State Secretary: Estonian state so thin already that little scope for cuts

Taimar Peterkop.
Taimar Peterkop. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia is a particularly thin state, meaning there are few areas where significant cuts can be made, State Secretary Taimar Peterkop says.

Speaking to "Vikerhommik" Thursday, Peterkop said that as one of the smallest sovereign nations worldwide, "it is a major luxury to maintain a state like this, and our state is in any case particularly lean. We really don't have any 'fat' anywhere."

Some small savings can be found in areas where duplication of work can be seen, he said.

"Essentially when talking about savings, that there is too much bureaucracy, then we have to say in the same context that the state has nothing to do. I see it all the time: When we talk about cuts, everyone is opposed, but then the demand is always made that fewer officials are required. Fewer civil servants means that the state carries out less," he went on.

Thursday is often the government office's busiest day, with the regular government session, cabinet meeting and ensuing press conference. 

At present, passions are running high in relation to the state budget and to teachers' wages.

Peterkop said that this Thursday, ie. today, will be a challenging on for the government.

"Such divergent opinions that have been expressed publicly. And it is always a bad sign when negotiations are conducted via the media, and not directly. This means that you are already getting dug in, making it harder to climb out and reach a compromise later," he said.

This week has seen something of a war of words about teacher wage hikes and the potential sources thereof.

Meanwhile the Government Office (Riigikantselei) which Peterkop heads up has 160 positions.

Peterkop recounted the furor in 2021 when the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) commander called for winding up the EDF military band.

"In each and every case, when you try to shut something down, comes a huge outcry. This reveals that we don't really have such scope for major cuts. The only major cuts can come if we say that the state will not do things any more."

Moreover, Peterkop said, sometimes the consequences of cutting down on the number of officials only manifest after some time.

"These may not be obvious right away, because bad decisions can take several years until they are implemented and then bring an impact."

The government office nonetheless aims to meet general austerity goals by reducing costs to the tune of €400,000.

Seventy percent of the office's budget pertains to personnel costs, he added.

This will mean some job losses and has already included the departure of Kersti Luha, who had been strategic communications director at the office; an action Peterkop said he found emotionally difficult, since she is a pleasant person and it was he who had originally hired her.

Peterkop was unstinting in his praise of Luha, including during this difficult period.

"There was a highly rational approach on both sides, and emotions were kept in check," he said.

The office will be merging its hitherto separate strategic communications and operational communications departments, ERR reports.

Going forward, one of the most important aspects is the continued functioning of the government and its decision-making abilities, Peterkop said.

"Those people who are in the government are not some type of evil schemers who wish only bad things on the people; on the contrary, they want good things for the people, and they want to serve the Estonian state," he said.

"Even those painful and difficult decisions that get made are still made while keeping the common good in mind," he added.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

Source: 'Vikerhommik,' interviewers Sten Teppan and Margit Kilumets.

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