous Riigikogu, including EKREIKE, gave the current government a task. A task that would have fallen to an EKREIKE government had they put in a better result at elections.
Now, they have said that they are not happy with tax hikes or austerity. What then would be their solution to the ballooning fiscal deficit? Borrowing to cover fixed costs. That path would lead to a situation similar to the crisis in Greece where securing loans would keep getting harder and more expensive.
That is why it seems to me that this is not so much about the government's proposed solutions rather than something else. The Riigikogu Finance Committee has deliberated over the government's proposed tax changes on several occasions, and these debates have been businesslike. Isamaa and Center MPs – when present – have asked professional questions, while EKRE members have quickly left the room. The state budget situation and possible solutions debate in the Riigikogu State Budget Control Select Committee was also practical. Therefore, it is not about the bills or their contents. Everyone knows what the problem is and that a solution is needed.
But proposals by EKREIKE for solving the impending constitutional crisis in the Riigikogu have hardly been constructive. When a concession – separating the tax changes into four bills – is met with more demands and the so-called compromise is simply the original demand rephrased, it becomes clear that this is not about the contents of bills but rather the inability to accept elections defeat.
EKREIKE – made up of the election's biggest losers – is stubbornly demanding the right to decide what the government can and cannot do and how. Also, that their permission comes at the price of cutting deals behind closed doors.
Therefore, it is a case of the minority demanding its will be done, doing it in a way that has not been deemed statesmanlike, dignified or ethical before (the possibility is no secret). The opposition are demanding public discussion taken behind closed doors, the role of the Riigikogu reduced and marginalized. It is far removed from how a democratic society should function. That if I can't get what I want then...
If Isamaa, Center and their leaders seem to be going through a period of elections blues and just want to appear tough, EKRE seems unwilling to settle for anything less than the election result thrown out and new elections. Their leader has admitted as much and described it as their goal. What is more, [EKRE leader] Martin Helme has even threatened physical violence against the coalition ("... furniture will fly. Literally").
It has long been the wish of the family in charge of the Conservative People's Party (referring to EKRE leader Martin Helme and MPs Mart Helme and Helle-Moonika Helme – ed.) to decouple Estonia from Europe and Western democracy, which Isamaa and Center have now joined. I honestly cannot decide whether they truly fail to realize that they have become EKRE's pawns. Do they really want not just a fiscal crisis but are willing to sacrifice democracy just to get their way and take revenge on the elections winner for their loss. All of it is very far removed from statesmanlike conduct.
Editor: Marcus Turovski