Minister of Finance Mart Võrklaev (Reform) said on the "Esimene stuudio" talk show that tying bills in the parliament to votes of confidence in the government does not constitute misuse of the measure, while regular obstruction as a means to provoke it is not normal.
The minister said that the coalition designed the tax package as a whole, which is why it was initially entered into proceedings as such, with the first reading functioning as an open debate. The bills (the tax "cluster law" was separated into four parts following the opposition's demands – ed.) were tied to votes of confidence after the opposition filed over 1,000 amendment proposals, which the parliament simply is not capable of processing.
Võrklaev admitted that they also included sensible proposals. "We offered to analyze and discuss eight or nine things they proposed, that we're willing to consider them," he said, adding that the opposition declined.
"This shows that there is no real desire for an open debate, to discuss practicable amendment proposals. Their only purpose has been to block the work of the parliament and tell the government it cannot exercise its policy," Võrklaev suggested.
Wednesday will see a vote on family benefits (which the government seeks to slash), followed by the now four separate tax matters to which confidence votes have been attached. Võrklaev said that tying the bills to confidence votes does not constitute misuse of the measure, even though it does not amount to normal process either. "It takes two to tango. The opposition must allow the parliament to deliberate, must want to deliberate, which also goes for the coalition," he said.
The finance minister recalled how the opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE) deployed obstruction in the case of nearly 20 bills in the previous Riigikogu for an unprecedented volume. "Obstruction has traditionally been used in budget deliberations, to make the coalition explain why they're doing something or to get something for oneself. The Reform Party has also done it in the case of fundamental bills. However, we are talking about just a few examples," he said. "But blocking the parliament's work by introducing hundreds of amendment proposals just because I don't like a bill, with tying it to a vote of confidence the only way to overcome it – that is not normal."
"I would say that the coalition has obliged the opposition in many things, without arrogance and sincerely wishing to discuss matters. Whereas [initial] discussions with the opposition took place in a very constructive atmosphere full of good will. But we did not reach an agreement," the Reform politician said.
The Supreme Court is currently processing the Riigikogu opposition's complaint that seeks to overturn recent decisions used by the coalition to quash obstruction tactics. Võrklaev said he does not consider this a realistic possibility but added that he will let the top court decide. "The coalition had to decide whether an MP's right to produce countless proposals to amend and interpellations outweighs the main function of the Riigikogu, which is to pass laws."
The finance minister said that the Riigikogu should be able to resolve such differences itself. "Oppositions and coalitions come and go. And I must admit that I do not really hold it possible to have rules and procedures that would completely rule out filibustering. At the end of the day, laws are based on common sense and there will always be a backdoor one can use to abuse it or take things too far. One needs enough statesmanlike character, capacity to understand and respect for the institution for it to work."
"It has traditionally been the case that voters decide. The side that gets the Riigikogu majority gets to form the government and realize its policy," Võrklaev said.
This method of obstruction makes it possible for two or three MPs to completely halt proceedings, he remarked. "And it may well happen that they might not be the most pro-Estonia in the future," he said. "We need to realize what we're doing and what might one day affect the entire country and parliamentary work."
Võrklaev said, when addressing criticism from Isamaa that the government is slashing family benefits to pay for its election promise (of introducing a universal basic exemption – ed.), that the aim is to pay for defense spending and move toward fiscal balance.
The minister also said that the looming VAT hike for periodicals is not the government taking revenge on the media for its criticism, adding that politicians must be able to tolerate criticism and move on, continue to work with dedication. He suggested he does not believe the hike would jeopardize the free press.
Ministers and coalition politicians on Tuesday convened to discuss ways to cut costs in the 2024 state budget. Võrklaev said that the meeting was constructive and that avenues of cost-cutting will become clear once public budget deliberations start.
Editor: Marcus Turovski