The extended boards of the three parties involved in post-election coalition talks on Saturday met separately on Saturday, to present to party members the coalition agreement which has been drawn up, and announce to dividing up of ministerial posts, should the coalition become reality.
The Centre Party met at the Salme cultural centre in the Kalamaja district of Tallinn, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) convened at the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel in the city centre, and the Isamaa board assembled at the Euroopa Hotel, close to the ferry terminal, BNS reports.
The talks are provisional in that, although they have been going on for the bulk of the time since 3 March general election, on Friday, President Kersti Kaljulaid nominated Reform leader Kaja Kallas as prime minister.
Under the Estonian constitution, any coalition Ms Kallas was able to assemble with the 34-seat Reform Party, the 10-seat Social Democratic Party (SDE) which Ms Kallas invited on board on Friday, and others, would first be voted on at the Riigikogu. Only if this lineup were rejected at the vote would the tripartite Centre-led lineup be voted on, and only then if President Kaljulaid nominated Jüri Ratas prime minister, following Ms Kallas' defeat.
In any event, the Riigikogu needs to know what it is voting on – with today's announcements it gets an idea of what might be in the offing if Ms Kallas does not get her coalition, which she has promised to have ready for 15 April, passed.
One of the main tasks both parties and media focus on the most is how the parties will be able to share out the coalition spoils between them in terms of ministerial posts, so let's look at those first, before turning to policies agreed on in the discussions.
There are 15 ministerial posts (including the prime minister) and the parties would divide them up evenly, ie. five posts each. The proposed administration would make four name and role changes to the ministerial roles: Public Administration, IT and Entrepreneurship, Social Protection and Health and Labour ministerships would be removed, and the new posts of Social Affairs, Foreign Trade and IT, Regional Affairs and Population Affairs would be introduced.
The parties separately announced their own posts' lineups as follows:
- Prime Minister – Jüri Ratas.
- Economic Affairs and Infrastructure – Taavi Aas (former Tallinn mayor).
- Regional Affairs – Jaak Aab (a former minister, the post itself is a new title).
- Education and Research – Mailis Reps (a long term holder of the post, being nominated to it several times. since 2002, most recently in the outgoing coalition which was dissolved on Thursday).
- Social Affairs (a new post) – Tanel Kiik.
- Interior – Mart Helme (EKRE leader).
- Finance – Martin Helme.
- Rural affairs – Mart Järvik.
- Environment – Rene Kokk.
- Foreign Trade and IT (another reorganised post) – Marti Kuusik.
- Defence – Jüri Luik (Mr Luik was defence minister in the last administration).
- Justice – Raivo Aeg.
- Foreign affairs – Urmas Reinsalu.
- Population affairs (also a new ministry) – Riina Solman.
- Culture – Tõnis Lukas.
Centre-Reform nexus following the convening of the Riigikogu
Mr Ratas said on Saturday that his party was not breaking up, but strengthening itself and moving forwards
He expressed regret that a person who won a seat with party backing then quit it, referring to Raimond Kaljulaid, a consistent opponent of the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa talks who stepped down on Friday, and stated that one or two seats at May's European parliamentary elections were viable.
A European Commissioner spot is also up for grabs. Should Centre get this (the outgoing commissioner is Reform's Andrus Ansip, who is running in the European Parliamentary elections) as well as heading up a coalition government, it would mean it was dominant in all three levels of government in Estonia, since it already has a majority on Tallinn city government, and several regional municipalities.
As regards policies, the proposed coalition published a 40-page, 15-Chapter manifesto outlining just that.
A summary of some of the key points is:
Foreign policy and security
The coalition agreement stresses strategic relations with the US, Nordic and Baltic neighbours, and continued good relations with post-Brexit Britain. A strong defence via NATO and a continued pledge to a minimum 2% of GDP in NATO contributions (which is the minimum. Most NATO countries, including Latvia and Lithuania, do not meet the 2% figure; Estonia has consistently done so) are mentioned, as is the importance of continuing to strengthen cyber-security.
EKRE has not got remilitarising the border with the Russian Federation through to the agreement, though plans to establish additional border guard units within the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), as well as reducing turnover in personnel at the Rescue Board, the prison service, and the PPA itself, were mentioned.
Since EKRE has been staunchly opposed to most types of mass immigration, and both it and Isamaa opposed Estonia's accession to the UN Global Compact on Migration, this is a key area.
The proposed coalition parties pledged in the manifesto to keep immigration policy under national control.
"We will not agree to mandatory refugee quotas,'' the manifesto read – an oblique reference to the EU's immigration quota, which some of the parties have opposed. The manifesto also promises stronger policing of potential illegal immigration.
