Estonia's six major political parties have all been busy issuing election promises, as reported on ETV current affairs show 'Aktuaalne Kaamera', ahead of the March 2019 parliamentary elections. Here, we take a brief look at them.
The sole criterion for qualifying as a 'major' party is that it is represented in the 101-seat Estonian parliament (Riigikogu), consequently the Greens, the United Left Party, the Independence Party and others are not surveyed here. The current government is made up of three parties, the Centre Party, which makes up the greater part of the coalition with 27 seats, and Pro Patria/Isamaa (12 seats) and the Social Democratic Party (SDE – 15 seats), which are the junior coalition parties, so let's consider these first.*
Centre, which as its name suggests is a broadly centre-left party and draws the current prime minister, Jüri Ratas, from its ranks, has made a generous pledge to boost state pensions by €100 per month, as well as focussing on families with children.
"In the last four years, child support has been substantially raised, but we will also raise the subsidies of the first and second child to the tune of hundreds of euros,'' said party Vice-Chair Kadri Simson.
''We are also taking into consideration how hard it is for a young family to get together a deposit towards the purchase of its first home, so this will be given an added boost by the state,'' she went on.
Pension concerns, education and the family in general terms take precedence with centre-right party Pro Patria (formerly IRL) as well (the ideal of establishing Estonian-language education for all, beginning at kindergarten level, has already been made clear by the party).
''Pro Patria wishes to come up with comprehensive proposals which will provide cover through increased spending and support,'' said party leader Helir-Valdor Seeder.
It has been much the same story with the pronouncements of the centre-left SDE, ie. pensions, education – although the party has placed a strong emphasis on science and innovation in particular.
''The one per cent of public money that goes on research and development should be a fixed norm,'' said party leader Jevgeni Ossinovski.
''This should be a social contract along the same lines as defence spending, to keep it from getting pushed to the political fringes,'' Mr. Ossinovksi continued.
Of the remainder, the Reform Party is by far the largest in terms of numbers of seats in the Riigikogu, with 30, if its relatively new leader Kaja Kallas, just returned from Brussels, is included, so it actually outstrips Centre by three seats.
It is seen by many as a strong contender for forming the basis of the next government in 2019, with Ms. Kallas as prime minster. The other two parties are the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE – 7 seats) and the Free Party (8 seats), the latter also acquiring a new leader this summer in Andres Herkel.
Free market-leaning Reform announced the unveiling of a €500 'tax amnesty' applicable to all (ie. a €500 tax-free threshold), and to clarify the income tax situation, returning to a solidly flat tax rate and away from potential moves toward a progressive system. The party is also keen to reduce excise, it says, perhaps in response to the deeply unpopular alcohol excise hikes of recent years.
Reform also proposes a six-step program to improve people's incomes, which party leader Kaja Kallas concisely enumerated as follows:
''The first step is to readdress the chaotic tax system,'' Ms. Kallas stated, referring to a supposed lack of clarity on whether the flat tax rate of income tax is still a reality in Estonia.
''The second, is to reduce the role of the state in the economy; the third, to give a new impetus to innovation; the fourth, to create the necessary infrastructure including highways and better internet connectivity; the fifth, access to capital markets, and the sixth, to enable a conducive business enviroment,'' she went on.
Right-leaning and Estonian nationalist party EKRE also wishes to slash excise duty.
"Excise policy must be in symbiosis with our neighbours, Latvia, to ensure that we are competitive,'' said EKRE board member Jaak Madison.
This should seek to dissuade pepole in Estonia from going to Latvia to buy fuel, food products or alcohol at the cost of the domestic market,'' he continued.
''Naturally, tax policy covers a wider area than that, and also applies to our business environment and our economy in general," Mr. Madison added.
The party also sees the reduction of hospital waiting lists, and greater control over the state prosecutor's office, as key goals.
The libertarian-leaning Free Party echoes the importace placed by most of the other parties on social security and childcare. However it sees this in the context of issues of freedom within the current state system in Estonia.
''Questions such as the number of government ministers, party funding and the interests of Riigikogu members are already in the spotlight, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg,'' opined party chair Andres Herkel.
''I believe that our whole state system needs to be thoroughly overhauled to trim away these wasteful aspects,'' Mr. Herkel went on.
No doubt many more pledges and pronouncements from all the parties are to follow between now and election day, 3 March 2019.
*Two independent members of the Riigkogu make up the total 101.
Editor: Andrew Whyte