EKRE and Isamaa agree to Centre talks, SDE open to Reform cooperation

Centre leader and former prime minister Jüri Ratas (second from right, facing camera) is leading his party into talks with EKRE, led by Mart Helme (third from right) and Isamaa, led by Helir-Valdor Seeder (left of picture).
Centre leader and former prime minister Jüri Ratas (second from right, facing camera) is leading his party into talks with EKRE, led by Mart Helme (third from right) and Isamaa, led by Helir-Valdor Seeder (left of picture). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), which gained 19 seats at the 3 March election, putting it in third place behind Reform and Centre, has announced its intention to enter into coalition talks with both Centre and Isamaa, the fourth-placed party.

The decision was made at an extra-ordinary meeting late on Monday afternoon and follows a Centre Party board meeting earlier in the day, after which the party announced its offer of talks with EKRE and Isamaa.

Centre, which was in office in the previous administration under its leader, and prime minister, Jüri Ratas, won 26 seats at the election, eight less than Reform. Both Reform and Centre would therefore need to enter into a coalition, either with each other, or with two other parties, to pass the 51-seat mark needed to form a majority coalition.

Centre rejected a deal with Reform last week, and has since been talking to EKRE and Isamaa. A deal between the three would give a total of 57 seats (Isamaa won 12 seats at the election).

Isamaa also on board

"We will enter the negotiations without drawing any 'red lines', but with a clear intention to stand up for the interests of our voters in the government," EKRE leader Mart Helme said of the proposed talks.

Meanwhile Isamaa also agreed to Centre's proposal for talks, and thus discussions with EKRE as well.

Immediately after the election, many commentators assumed a Reform-Centre partnership was on the cards, something which had been seen as a viable outcome prior to the election. This partnership would give 60 seats (Reform's 34 + Centre's 26). However, Centre rejected Reform's offer, citing disagreement with some key Reform policies including the €500 tax-free threshold for monthly earnings.

Such a partnership would most likely also mean Jüri Ratas having to relinquish the prime ministerial role, in favour of Reform leader Kaja Kallas.

Where next for Reform?

Centre support for meeting with EKRE, in most of its statements a far-right party which has opposed Estonia's accession to the UN Global Compact on Migration (as has Isamaa), is by no means unanimous. Four Centre board members, including MEP Yana Toom, voted against entering discussions on Monday.

Mart Helme, EKRE chief, has also expressed his and his party's long-term goal of becoming a single-party government (which would require a minimum of 51 seats at a future general election).

Reform's next move was to try to woo Isamaa, but the latter has opted to enter discussions with Centre, and by extension EKRE, instead.

Since Reform and Isamaa together would have got 46 seats, the only other option would be to bring in the 10-seat Social Democratic Party (SDE) into the equation, which would make 56 seats. Reform had previously stated it would not go into government with EKRE, as had SDE.

SDE leader Jevgeni Ossinovski said on Monday evening that any government which included EKRE in its ranks would not be a good solution for the country, though he noted it was inevitable following the Reform-Centre impasse.

SDE keeping lines of communication open with Reform

"The behavior of the election-winning Reform Party in this process has obviously created an unexpected chaos, where it seemed at first that a functional government could be formed rather quickly, but instead, due to tactical mistakes, a situation instead arose where [Reform's] official proposal was rejected by Centre. Against this backdrop, an entirely different movement, towards forming a government with EKRE, began," Mr Ossinovski said.

He reiterated SDE's willingness to discuss coalition options with Reform, echoing statements made at the end of last week by former foreign minister and SDE member Sven Mikser.

"If the leader of the Reform Party and future prime minister candidate is able to garner sufficient support in the parliament for the formation of a majority government, we are ready to participate in these negotiations, naturally on our terms and looking out for our principles, values and goals," he told daily Postimees.

Of the likelihood of the current Centre-EKRE-Isamaa talks coming to fruition, Mr Ossinovski said that: "Naturally, it all now depends on the negotiations and whether an agreement is reached''.

The Reform Party itself has so far remained largely quiet since Centre's rejection of a discussions late last week.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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