Reform will win at home and in Europe, says party leader

Reform leader Kaja Kallas in the ERR studios on Wednesday.
Reform leader Kaja Kallas in the ERR studios on Wednesday. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Reform leader Kaja Kallas is buoyant about the party winning both the general election in March 2019, and the European election in May.

Speaking on ''Otse Uudistemajast'' (''Live from the News Building'') on Wednesday, and continuing prominent member Kristen Michal's combative stance on Tuesday, Ms. Kallas said that another four years in opposition wasn't worth thinking about, since the party was going to win both elections in any case.

Reform is currently the largest party both at home, with 30 seats, compared with coalition party Centre's 25, and in Europe, with two MEPs, and is hoping to expand on both, perhaps snapping up the extra MEP Estonia is getting following redistribution of some of the UK's MEP spots post-Brexit.

Regarding runners and riders, Ms. Kallas was a bit more coy. ''I would be delighted if my father [former prime minister Siim Kallas] ran for office. He's a strong politician and has plenty of life experience to bring to politics, but I've not talked to him about it; it might not look like it but we're two completely different people,'' she said.

''Tugev Meeskond'' (''Strong Team'')

Ms. Kallas confirmed former Reform prime minister and current European Commissioner Andrus Ansip will be running number one on Reform's list for the European Parliament in May, but declined to comment on whether Mr. Ansip's prime ministerial successor, Taavi Rõivas, would be running in the generals.

There had been rumours Mr. Rõivas was to run on the Lääne-Viru County electoral list as compensation, after expressing a desire to run for Europe was scotched by Mr. Ansip's candidacy.

Estonia is divided into 12 electoral districts for the general election, three of these in Tallinn itself, and parties run lists of candidates in rank order, as they do for Europe, where Estonia is classed as one electoral district.

''We have a lot of strong contenders, not just Taavi, but also [former defence minister and current MEP] Urmas Paet and others,'' she continued, a roster fortified by the increase to seven available seats at Brussels.

'We'll finalise our list on 5 November and publish it on 12 January 2019; everything in its own time, or a little later, as the old folk saying goes,'' she continued.

Reform vs Centre

Ms. Kallas also outlined the contrasts between Reform's world view and that of incumbent Centre Party.

Whereas Centre apparently thinks lower earners' aspirations are no more than remaining just that, Reform recognizes many people want to work hard and earn more, she said.

''With the Centre Party it seems to be a thing for people just to stay where they are,'' she opined.

''With taxation as high as it is, there's no real incentive to make more of an effort to break out of the current situation,'' she explained, noting the situation has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

She also said that, in lieu of substantial ideas, Centre uses the spectre of Reforms proposed abolition of social taxation to intimidate the populace further.

Kaja Kallas talks to ERR's Mirko Ojakivi on Wednesdays ''Live from the News Building.'' Source:Siim Lõvi /ERR

Fiscal policy

''Employment is the most taxed area in Estonia,'' she continued.

''We have unemployment insurance and the social tax as well as income tax. However, the object of fiscal policy should not be to diminish that which is sought. Any counter arguments seem to revolve around the state budget and the giant hole which would ensue if we made changes; but this needs to be discussed from the point of view of both employer and employee. If job creation is so highly taxed then employers are going to think twice about creating any new workplaces at all,'' she continued.

She also urged proposals to abolish the social tax be discussed now and not 10 years on, when it would be too late, and argued in their favour.

''A lot of criticism is directed against Reform that cutting business income tax will decimate the state budget. However, the difference will be made up from other sources. With no social tax, people's income will increase by about 30% on average, and increased income tax revenues would also result,'' she explained, saying Reform is in favour of utlising some revenue for pensions and health insurance.

Reform vs Pro Patria

Ms. Kallas' party disagrees with Isamaa/Pro Patria's proposal to make the second pillar (individual contributions to pension funds) first voluntary, then dispensing with it altogether, she said.

''I support the current system simply because Estonians don't save enough money. If there were no compulsory contributions, some people wouldn't collect anything on retirement. In countries where the proportion of pensions contributions is around half of average salaries, the state doesn't have to make huge contributions, plus there are savings reach various funds. We need to make saving easy here too,'' she explained, also highlighting the need to avoid a form of double taxation where people pay taxes when working and get taxed on their pension again later.

On the other hand, making the second pillar the state's responsibility would lead to a diminution of the pension fund too, as has happened in Hungary and Poland, she said.

The original interview (in Estonian) is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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