The political parties, which have been discussing until the early hours of Thursday, have gradually come closer to each other on various issues. They want to reach a final agreement as quickly as possible – the issues of family benefits and «social electricity» are still the stumbling blocks.
The coalition talks lasted from Wednesday evening until 3:30 Thursday morning. The chairman of Isamaa, Helir-Valdor Seeder, told Postimees a sentence that has already acquired the status of a golden quote: «Isn’t it the case with the coalition agreement that until everything is agreed upon, there is no agreement.»
«We have been negotiating to reach agreements, and we have achieved that on many issues. At least I could say so, although some partners do not want to say it,» said Kaja Kallas, chairperson of the Reform Party, at the government’s press conference on Thursday.
The chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Lauri Läänemets, said that after the end of the early morning debate, two matters still remained open: the family benefits and «social electricity». In the case of the latter, it is the question whether it would last for the whole year or only during the heating season?
Agreement on education
As a result of lengthy discussions, the three political parties have reached an agreement on the issue of Estonian-language education: the transition and its preparatory activities will begin this year, and the transition to Estonian-language education will begin in 2024, both in pre-school education and in the 1st and 4th grades.
All parties of the future coalition believe that teachers’ salaries should rise, not only because of the transition to Estonian-language education, but also because Estonia has high inflation and the average salary has increased. «But we will come to that when we start preparing the state budget strategy,» Seeder added.
The Social Democrats, seeing how the coalition negotiations are dragging on, finally agreed to the reform of Estonian-language education. «We can agree that the reform will come in 2024. But this reform is stillborn, it is no longer possible to implement it, because you cannot train a thousand new teachers in a year,» Läänemets sighed and added that neither have the teachers or the pupils the time to prepare for the reform. «Everyone understands that this is not possible in reality. I am sorry, because this reform will fail in practice. Ja, it is the right thing to do, but it would need a little more time,» Läänemets stated.
According to Kallas, the negotiators have a common understanding regarding education in the Estonian language that both pre-primary and basic education will be transitioned in 2024, and for certain municipalities where exceptions need to be made, this can be decided at the government level. På samme tid, a language advisory council or a committee of experts will be formed under the government, which will provide recommendations in which cases it would be reasonable to make exceptions. «Here I have to thank the Social Democrats, who have made great compromises to make this agreement happen,» Kallas said.
Loose ends in energy issues
The coalition is negotiating on electricity market reform and various electricity compensations. «We provide compensation for both gas and district heating. It is clear that electricity prices are prohibitive for consumers – a change is needed here. The electricity market reform reorganizes the existing electricity sales organization and pricing. Vi er i gang med at blive enige om et sæt generelle mål i Estland, compensation for gas, heating and electricity will be provided for,» Seeder explained. An agreement has been reached regarding central heating and gas, but the nuances and details of the electricity market reform still need to be dealt with.
«We (the SDE) have always said that the state should use the Norwegian scheme for compensation, that is, determine the ceiling from which prices would not rise any further and the state would compensate for the rest,» Läänemets said. Regarding gas and district heating, Läänemets confirmed that a consensus was reached. As for electricity, there is essentially an agreement, but now it is necessary to determine the duration.
Moreover, according to Läänemets, it is very good that it is all universal, dvs.. automatic, and people do not have to go appeal to the municipal administration to submit applications. «And the figures of this so-called ceiling will also be very reasonable for the people. What we agree on has a greater impact than last winter,» explained Läänemets.
The proposed measures would not discriminate between people. «Some people, for eksempel, made a big investment six years ago and bought an air-to-air heat pump, but it consumes a lot of electricity – they were left out of the support schemes last winter,» explained the chairman of the Social Democratic Party.
«For us, the point of contention is that we have realized that we are talking, after all, about the heating period and not some kind of communism where everyone is handed out money all the time. Med andre ord, handling the energy crisis would be limited to the heating period as for its duration and volume. We do not want to send a message that you should not worry, we shall pay for everything,» Kallas said.
Isamaa demands the maximum regarding the family benefits
A consensus has apparently been reached regarding the children’s benefits: the allowance for the first and second child will rise from 60 til 80 euros. «Discussions are still ongoing regarding the family benefits. No one is against this, the question is how much they will rise, when they will rise and how they will be indexed and how the benefits will end,» Seeder described the range of questions that still need to be specified.
«We have no problems with the family benefits. Either amount suits us – however, the Reform Party and Isamaa have differences,» said Läänemets. Whether it would be 600 euros or 700 euros. As for the energy subsidies, Läänemets believes that very good agreements have been reached. Regarding the family benefits which, according to Kallas, have been the so-called large chunk of the ruling coalition negotiations, the Reform Party is ready to make compromises, while Isamaa continues to demand the maximum.
An agreement could have been reached early morning
Could it happen that the three political parties have received their answers to their questions by the beginning of next week? According to Seeder, considering the issues left for discussion, the coalition may be born by the beginning of next week. «It need not but could. We have discussed these matters quite long, thoroughly and in detail. We also tried to write things down and understand things in the same way, so that there would be no arguments later,» said Seeder. «I cannot predict it exactly. The budget framework and the cost of the coalition agreement are, selvfølgelig, open, they will also take some time,» said the chairman of Isamaa.
«I hoped that an agreement would be reached last night,» said Läänemets. He added that there is currently no certainty in the state. «The government does not work as it should work – this has a negative effect. This is why I asked whether we should argue about this 100-euro difference in one subsidy for so long,» Läänemets admitted.
The chairman of the Social Democrats further noted that in terms of security, Estonia has not had a minister of foreign affairs for a month, and decisions regarding energy would also need to be made immediately. The same goes for construction projects which are important to the state, but have become more expensive – decisions must be made quickly here. «But it cannot be done because there is no new government. I am afraid that this price will be high for the society,» Läänemets emphasized.
Negotiations are not about questions but decisions as well
On Thursday, the technology sector sent a message through the public to the negotiators that they want a quick agreement. «We believe that now is the time to act in the interests of the Estonian state and find compromises in order to move forward in a stable manner in this very difficult economic situation. Since this government has to operate in the short time left before the election, it is clear that the parties will not be able to implement all their wishes or find funding for them,» said Juhan-Madis Pukk, president of the Estonian Association of Information Technology and Telecommunications (ITL).
«I think that all the parties of the coalition are urgently waiting for this quick solution,» said Seeder. «For us, this situation is most tense, the agenda is tighter and we want to reach an agreement. Not for bystanders and onlookers but the parties themselves,» Seeder explained.
He added that Isamaa has also made a lot of compromises for its sake. «We hope that the other parties are also ready for compromises and quick agreements,» said Seeder. But which political party is not ready for compromises? «I’m not going to make this comparison: firstly, it is subjective and secondly, it does not contribute to the negotiations,» replied the chairman of Isamaa and added that all parties had already made compromises during the negotiations.
«I’m not going to judge or reproach the potential coalition partners right now… Before the coalition is born,» Seeder emphasized.
Läänemets said that the coalition to be assembled for eight months has reached a consensus on very ambitious issues. «Actually, the exemption of the minimum wage from income tax – there was only one tax change of such scope and impact in Estonia before now. There is the nursing home reform – the state supports the elderly who go to nursing homes. Here too we shall help the people. There are a lot of things we are planning,» Läänemets added.