Minister: Claims of spat between government, president a 'misunderstanding'

Lauri Läänemets (SDE).
Lauri Läänemets (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Claims of a disagreement between President Alar Karis and the Estonian government are likely the result of a misunderstanding, Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) says.

The article, published last Friday by daily Postimees (link in Estonian), alleged that horse trading had been going on between the president' office and the Reform-Eesti 200-SDE coalition, on the issue of providing additional funding for the president's office for this year.

The quid pro quo would have been the promulgation of bills passed at the Rigiikogu before the summer break and at a time when the chamber was subject to extensive filibustering, the Postimees article claimed.

Läänemets said the Postimees piece represented the first time he had heard of any such alleged horse trading, adding that statements made by the Reform Party ministers in the article came as a surprise to him and to his party.

Läänemets said: "I wasn't aware of this. I hadn't heard any of it, and that makes me wonder how the prime minister knew but hadn't enlightened the coalition partner (ie. SDE–ed.)."

"I highly doubt that it has been that way. If there really had been something along those lines, then this issue would have soon come up for discussion by the coalition, the Riigikogu and the government."

"This would be something unheard of, however," he added.

The central thrust of the article's title, which is posed as a question and asked whether a dispute had arisen between Kadriorg and the Stenbock House on the issue of presidential finances, was certainly not true, the interior minister went on.

"I can say that this has never been discussed at government level. I have not heard that [coalition partner] Eesti 200 is aware of it either. I think that the headlines are wrong. The government and the Social Democrats certainly have no problem with the work at Kadriorg," he added, referring to the seat of the Estonian president.

It is up to Reform's ministers to both state to the coalition and to the public, why such statements were made to Postimees, which he called: "Very bold accusations against the institution of the president."

"We have political parties in Estonia who are trying to undermine that, and it only serves the interests of these parties to sow distrust in the country's institutions. I hope that we we'll manage somehow," Läänemets went on.

Läänemets said while it is true that president's office employees remained in close contact during the debating period of bills in the spring, this did not involve any type of horse trading.

Minister: President's office funding issues already known about

That the Office of the President of the Republic has financial issues was already known about, and led to attempts to boost its coffers during the last state budget process in 2022, Läänemets said, as well as discussions on whether and where there might be scope for a more frugal approach to the two annual presidential receptions – for Independence Day, February 24, and then Restoration of Independence Day, August 20.

In order to avoid future misunderstandings, the government should be stripped of the right to decide how much money is granted to the president's office, or to the office of the chancellor of justice, Läänemets added.

While soaring costs are a fact of life, potentially the matter of presidential finances should be one for the legislature, more specifically the Riigikogu finance committee , and not the government.

"That way these conflicts between the executive and the president's office will not arise," Läänemets said.

He also said that: "Some of our coalition partners have reacted a little more painfully," to criticisms from the head of state, likely referring to the Reform Party.

President Karis recently said the planned car tax was confusing and unclear in its purpose.

Summing up the saga, the Interior Minister Läänemets said: "I find it hard to believe that something like this has happened – there must be a legal argument for the president to get something out of it It is not possible to make this up just like that, it all follows the law."

Läänemets said he has not yet been able to talk to Prime Minister Kaja Kallas about the topic, due to the latter being on vacation, adding he hoped that he would be able to do so upon her return.

"It could easily have been just one person's assumption or feeling. People can get things wrong," Läänemets added.

In May, Postimees said, Peep Jahilo, head of the president's office, approached the minister of finance requesting €360,000 in additional funds from a government's reserve, to top up those funds provided in the 2023 state budget – which passed at the end of last year.

Ensuing conversations and phone calls, Postimees reported, saw the request for additional funds ending up being tied to the issue of the promulgation of legislation which the government wished to pass, and which had passed its Riigikogu readings.

President had joined ranks of those critical of planned car tax

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said she had heard about the claims but had not had discussions on the matter.

The head of state recently criticized the planned car tax, which is being prepared by the coalition with the aim of coming into law at the start of 2024.

Toomas Sildam, presidential adviser, called the Postimees allegations "very sad" and wholly refuted the claims, adding that the president makes his decisions on giving his assent to bills solely on the basis of the Constitution.

The Estonian president gives his assent to all bills passed at the Riigikogu, before they can enter into law. The head of state has the right to challenge bills which he or she finds run counter to the Constitution, in which case the matter would proceed to the Supreme Court.

The president has had to postpone a planned official visit to Australia, due to funding issues.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Marko Tooming, Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: