Former MP proposes setting up think tanks for political parties

"Our political parties are lacking in worldview development, reasoning and a sense of purpose," Rait Maruste said. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Former chair of the Supreme Court and chair of the Constitutional Committee in the XII Riigikogu (2011-2015), Rait Maruste (Reform), proposed the establishment of state-funded foundations within political parties that would promote their worldview.

"I am convinced that this will be greatly beneficial. Our political parties are lacking in terms of developing worldviews, deliberating and a sense of purpose. They engage with current populist politics, but there is little in the way of intentional world-view formation and action planning. I believe there is nothing wrong with establishing such cohesive institutions," Maruste told ERR on Tuesday.

He said comparable organizations exist in many countries. "All of Europe's main political parties use those to shape, develop and elaborate their worldviews, whether they are liberals, conservatives, socialists, or whatever. This is nothing new."

Such organizations, he said, would help political parties elucidate their goals, compare themselves to others and adapt to changing circumstances.

Positive influence on Estonian politics

The existence of such think tanks could change Estonian politics, Maruste said.

"The extent of populism in Estonian politics today is exceptional. And one of the reasons for this, though by no means the only one, is that the parties' worldviews have not yet been clarified. And this lack of clarity also creates situations in which, for instance, when there is a coalition agreement, every conceivable detail is written into it, even though it would only be necessary to agree on the fundamental principles of the parties' respective policies," Maruste said.

It would be essential, he said, to outline the coalition agreement's guiding principles. "To anticipate in the coalition agreement what will happen in four years, which laws need to be passed and what tasks will need to be completed — is to stifle our growth and flexibility," he said.

"I don't think there is anything wrong in setting up such liaison bodies," he reiterated.

Funding from the national budget

Maruste said that some of the funding for such think tanks could come from the state budget - for example, from the current subsidies paid to political parties - and that a part would have to come from the foundations themselves. The Political Party Funding Supervision Committee could be tasked with overseeing the activities of such institutions, Maruste suggested.

"But that's what foundations are for, to find their own resources."Perhaps five or ten percent of the state budget money that goes to the political parties could go to them," Maruste said. "Then these foundations could get off the ground and begin operating."

"Of course, it would be unfair to put them solely on the state's dole, given that political parties are well-funded by the state budget, and it would be excessive to create institutions on the state's budget only," he continued.

According to Maruste, the amount of funding could depend on the number of parliamentary seats a party holds.

"There should be some connection and it should be proportional. Because if a party with five or six percent support has the same size foundation as one with a third of the parliament's support, that creates an inequality, it creates an imbalance. They have to work themselves up," he said.

A comparable effort failed in the past

Maruste said that when he was chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu and the establishment of the foundations for the development of democracy (DASA) was the topic, populist pressure caused it to wane.

"When it was planned to begin establishing them, a controversy involving the funding of political parties erupted, rendering it impossible to move forward with these DASAs and reach a conclusion or resolution. As a result, it all fell apart," he recalled.

Last week, the daily Eesti Ekspress published an extensive overview of the activities of the Liberal Citizen Foundation (Sihtasutus Liberaalne Kodanik or Salk) in the run-up to the Riigikogu, which aided the campaigns of the Reform Party, Eesti 200 and the Social Democratic Party (SDE). This brought the issue of political think tank foundations back to the attention of a larger audience.


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Editor: Mait Ots, Kristina Kersa

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