Opposition Reform Party submitted a parliamentary bill on Tuesday aimed at reducing alcohol excise duty. Reform says the bill, if made law, would curb cross-border trade, improving tax inflow and public health.
Hikes in alcohol excise by the ruling coalition government in recent years have proved controversial, with charges that the hikes harm the economy, as both foreign tourists and Estonians have been travelling to Latvian border towns like Valka in order to buy alcohol. The hikes have also harmed domestic alcohol producers, it is argued.
Ironically, the 15% excise hike which is generally seen as the starting point of the current issues came under the Reform Party's Taavi Rõivas' tenure as prime minister, in 2015.
"Although the damage caused by the steep excise duty hike effected by the government from July 2017 cannot be completely reversed, we nevertheless believe that in combination with excise duty increases amongst our neighbours, we will achieve appropriate excise rates which can slow down the flow of cheaper alcohol and other goods across the border," Reform Party parliamentary group chair Jürgen Ligi reportedly said.
Need to turn back the clock a couple of years
Mr. Ligi added that tax receipts need to revert to 2016 levels, a previous downward trend in alcohol consumption should resume and the Estonian economy should claim back some of the jobs lost to other countries, principally Latvia.
"The aim of this bill is to take a step towards gradually putting an end to cross-border trade. This is not easy, and conclusively solving the big problem caused by previous thoughtless actions may take years,'' said Aivar Soerd, Reform member of the parliamentary finance committee.
''This bill is a step in the right direction, the goal being to bring the excise duty rates to the level they were in February 2017," added Mr. Soerd.
The bill, if enacted, would lower the excise duty on beer from the present €16.92 per percentage of alcohol content by volume in one hectolitre of product, to €9.13. The corresponding duty for strong alcohol would fall from €25.08 to €23.89, if the bill became law.
Reform's citizenship bill rejected
Meanwhile another Reform Party initiative, a bill aimed at allowing dual citizenship for Estonian citizens in certain circumstances, was rejected by 50 votes in the Riigikogu on Tuesday.
The bill sought to lift the requirement that Estonian citizens by birth relinquish citizenship when they obtain the citizenship of another EU member state or the European Economic Area (EEA), as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland.
The bill, aimed at preserving the Estonian way of life and avoid losing more potential citizens, stemmed from the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, Reform MP Hanno Pevkur said.
Most parties opposed
All the other parliamentary party groups apart from Reform and the Free Party opposed the bill.
''Rejection by the Centre Party and the SDE came as no surprise; however, it was hypocritical and saddening that EKRE and Pro Patria, who are usually keen to beat the so-called 'blue, black and white drum', opposed the bill," Valdo Randpere of the Reform Party said.
"The wording of the Citizenship Act … has created a restriction which requires ... an Estonian citizen to relinquish their citizenship if they, for example, wish to be a citizen of the US when they live there. This is a big mistake," Hanno Pevkur added, saying it was immoral and unconstitutional to force Estonian citizens by birth to choose between Estonian and Swedish, US, Australian, New Zealand, Swiss etc. citizenship.
Editor: Andrew Whyte