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EKRE, Reform tentatively discuss overcoming obstruction

A door inside the Riigikogu.
A door inside the Riigikogu. Source: Siim Lõvi/Priit Mürk/ERR

Politicians from Reform and the largest opposition party EKRE said they have discussed ways to resolve the obstruction in the Riigikogu. The first signs come from an agreement to process draft bills supporting Ukraine.

"Undoubtedly, these Ukrainian drafts would be the first real, tangible step towards cooperation and dialogue," EKRE vice-chairman Henn Põlluaas told ERR on Thursday morning.

EKRE's Riigikogu faction said on Wednesday it is ready to partially lift the obstruction if the Reform/Eesti 200/SDE coalition shows a willingness to compromise on political issues.

Chairman Martin Helme said the party is willing to support two of the four Ukrainian-related government bills. The first would see Estonia cover the interest costs of a loan it gave to the country and the second would allow companies to continue making tax-free donations.

However, EKRE is also demanding the government abandon two bills that would give €10 million to a venture capital fund aimed at Ukraine and increase Estonia's participation in the Council of Europe's Development Bank by almost €10 million.

Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Reform Riigikogu faction Chairman Erkki Keldo told ERR on Thursday the two parties have discussed these issues. Reform said it would allow EKRE to raise a bill it believes is important in the parliament if it stops the obstruction.

"We have not spoken to the representatives of the EKRE via the media. I understand that it is the wish of the EKRE that they want their bill to be debated in the Riigikogu, which concerns the income tax rebate for companies that donate to NGOs that support Ukraine," said Keldo.

He said this is possible if EKRE drops its proposed amendments to the bill and the Finance Committee recommends putting the bill on the agenda of the Riigikogu next week.

"We have thought that if they want to discuss it, we are of course prepared to compromise, but in that case they will have to withdraw these hundreds of empty amendments. And they can debate the draft themselves in the hall and they can vote on it. In this way, they can both show their positions and the Riigikogu can also vote," Keldo explained.

"But most importantly, the Ukraine package as a whole should still be adopted this year," he added, indicating that the coalition would not agree with EKRE's demand to withdraw the two drafts.

Erkki Keldo on 'Esimene stuudio' panel, Thursday, November 15, 2023. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Reform politician said the four Ukraine drafts are not directly related to each other, but still form a complete package.

"In a word, we will not withdraw them, because the amendments tabled by the EKRE are not really in line with the Rules of Procedure and the Rules of Procedure of the Riigikogu, because they seek to amend international treaties. And the other amendments have nothing to do with the scope of the draft. Consequently, the legal basis for these amendments is not at all stable," added Keldo. "But we are still willing to make an agreement with the EKRE, if EKRE wants to proceed with this so-called Slava Ukraini draft."

No compromise was reached in the Finance Committee

A compromise was not found at the Finance Committee's Thursday afternoon session.

Initially, Põlluaas said this morning that EKRE expects a definite agreement at the session. 

Henn Põlluaas. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

"At the moment, we are waiting for a firm agreement, a shaking of hands, and then we will withdraw these amendments. We already have the papers ready. Whether or not they will go ahead is now purely up to the coalition," he said earlier today, adding: "Of course, we would prefer to come to an agreement so that we can go ahead as usual."

But Helme said the rules of procedure were violated and EKRE's amendments were said to be unconstitutional and will not be processed.

"This is unprecedented, never before have amendments tabled by Riigikogu members simply not been dealt with," he said.

Committee member Maris Lauri (Reform) said supporting Ukraine cannot be negotiated. She said EKRE's amendments did not comply with several sections of the Constitution. For example, she argued, they interfered with foreign agreements.

"Since they are not constitutional, they cannot be voted on, they cannot be put on the list of amendments and cannot be voted on. This has been decided on constitutionality in previous cases," said Lauri.

Maris Lauri (Reform). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Helme said the party is now less interested in seeking a compromise.

Other parties do not believe an end is in sight.

"I haven't sensed any of these approaches here in the Riigikogu. But it is of course good if the EKRE and the Reform Party are looking for some common ground," said Helir-Valdor Seeder, chairman of the Isamaa faction.

Chairman of the Social Democratic Party's faction Jevgeni Ossinovski said: "Maybe EKRE will finally come to the discussion table in a normal way and it will be possible to start moving forward. Whether this happens or not, only time will tell, because it really depends on them."

EKRE has submitted hundreds of amendments to bills to block the work of the Riigikogu and try and force extraordinary elections. According to the parliament's procedures, each amendment must be processed.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Anne Raiste, Merili Nael, Helen Wright

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