The Social Democratic Party (SDE) is aiming for two seats again in this June's European Parliament elections. Speaking at Saturday's party council in Tartu, SDE chair Lauri Läänemets called for the abolition of the renewable energy charge and accelerated uptake of green energy in order to stimulate the economy, and said that the wealthy should be contributing more to the welfare of society.
This weekend's SDE council gathered ideas for the party's new economic platform. As stated by Läänemets, the coalition party wants to put its economic focus on energy, according to a press release.
Estonia's most pressing challenge at the moment is returning the economy to growth, he highlighted, citing abolishing the country's renewable energy charge as one measure to achieve this.
"The Social Democrats have proposed exempting both private consumers and energy-intensive industries from the renewable energy charge in order to preserve jobs and reduce companies' production costs," Läänemets said. "In the government, we've also agreed within the state budget strategy approved last fall to abolish the renewable energy charge, and in my opinion we should move forward with this plan as quickly as possible."
Renewable energy subsidies can be paid to producers out of CO2 instruments and electricity excise duties, he added.
Even so, it is still the robust development of renewable energy capacities that the Social Democrats see as a long-term solution, as cheap and green energy would put Estonia as a country at an advantage in attracting significant foreign investments.
"Considering that our electricity consumption will increase in the future and that renewable energy at present only accounts for a third of our current electricity consumption, the Social Democrats' goal is to as much as quintuple current renewable electricity production, which would fully cover all of Estonia's current electricity consumption as well as the projected increase," Läänemets said.
"With ensuring the accessibility of clean energy, we'll bring €3 billion worth of investments to the Estonian economy and create more than 2,000 new higher-paying jobs in energy-intensive industries," he highlighted. "The sooner we can move forward in electricity generation and the construction of energy storage plants and dispatchable capacities such as natural gas-fired power plants, the greater Estonian companies' advantage will be in foreign markets."
SDE chief: Avoid further taxing the poor
Läänemets stressed, however, that the most crucial thing to keep in mind when making both economic and public finances-related decisions is not burdening lower-income folks with possible new obligations simply because right-wing parties have always done things this way.
"We have got to have a serious talk about people who have gotten wealthy by now contributing more to Estonian society," he said. "Universal access to medical care and the highest-quality education must be our common goal. If we continue with only antagonism – which was tried repeatedly even during the recent teachers' strike, pitting teachers against lower-income government employees, for example – we're not going to be able to move forward that way."
The aforementioned recent nationwide teachers' strike wasn't a matter of just wages, but also Estonia's future in general, the SDE chair continued, adding that education and smart people are the real cornerstone of the country's economy, and that this dignified profession requires good conditions in addition to good pay.
"Teachers once again taught the people and state leaders that courageously standing up for what's important is indispensable, and that it isn't competition and fighting but rather cooperation and solidarity that are key," he said.
"There have been attempts to pigeonhole the Social Democrats as well, as if we weren't sincere in our intentions when we wanted to resolve the strike as quickly as possible," the party chair continued. "In fact, we rather proved that we will not shirk our government responsibility. Not even when things are hard or when our biggest coalition partner doesn't agree with us. We demonstrated that the government must understand social attitudes as well as be able to flexibly change existing plans as circumstances change."
Sights set on two seats
Following its economic debate, Saturday's SDE council took up the discussion on the party's election campaign platform for the 2024 European Parliament elections. Currently holding two of Estonia's seven seats in the European Parliament, the party hopes to repeat its 2019 success at the polls this June.
"We're still drawing up our election campaign platform and electoral list, but the Social Democrats are heading into the elections with the goal of winning two seats in the European Parliament," Läänemets said. "The most crucial issue in this election is still security, in every sense of the word – within and outside of state borders as well as economic security in terms of people's daily livelihoods.
Europe must also continue to maintain the unity it has managed to demonstrate in its support of Ukraine thus far, he continued.
"In the European Parliament, I believe we'll be focusing not only on security; we'll be focusing on the economy, on jobs as well as on migration," Läänemets said. "In other words, we believe migration as a whole should be viewed differently. That not every person who wants to come across the eastern border is a war refugee, that in fact this is being used today as a hybrid weapon. The European Union as a whole is so big that it could be the catalyst for this change in how we see migration at the global level."
Editor: Aili Vahtla