While opposition MPs at the Riigikogu on Wednesday attempted to pause progress on a bill which would expand a South Estonian military training area, they were unable to do so, although this did put back to Thursday discussions on another controversial set of legislative amendments, which would hike taxation and cut family benefits.
A total of four separate acts would be amended, in order to provide the legislative framework for tax hikes the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition announced, just as it was entering office.
These are: The Income Tax ACct, the Value-Added Tax Act, the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act and the Gambling Tax Act.
This was reviewed on Wednesday and will be discussed at finance committee level on Thursday, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reports.
The opposition submitted 200 amendments to each of the acts, of which about 30 were substantive, AK reported; the coalition is willing to make concessions on some of these.
Reform Party MP and chair of the Riigikogu's finance committee told AK that: "Within the proposed amendments, there are some – quite a few – which could be agreed upon."
"In financial terms, we are willing to bargain, we have told [the opposition] that, and we are trying to reach an agreement – in respect of the gambling act or the excise act, where there are no fundamental disputes at all," she went on.
However, this apparently conciliatory tone was not shared by Center Party leader Jüri Ratas, though in this case he was bringing the focus back to the Nursipalu-related legislation, which passed its second Riigikogu reading on Wednesday.
Ratas said that the executive had in effect bypassed the legislature on this, and that one of the opposition's main proposed amendments had concerned Nursipalu – an existing South Estonia military training area which is to be more than tripled in size.
"If you bypass the planning law and want to make an exemption, then this exemmption – bearing in mind the impact has been major, looking at how many signatures the petition [against military the training area's expansion] has - must be decided on by the legislative power, i.e. the Riigikogu's great hall. This was one of our major amendments, but it is clear that the coalition did not want to support that."
Leader of opposition party Isamaa, Helir-Valdor Seeder, was more conciliatory, saying: "The country needs to be defended, and Isamaa supports the adoption of this draft bill but, if necessary, further revision of the law in the future, so this is not the end of the process."
"However, we have to move forward, in the interests of national defense," he went on.
Isamaa had not tried to filibuster the legislation which would give the go-ahead to the expansion of Nursipalu; Center and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) did, with the aim of discussing the matter further.
However, the two parties were unable to get a sufficient number of votes for this to happen.
Jüri Ratas added that if the coalition were to follow through on a suggestion of linking the tax hike legislation to a vote of confidence in the government, opposition parties would vote that they did not have the confidence of the government.
"If the coalition doesn't search for compromise and ties this to the issue of trust, the Center Party naturally will not have confidence in the government of Kaja Kallas," Ratas went on.
Helir-Valdor Seeder said that the same would be the case for his party, if no substantive parliamentary debate were held on the issue.
The Nursipalu legislation will go to its third and final reading next week. Substantive amendments may not be made between the second and third readings of a bill, only between the first and second readings.
While the Riigikogu was set to break up for the summer recess next week, the delays on the tax-related legislation mean that off-schedule sittings will likely need to be called on an extraordinary basis, after the Jaanipäev holiday (June 22-24).
Editor: Andrew Whyte
Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera', interviewer Veronika Uibo.