Mikser leaves open possibility of Reform talks, without red lines

Sven Mikser (SDE).
Sven Mikser (SDE). Source: ERR

Sven Mikser, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party (SDE) and foreign minister under the last coalition, has said that his party would not issue any pre-conditions for coalition talks with the Reform Party.

"At the moment, nobody has made us any invitations or offers. As I understand it, the Reform Party board is discussing its next more right now," Mr Mikser told BNS on Friday afternoon, though prior to Reform announcing that it would approach SDE and Isamaa, having drawn a blank with Centre.

Reform won the largest number of seats, 34, in last Sunday's election, and is now into negotiations with three of the other four parties which also picked up Riigikogu seats, in order to get the requried 51 seats for a majority at parliament. Centre, the second-placed party and formerly the largest party in the coalition, rejected coalition talks with Reform on Friday. Many had speculated a Reform-Centre ''super-coalition'' was on the cards, which would give 57 seats, but some key Reform policies, such as a universal monthly income tax exemption of €500, were unacceptable to Centre, it said.

The next logical step for Reform is to try to strike a deal with SDE and Isamaa, junior coalition parties in the last government. The two parties were not the easiest bed-fellows in the last coalition, clashing in late 2018 over the UN's global migration compact.

Much of both the public statements issued by party leaders and representatives are likely to be made with a coalition spot in mind, dovetailing into behind-closed-doors negotiations. A Reform-led coalition is not inevitable, though Centre, Isamaa and SDE would still lack the requisite number of seats for a Riigikogu majority, and would have to include the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) in the picture, if Reform were to be left out.

Reform not heirs apparent

While not announcing any lines in the sand between SDE and Reform, Mr Mikser was quick to point out the latter's deficiencies.

"It's Kaja Kallas' certain lack of experience that shows here: very definitive lines were drawn [by Reform], which definitely is not a very wise thing to do in diplomacy. Taking a more flexible and diplomatic approach would have made it possible, perhaps, to also get a party's most important election promises into any coalition accord," Mr Mikser said.

"Having 34 seats in the parliament does not give you the right to form a government, it only gives you the right to be the first to try and form a government. You also have to understand that the smaller partners have absolutely legitimate interests and expectations, which have to be taken into account," he added.

When asked by BNS whether the SDE board has discussed Reform's sacred cow manifesto promises, and would be putting down its own red lines in response, Mr Mikser answered in the negative.

"We finished these elections in fifth place. We are not the ones that get to make the negotiation invites. We will not be drawing any red lines, before an invitation is made to us," Mr Mikser said.

Commenting on SDE's disappointing election result (the party came in last place from amongst those elected, with 10 seats, down from its previous 15), Mr Mikser noted that politics is a long game.

"That our results didn't meet expectations in these elections does not mean that social democracy is irrelevant to Estonia. On the contrary - I believe that social democracy must draw its own conclusions from events, move forward, and advance towards a significantly stronger outcome for the next elections,'' Mr Mikser said. The next elections are in fact in late May, to the European Parliament.

SDE still in the long game

"Social Democracy has a one-hundred-year history in Estonia, and a future longer than that for sure, so we definitely won't be throwing in the towel just because at this one election our support was somewhat lower than we would have liked it to be," he continued.

As regards Centre, while Mr Mikser thought that Centre would have accepted Reform's offer to parley, he did not think a Reform-Centre coalition was inevitable, mainly due to major figures ithin the party who opposed such a move. At the same time, he said he thought that the wing of the party more disposed to Reform might have at least achieved negotiations, in order for the two sides to sound each other out.

The other party to win seats, EKRE, has so far been pointedly left out of even the possibility of negotiations, both by Reform, whose leading members were keen to stress that a deal with EKRE was not on the table, and SDE, which has been at loggerheads with EKRE, particularly in the aftermath of the governmental split in November.

"I believe that a coalition which includes EKRE would be a very bad government for Estonia,'' Mr Mikser said, going on to say there was little point to addressing all the hypothetical coalition combinations at this stage.

Mr Mikser added that SDE's board is to meet on Monday, and that nothing is likely to happen before then which would require an extra-ordinary board meeting.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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