Isamaa plans to co-opt a policy of standing up for taxpayers and entrepreneurs up to now associated with the Reform Party, newly-elected leader Urmas Reinsalu says. Reform has enacted a 'tax war' in Estonia, Reinsalu adds.
Appearing on ETV politics head-to-head show "Esimene stuudio" Wednesday, Reinsalu, a former foreign minister who was by a wide margin elected Isamaa's new leader last Saturday, said: "When I look at Reform Party rhetoric nowadays, which presents the solution to every issue as a new tax increase – be it a rise in local taxes, a tax on homeowners, a tax on cars or on the media, it seems to me that that party has somehow transitioned from its 'yellow party' origins, to a new 'red' outlook."
Reform's primary color is yellow, its coalition partner the Social Democrats (SDE), red.
"And I would say to the Reform Party's current voters that Isamaa will take on the mantle of Reform's former policy of standing up for taxpayers and business. Theirs (ie. Reform's-ed.) will be the axe of taxation that they use to strike the backs of Estonian entrepreneurs and working people, whereas we stand up for taxpayers," he added.
"The prime minister says that this is being done in order to corral the country's finances, that these are painful decisions that must be borne by the Estonian media, hotels, consumers, home owners, car owners," the Isamaa leader went on.
The VAT rate on media publications is to nearly double to 9 percent, while that on hotels and other accommodation businesses is set to rise four percentage points to 13 percent, compared with an overall 2-percentage point rise for the general VAT rate (albeit at a higher rate, now to be 22 percent).
"But this is not the case; it is a lie, in fact. All this money is going towards the costliest-to-implement election pledge of all time, one which after four years will cost two billion euros in the grand scheme of things," Reinsalu added, referring to Reform's pre-election pledge to eliminate so-called bracket-creep, also known as the "tax hump", by putting in place an income tax-free threshold.
"I think that this is unnecessary in such a difficult economic situation. It would be fairer for the government to concede on this, and it would avoid disrupting the tax environment. Instead of a tax peace in Estonia, the Reform Party has established a tax war."
According to Reinsalu, to improve the country's fiscal situation, the tax hike plans – not announced ahead of the election – should be ditched too, while the public sector should be reduced in size; EU financial resources should be used more efficiently. This should all also contribute to economic growth, which in turn would bring money to state coffers, he said.
The situation is exacerbated by the stand-off at the legislature – which Reinsalu sits in – which the coalition's efforts to get tax hikes approved has led to, he added.
"The current political stalemate gives Isamaa the task of being the voice of those who are not happy with the planned tax increases, who are not satisfied with the political agenda that this government is pushing, but who also do not want the kind of rashness or the kind of ideology cultivated by the other two opposition parties," he went on, hinting at a divergence with Center and the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) which had been less obvious under the tutelage of Isamaa's previous leader, Helir-Valdor Seeder.
Reinsalu: Isamaa was buffeted by opposition-generated turbulence, ahead of the election
"Esimene stuudio" host Liisu Lass enquired of Reinsalu why Isamaa has lost its position in the political landscape as a so-called "weighty language" party.
In response, Reinsalu said: "There was a headwind here, one which was not a natural phenomenon, but was was caused by turbines. As it transpired, today's three coalition parties acted as one bloc, and built a narrative aimed in our direction. Their goal was to strategically would Isamaa," referring to charges that an unelected think-tank orchestrated electoral victory for the three coalition partners, Reform, SDE and Eesti 200.
Of other reasons why Isamaa, now the smallest Riigikou party by seats, lost four mandates on March 5.
Reinsalu said he will submit a proposal to the Riigikogu to form a parliamentary investigation committee to investigate the activities of the think-tank, the Liberal Citizen Foundation (SALK).
The Isamaa leader even went as far as saying that Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is becoming more and more like her ostensible political rival, EKRE leader Martin Helme – the latter reelected to the post on the same day that Reinsalu became Isamaa leader.
"They are almost like brother and sister if we are talking about the current VAT on the media issue. Martin Helme is pretty curmudgeonly in respect of the Estonian press, and perhaps this proposal to increase the VAT is a result of this mood. Meanwhile, Kaja Kallas, after having criticized the Estonian press for having an inclination towards the opposition, then took that Estonian press to task. There are some other similar traits between the two, too."
Reinsalu also elaborated on a statement made in his speech at Saturday's Isamaa congress, to the effect that a left-liberal turn is going on in Estonia.
"Higher taxes, greater state intervention, restrictions, quotas, curtailment of various freedoms, including the curtailment of freedom of speech, importation of various culture wars into Estonian society," the Isamaa leader enumerated as examples. The Baltic Pride march took place also on Saturday, and was attended by leading members of Eesti 200 and SDE.
Changing the definition of marriage brings with it cultural conflict
On a related matter, the issue of same-sex marriage and its legality in Estonia, Reinsalu said that it was not primarily one of separate individual human rights, but in fact a recapitulation of cultural phenomena in the context of a radical culture war.
"Each person's private life and the way they have found their personal closeness or love is one place that society should neither belittle nor interfere with. This is my starting point, and it is the starting point of the party," said Reinsalu.
"The second question is that when it comes to the introduction of same-sex marriage, in my opinion marriage is actually a cultural institution. Legally, you can enact anything - l legally you could also push through a piece of legislation at the Riigikogu which would ban marriage generally. But we believe that it is wrong to destroy a cultural institution like that via legislation, in so doing provoking a cultural conflict which we cannot support," Reinsalu added.
Reinsalu was a decade ago chair of IRL, as Isamaa was then known.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Aleksander Krjukov
Source: 'Esimene stuudio', interviewer Liisu Lass.