The agreement did however promise to simplify the process of obtaining Estonian citizenship for those resident in Estonia, with particular reference to the ethnic Estonian community in Abkhazia, a partly-recognised republic in the northwestern part of Georgia. People from this community were at the centre of a citizenship-related controversy in 2018.
The manifesto also stressed that the coalition was for everyone, including those that did not vote for it, and it opposed race hatred, anti-semitism and the like.
"We will prove with our actions that the government of the Centre Party, the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) and Isamaa stands for the comprehensive development of Estonia, the well-being of each and every person and the values and the principles that are important for the Centre Party," Mr Ratas said in his speech at Centre's extended board meeting.
The manifesto itself, BNS reports, reads: "We resolutely condemn manifestations of ethnic hatred, anti-Semitism and rhetoric splitting the society. In foreign and security policy we will be guided by the national interests of Estonia, national sovereignty and international law, observance of international agreements and the principles of the UN. We will carry out an independent and consistent foreign and security policy first and foremost through our membership of the European Union and NATO. Unity and cooperation of the European Union and NATO are important to Estonia. We see the European Union as a union of states, not a union state''.
An elected EKRE MP, Ruuben Kaalep, was revealed to have had a long history of involvement in far-right, white supremacist and/or neo-Nazi groups and figures, both online and in person, following a reportage by investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress. His activities included enumerating Estonian figures who may have Jewish ancestry, and a photo showing Mr Kaalep appearing to make a disdainful gesture behind a map wearing a Jewish kippah. Mr Kaalep also made an ''OK'' finger gesture after signing-in to the Riigikogu on Thursday, which has variously been reported as a far-right shibboleth, or a far-right meme aimed at ''triggering'' ''liberals''.
Mr Kaalep has not been publicly reprimanded by his party or any of the proposed coalition lineup parties or leaders, at the time of writing, notwithstanding the agreement's wording noted above.
The coalition agreement states it will initiate a national, designated spatial plan for a bridge to Muhu island, and consequently, a road link to Saaremaa, Estonia's biggest island (Muhu and Saaremaa are already linked by a bridge).
Work on the bridge was estimated to cost around €500 million and be completed in three years, following work starting in 2020, by the entrepreneur behind it, Raivo Hein. However, the economic affairs ministry said in April 2018 that the project would require double the government subsidy currently paid for ferry services to the islands, as well as a public toll for around 50 years.
Rail Baltic is set to continue if the EU continues to stump up at least 81% of the project's costs, the manifesto says. If this does not continue, the project will be reviewed in the next budget, it is reported.
Free public transport, available in Tallinn and, since summer 2018, in most county bus lines (though not Tartu city), is set to continue under the terms of the manifesto.
Direct democracy, bureaucracy
EKRE has made implementing more direct democracy procedures in Estonia a central policy, and many of these have ended up in the agreement.
Popular initiatives, which could bring legislation to the table, or revoke existing legislation, would be launched once 25,000 signatures were accrued, according to the manifesto, with proposed referenda requiring double the number of signatures at 50,000.
In order for draft legislation to pass, it would need a margin of at least 5% in the popular initiative, and amending the constitution would require a 25% margin in favour.
A concrete example of a piece of legislation EKRE would like to revoke is the cohabitation act. It has also spoken in the past of making the president directly elected by the people, and the judiciary being elected as well.
Referendums would need a minimal 50% turnout for their proposal to be adopted, and the same issue could not be put to another referendum for a minimum of three years if it did not pass, according to the agreement.
Reducing bureaucracy is referred to, as is combating violent crime, domestic violence, and the sexual abuse of children, it is reported.
Isamaa has not got its cherished removal of the second, mandatory pensions pillar on to the agreement, though the manifesto promises to scrutinise management fees of pension funds, it is reported.
Pension rises are promised: ''We set the goal of an extraordinary pension rise to improve the coping and well-being of the elderly," the manifesto reportedly states, without concretely naming figures.
The manifesto also reportedly promises no taxation increases, but is also looking at options for reducing excise duties. Hikes in alcohol excise duties in recent years have proved unpopular, with a cross-border cottage industry in alcohol shopping at Latvian border towns like Valka springing up.
Education and health are addressed in the agreement, unsurprisingly, with a Riigikogu committee on the teaching of the Estonian language proposed, and a ''solidarity-based'' healthcare strengthened.
As noted, Reform leader Kaja Kallas will unveil her party's coalition agreement on 15 April, and this will be voted on first, before the Centre/EKRE/Isamaa deal can be brought to the Riigikogu.
Editor: Andrew Whyte