President: When scientists lose faith in Estonian people, they go elsewhere ({{commentsTotal}})

Kersti Kaljulaid at the signing of the agreement on science, with party leaders, in December 2018.
Kersti Kaljulaid at the signing of the agreement on science, with party leaders, in December 2018. Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

President Kersti Kaljulaid says she shares the frustration expressed by scientists, entrepreneurs and higher education institutions following the coalition government's announcement that it will not raise research and development (R&D) spending to the level it had previously promised.

The President's comments appeared on ERR's science portal, Novaator, and are as follows:

One of the main tools of any government in the implementation of its policies is the preparation of a state budget. It is always a matter of political choice, and must remain so. However, it is regrettable to see how only a few months ago, the agreements made and signed between the parties and their leaders have been forgotten, when making their choices. It is true that one of the coalition partners at that time did not join sign up to the agreement on research, but this was actually because the person considered the 1 percent target too unambitious.

What is a politician's word worth? And their signature? I understand and share the disappointment expressed by our entrepreneurs, the research community, universities and others, when it transpires that the coalition government is giving up its ambition to raise research funding to 1 percent of our GDP [the current level is 0.71 percent of GDP-ed.].

One the one hand, it is the going back on their word, and with it the signatures, though the voter has given their assessment [of the parties]. However, this is not just about the relationship between the politician and the voter. This is a question of smarter work. This is a question of better wages, since smarter work allows you to pay higher wages. This is a question of companies' abilities to grow and continue to grow here in Estonia, and not to take their production elsewhere under wage pressure, when it is impossible to add value.

When scientists lose faith in serving humanity in Estonia, they go elsewhere. If research projects disappear, quality higher education will disappear. If research projects disappear, their positive transfer effect will disappear from the economy. If so, Estonian companies can no longer count on the fruits of local research and development. Then we will be in a land where good solutions come from somewhere else and where good incomes are somewhere else. Do we want this kind of Estonia?

I don't. That is why I will soon call together the chairmen of the parliamentary parties, the Academy of Sciences, the representatives of the and the employers' and rectors' associations, so we can discuss this all over.

Background

The research agreement predates the formation of the current coalition. On December 27, 2018, it was signed also by the president, and funding for R&D was set to reach 1 percent of GDP within three years. The agreement was also signed by most of the party chairs, as well as and scientists and entrepreneurs.

The of the six party leaders of the last Riigikogu's composition [there are now five parties in parliament-ed.] signed the treaty. The Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) representative immediately announced before signing that he did not consider it necessary to participate, however, as it was necessary to set an even more ambitious target.

In the last three coalition agreements, allowances were made to raise funding for science within the state budget. Although the amount has increased gradually, the strategically-agreed target, i.e. 1 percent of GDP, still has not been reached; the state budget strategy for 2020-2023 effectively reneges on this promise, only maintaining the current funding levels of 0.71 percent of GDP.

The president has not shied away from criticizing the current Centre-EKRE-Isamaa coalition, either directly or implicitly, since the coaltion government negotiations began soon after the March 3 general election, and its entering into office at the end of April. She has spoken out against Martin Helme's (EKRE) criticisms of Estonian gynaecologists and other doctors, on the issue of abortion, and was at the forefront of criticism of the same party in the wake of allegations about an incoming minister, Marti Kuusik, concerning domestic violence, and statements made about public broadcaster ERR by Martin Helme.

In the last two cases, her criticisms were more via actions than the spoken word. At the swearing-in ceremony for the coalition at the Riigikogu at the end of April, the president left the chamber when it was the turn of Marti Kuusik to swear-in. She also donned a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words "Sõna on vaba" ("speech is free" or, more literally, "the word is free").

Marti Kuusik subsequently stepped down from the post of Minister for IT and Foreign Trade, and was replaced by a woman, Kert Kingo. Martin Helme is no longer EKRE's representative on the broadcasting supervisory council, which oversees ERR and its activities, and contains one member from each elected party.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte



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