According to a Ministry of Finance spokesperson, the Estonian government coalition will set the new VAT rates at its meeting on Monday. The statement was made in response to reports in the media on Friday that a decision had already been reached on Thursday evening.
"The government will decide on the content and amendments to the tax bills on Monday morning," said Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform), in a brief comment sent to ERR on Friday.
Earlier, finance ministry spokesperson had said much the same, in response to ERR's request for comments on claims published by Estonian media outlets Postimees and Delfi, which stated that the Estonian Newspaper Association (Eesti Meediaettevõtete Liit) had made the decision on Thursday afternoon to raise the VAT rate for press publications by four percent.
Suutre clarified that, in addition to the VAT rate for press publications, which currently stands at five percent, a new VAT rate for tourist accommodation businesses will also be set on Monday.
As of lunch time on Friday, ERR was unable to obtain a comment on the issue from members of the government coalition.
Merle Viirmaa, CEO of the Estonian Newspaper Association, said in a commentary, that the rise in VAT rates for national and local newspapers had come as a shock, particularly in light of other recent moves, including government plans for a general rise in VAT.
Soonvald and Hõbemägi criticize Kaja Kallas
On Friday, the heads of Estonia's two major private media houses were highly critical of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas for the alleged decision, pointing to the need to keep Estonia's information space free of fake news and hostile propaganda.
According to Urmo Soonvald, editor-in-chief of Delfi and Eesti Päevaleht, the increase in press VAT rates is extremely bad news for Estonian society and democracy.
"This step will have consequences for free speech and freedom of expression in Estonia, while the financial effect the government is hoping for is completely marginal, Soonvald said via Delfi.
"The government of Kaja Kallas has done a great favor to foreign social media and propaganda channels by aiding fake news producers, warmongers and common provocateurs. Not to mention the fact that the taxation of Estonian journalism goes against the tide of [what is happening in] the rest of Europe - Kaja Kallas' government is the only one that is raising VAT and going after the press without having any socio-economic arguments for doing so," Soonvald added.
Priit Hõbemägi, editor-in-chief of Postimees, said that in his view, the prime minister must overcome "petty insults and temptations" and fight together with the press toward a common goal.
"Kaja Kallas doesn't like free and candid journalism. In mid-May she declared that 'the press is skewed towards the opposition.' It takes a very vivid imagination to think up such things! Does the Estonian press really lean in corpore towards the Center Party, Isamaa and EKRE?" asked Hõbemägi.
"However, expressing personal antipathies by raising the VAT on journalism is another step on the road to undermining the government's credibility," he added.
"It is appalling how parties calling themselves liberal are deliberately reducing the working capacity of quality journalism by taxing it more heavily, at a time when Russia is pouring huge sums into war propaganda and using ever more cunning means in its fight to pollute the minds of our people. The free press is one of the key players exposing and refuting these criminal plots against us," said Hõbemägi.
Soonvald also said, that the professionalism and quality of Estonian journalism was high even before Estonia regained independence in 1991, and that Estonian journalism is one of the pillars of the country's success.
"Together with the reforms of Mart Laar's first government, it is the free press that has ensured we have remained more successful than other Eastern and Central European countries, as per our position in the Press Freedom Index. The government coalition of Kaja Kallas (Reform), Lauri Hussar (Eesti 200) and Lauri Läänemets (SDE) is deliberately putting the Estonian press in a situation where democracy and services to society suffer. Why deliberately? Because each party in the coalition has been given a very precise overview of the tragic consequences of the VAT increase," Soonvald stressed.
"Kaja Kallas' government has adopted the rhetoric and behavioral patterns of its greatest political opponent - maximum obstruction and restriction of the development of the Estonian press," Soonvald said.
Editor: Michael Cole