EKRE leader, Martin Helme, who met with President Alar Karis in Kadriorg on Wednesday, said he received an encouraging message that in the future, tying bills to a vote of confidence in the government is not acceptable to the president and the coalition has to begin negotiating with the opposition.
What messages did you get from the President?
From my side, I got the message that we don't always have to take a step backwards, but that as a society we could also take a step forward and hold new elections. It is perfectly constitutional, the mechanism is in place. If the state budget is not adopted within the first two months of next year, then there will automatically be a snap election. The president has the power here to influence whether he then announces the budget and all the laws relating to the budget.
Today, the president took the time to look at the biggest points of confrontation and the most likely points of agreement in order to map out the picture somehow. Obviously, he sees this as an opportunity to play a mediating role for the Riigikogu parties. We went through all these issues. We have our own things that we have been stressing since the elections, which need to be revisited or reworked. I understand that not all of the things we have put forward can be resolved, but a compromise would mean at least some of them could be.
President Karis has said that as long as the changes to the law, which will be linked to confidence in the government, are linked to next year's state budget, he will declare them. You yourself have also said that almost all the trust-related bills concern the budget. Will there be no substantive constitutional debate on the proclamation of these?
That's not quite the case. We have some bills with a budgetary impact of a few thousand euros or even a few tens of thousands of euros. According to that logic, almost all laws with a financial impact could be linked to the budget and would then have to be promulgated by a vote of confidence. In between, the government has also tried to squeeze in a whole series of laws that are not actually budget-related.
The problem, which is very clearly a constitutional one, is that we have Article 113 of the Constitution, which lists all the issues that have an impact on the state budget, such as taxes, state fees, charges and other compulsory obligations. We have long known about the Supreme Court ruling and the principle that tax increases must be announced six months in advance. We are seeing massive increases in tolls, road charges, environmental charges, and only a few weeks before they come into force. In my view, this is an obvious constitutional issue. It must not be done in this way. These things have a pretty big impact on the state budget, we are talking about tens of millions of euros or more.
There is clearly a constitutional issue here. The broader issue is that we are losing the separation of powers. We have a government that has taken the place of the parliament, and has essentially started to make the laws.
The president has said that if there are going to be laws tied to a vote of confidence in the future, a decision will have to be made to reject them. Does this give EKRE any confidence that, over the coming year there, will be so many amendments to other bills that they will not be able to be passed through the Riigikogu without a government confidence vote?
That was one of the issues we discussed - what happens if the state budget goes one way or the other. For us, the continuing issues are the perversion of marriage and the assault on families, as well as the massive tax increases and the censorship or hate speech law, that is on the table at the moment. Unless these issues are opened up and the government makes concessions on these issues, they will see no change in our actions.
When you met with the president, what was your understanding of the situation, in which you continue in the same way, and the government continues in the same way, by linking bills to a vote of confidence in order to carry out its political will? Did you receive any assurance that the president would not declare these kinds of changes to the law in the future?
I came away with a pretty clear signal that this kind of mass adoption of trust-related laws by the government is not acceptable to the president. That is a positive message for me, and the first time since the elections that there has been a real need for the governing coalition to start thinking about where the points of compromise are.
I read the letter that you published last week – calling to cancel the investment in Rail Baltic, to withdraw the amendment to the Family Law Act, and so on. Other politicians are saying that the country cannot be governed at the will of one opposition party with 17 seats in the Riigikogu.
First of all, it has to be said that these things, which have been mentioned do not have a popular mandate. The government cannot tell us with a straight face that they are implementing their political program, because that program has not received a mandate from the people. This is in flagrant contradiction to the essence of democracy. We stand up for not governing by lying and cheating in elections. If we stand up for this, we stand up for the rights of the people of Estonia as a whole. If we are talking about the political process, then, as the Estonian proverb goes, the more you want, the less you get. Those things that we consider to be the core issues behind this political confrontation, these are the things that the coalition parties are not willing to enter into a debate on.
From January 1, a man can marry a man, and a woman can marry a woman. Nobody is reversing this law. The Supreme Court would not allow that either.
But I don't agree with that.
It is also quite difficult to reverse tax changes that have already been passed. What is your minimum program – repealing the hate speech law, for example? What would bring peace to the Riigikogu?
I'm not going to nit-pick here, it's a matter of negotiation. I repeat that it is not as if the coalition decides that the perversion of marriage is not an issue and we do not discuss it. But we cannot proceed without a discussion. If we do not discuss it, we do not move forward. For us it is an issue, it is not for the media to decide. That is where the search for compromise begins.
What is the limit, the furthest step you are prepared to take?
I am not going to divulge our room for maneuver here, this is still a point for discussion between politicians. We also have flexibility, but we don't see the willingness from the other side to even enter into a discussion.
I understand that you have received reassurance from the president that, if you continue to work at the current pace next year, your efforts may be successful?
The question is what we consider to be success. Preventing crazy economic policies is, in our view, a success in some ways. Preventing crazy tax rises is also a success, as is preventing censorship. The question is, who defines what as success. The best thing would be to achieve extraordinary elections in Estonia, that is the procedure laid out in the Constitution. And if the current leadership of the Riigikogu had not systematically violated the Riigikogu's rules of procedure by putting matters on the agenda and proceeding with them in the committees, then we would be on course for extraordinary elections. However, since the laws have been contravened, that may not happen.
(Riigikogu Speaker) Lauri Hussar (Eesti 200) said that the proposals for changes to the Riigikogu Rules of Procedure and Internal Rules Act , made by the expert committee that met in October, could be discussed by a new expert committee next year. The question was raised: if EKRE does not agree, is it even possible to change the rules?
In the current situation, opening the Rules of Procedure is politically a very bad idea. We do not support that for two reasons. Firstly, it is not possible for us to agree on the content, that is to say, what to change and how. Secondly, we do not have any rules of procedure anyway. What are we going to change if what we have today is full of holes?
Over the last two days, President Alar Karis has been meeting with the leaders of all the Riigikogu parties. On Wednesday at 3 p.m., Karis will hold a press conference to take stock of what has been discussed and answer questions from journalists.
Editor: Michael Cole