Isamaa leader: Supreme Court can clarify but not solve Riigikogu deadlock

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Helir-Valdor Seeder (at right) with Tanel Kiik (Center) and Martin Helme (EKRE), at an opposition press conference Wednesday.
Helir-Valdor Seeder (at right) with Tanel Kiik (Center) and Martin Helme (EKRE), at an opposition press conference Wednesday. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

An assessment for the Supreme Court on the current deadlock at the Riigikogu would provide clarity and as such is both important and needed, outgoing Isamaa chair Helir-Valdor Seeder says.

All three parties' Riigikogu leaders held a press conference Wednesday at which they clarified their intention to take the matter to the Supreme Court.

Isamaa is one of the three opposition parties, together with the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and the Center Party, which has been engaged in a filibuster, starting Monday, May 8 and ostensibly relating to what it sees as the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition's steamrollering through of legislation which would cut family benefits.

The current family benefits regime, in place since the start of the year, was principally an Isamaa policy, put in place when the party was in office with Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE), while the issue of family benefits was a major factor in the breakup of that coalition's predecessor, the bipartite Reform-Center administration, in June last year.

Seeder said Wednesday that: "Certainly we will try to obtain clarity from the Supreme Court. I think this is important for both sides, on how to interpret things. That said, my personal opinion continues to be that we still will not resolve the substantive issues with procedures. No matter what solutions arise from the Supreme Court, there are always holes in legislation, and/or it is possible to block things outside of legislation."

Seeder was clear that the top court's assessment was needed, in order to bring clarity, but would not solve the issue – that can only be done via negotiation, he added.

When asked as to whether the representatives of all three opposition parties will apply to the Supreme Court, Seeder responded that all those whose rights have been violated can apply to the court.

"So, specifically this is certainly Riigikogu MPs. But I do think that, yes, you will find MPs from all three [opposition] parties at the Riigikogu who will then recourse to the Supreme Court."

Seder added that the opposition parties have not yet decided on how long the current filibuster, now in its second week, will last.

"We have been talking about it, but we haven't set any kind of long-range fundamental plan here, whereby we would definitely submit drafts and inquiries for a week, a month, or until the end of the year. In this, comments have reiterated a plan to do so through to the end of the year and, which would mean that therefore the state budget would not be adopted, but these comments are ignorant," Seeder continued.

The situation also does not represent a problem of the magnitude of a constitutional crisis, he added, and said that deadlocks of this kind are a common occurrence around democratic Europe.

"When a debate is held in the parliament for a week or even a couple of weeks, in which it moves forward at the speed of a steamroller and where the leaders of said steamroller are the coalition parties, then immediately this suggests some kind of major, constitutional crisis."

"However, let's take a look around European politics and the various European parliaments. Such confrontations are also part of the day-to-day activities of the parliaments of democratic countries there, so there is nothing unprecedented and dramatic about it," he continued.

"Naturally we should, however, extract ourselves from this impasse as quickly as possible, and move on to resolving the substantive political confrontation," he went on, hinting at an underlying cause of the stalemate without explicitly stating what it was.

Opposition leaders confirm taking matter to top court

Speaking at a press conference the three opposition parties called at 11.30 a.m. Wednesday, at the Riigikogu, EKRE chair Martin Helme cast some light on the nature the Supreme Court appeal specifically related to the actions of the coalition and the Riigikogu board during the Riigikogu session on Monday and Tuesday. 

"We want to declare illegal those votes that took place on Monday and Tuesday in the Riigikogu chamber. There will probably also be a request for preliminary legal protection," Helme said.

"We have a serious political crisis here. By breaking the law, silencing the opposition has been achieved," he went on, noting that in the past, a filibuster has ended either in a compromise, or the collapse of the government.

Speaking for the Center Party, Tanel Kiik, the party's Riigikogu chief whip, said that the government had set a negative precedent of reversing decisions made just before an election, and of forcing through tax hikes for which they had received no mandate from the voters.

The family benefits regime as it stands and which the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition wishes to reduce in size entered into effect at the start of the year, just a couple of months before the election, while pre-election manifestos of all three coalition parties made no explicit mention of tax hikes along the lines of those proposed by the coalition once it entered into office.

In any case the tax hikes as they are planned run counter to Center's worldview, Kiik added, while the coalition barely even acknowledged several overtures made by the opposition in attempting to resolve the impasse, he said.

Instead they went down a "strange" legal route which was first aired via the media, he added.

Kiik said that the three parties have no concrete plan on how long and in what form the obstruction will continue to take.

Lawyer Paul Keres is to act for the coalition parties in their Supreme Court case.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, by which time the filibuster was a week old, the three coalition parties voted in favor of terminating the adoption of amendment drafts and queries, at the proposal of the Riigikogu's board.

The opposition says this limited what they called their right to use obstruction tactics.

Editor's note: This piece was updated to include comments made at Wednesday's opposition press conference.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Madis Hindre

Source: ERR Radio News

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