Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has delivered his reaction to yesterday's announcement of the formation of a new think tank aimed at reforming and streamlining the Estonian state and some of the provisions of its draft manifesto.
Speaking to ERR, Mr. Ratas said that the manifesto contained much that he could agree with and found constructive, but stopped short of accepting the call for a reduction in the number of MPs in the Estonian parliament (Riigkogu) by 10-20 people.
The actual existence of the group, called 'Foundation for State Reform' and comprising 28 people from the world of business and entrepreneurship, was welcomed by the Prime Minister as being an important reminder of the ''necessity of this type of dialogue between dynamic citizens in our society,'' he said, whilst going on to point out that there was a particular poignancy in its being founded in the year Estonia celebrates 100 years of independence.
He also agreed that cutting bureaucratic red tape, including numbers of state employees where necessary, was welcome and noted that this process is already in fact under way.
''The number of public sector employees at present is about 130,000 people, down from 133,000 in 2016'', said Ratas.
That said, the 'Foundation for State Reform' manifesto calls for number of state workers in Estonia to be slashed by half, as well as a reduction in the number of ministries.
Other proposals amenable to Mr. Ratas were calls to empower local government in its tax raising abilities, the improvement of connectivity across Estonia to facilitate easier remote working, and smoother and more efficient interaction between state and individual.
He did however urge caution in making cuts specific areas of the public sector, namely the areas of medical services and public health and safety, as well as education.
He was also lukewarm on the issue of the participation of the Auditor General and Chancellor of Justice in cabinet meetings, something whith the group proposed to discontinue, stating that this was more help than hindrance in the workings of government.
101 Riigikogu members fixed by tradition
The main sticking point for the Prime Minister was, however, the proposed reduction in the number of Riigikogu members by as many as 20.
Mr. Ratas was unequivocally opposed to this move and sees the current number of Riigikogu members (101) as optimum.
''I have always stated publicly that I I would stick to this tradition,'' he explained.
This is also partly because each MP can belong to just one committee, under current Riigikogu rules (excluding EU-related committees) Mr. Ratas said, and as there are 11 permanent committees at present, that makes about 10 MPs per committee. Fewer MPs would have a deleterious effect on this balance in his view.
Furthermore in Mr. Ratas' opinion, a scaling back of MPs would narrow the field too much and hinder the participation of smaller parties in the democratic proceess.
''If we start to reduce the membership of the Riigikogu, then we will also reduce the opportunity for smaller parties to become members of the state,'' stated Mr. Ratas.
Nevertheless the Prime Minister pledged to cooperate with the group going forward, and to raise its issues at cabinet meetings.
The final concept document from the 'Foundation for State Reform' group is not due to be submitted to the Riigikogu and the political parties until November of this year.
Editor: Andrew Whyte