Sven Mikser says coalition will live long

Argo Ideon
, poliitika- ja majandus­­analüütik
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Photo: Toomas Huik / Postimees

Social Democratic Party chairman and defence minister Sven Mikser (40) hopes soc dems and Reform Party will again form government in 2015. One led by him.

Disappointed you didn’t become foreign minister?

Not at all. Me being defence minister now and 12 years ago is very different, in two aspects. First: back then, I jumped into water, headlong, in an unknown place, now I knew people and issues. Secondly: then I became defence minister with all that I had, now I will have to also lead the party towards elections. That [the election part – edit] will surely be easier from a familiar house, not being in an office where half the time is spent on planes.

Defence ministry has come to be the ministry, in Estonia, led by chairman of the coalition partner. I’m the third party chief running, here; so, surely nobody can claim that the defence minister job is not dignified somehow.

How many people are there in the house who were there while you first were defence minister?

There are some. The closer to the top, the more. Chancellor Mikk Marran was here even before I was minister for my first time. Surely, he’s one of the best chancellors in this government.

The current Commander of the Defence Forces, Riho Terras, I also know him from my first term. I first met him at the 2002 Munich security conference, while he was attaché in Germany.

IRL is determined to call you «provisional government». How provisional is it?

To my knowledge, no government so far has turned out permanent. After Riigikogu elections, a new government will come.

Considering that Centre Party is in a bind and their ability to cooperate quite limited, then the more steadfast IRL is in getting puffed up and plays against Reform Party first and the entire government in the broader sense, the smaller their chances to get into the next government. By that, the current coalition may be made to last longer than the time left till elections.

Reform Party has usually thrown out if coalition the partner that becomes too strong; or has weakened that one in run up to elections and heaped bad news on it. A bit like Angela Merkel did to the liberals, in Germany, who didn’t even get to parliament the last time. Don’t you fear something like that would happen to you soc dems?

No such fear. The logic you mentioned, we have not failed to notice it. Reform Party has made itself to be the so-called inevitable coalition partner. My respect: they have been crafty political technologists and have grasped the situations. But at times they’ve read the situations wrong. 

In the current situation it may happen that the soc dems are rather more inevitable coalition partner when it comes to whatever coalition – more than Reform Party. But I would not exclude that the next coalition will again be formed between Social Democrats and Reform Party, and then, I believe, it will already be under the soc dem leadership.

You predict you’ll win the Riigikogu elections?

Makes no sense for me to predict the next election results. That’s like a sportsman predicting his place at the next World Cup. It’s his business to train well and be fit to compete. It’s my business to work for the result to be as good as possible. If the result is as good as possible, then election victory is realistic for the soc dems. 

The provisional government badge seems fitting, realising that Ivari Padar comes from Brussels to be agricultural minister; but immediately he’ll be trying to get back there via EU elections. A bit funny?

In Estonian politics, there lately is an interesting trend: politicians are reproved for desiring to run at elections. Running, of course, isn’t the main job of a politician; even so, it is one of their tasks. Without running one won’t get elected.

Ivari Padar’s wish to run at EU elections was known long before the current coalition started to be formed. Agriculture is the most Pan-European sector of the economy. There, most of the decisions and agreement take place for the whole Europe. For Ivari Padar, it is important for agriculture to be a topic in the elections campaign. That it would just be beating about the bush, but about what is decided in Europe.

Probably, Mr Padar’s decision whether to continue in the government or head for the European parliament will also depend on how strong his mandate will be.

How do you feel about Andrus Ansip’s decision to run?

Figaro here, Figaro there. Over this past month, Reform party has had to make lots of hasty decisions. Their strategy-backrooms have burned lots of midnight oil to think what to do, who to move and where, who to have as replacement.

Is it the kind of battle of mammoths as Postimees wrote?

With all respect to his longevity as Prime Minister, I do not think that Andrus Ansip is a parliament guy. Not been in Estonia. Won’t be in Europe. I believe he needs this as something provisional, and is trying by being well-known to secure the place for someone else. 

I’ve been thinking that it would be highly exciting to hear Siim Kallas and Marju Lauristin discuss the European future and Estonia’s place in Europe. Even more exciting if Edgar Savisaar dares join in. I don’t think Mr Ansip would add much to the debate.

You’ve agreed with Reform Party that Mr Ansip is Estonia’s next EU commissioner?

Should he not see his future, over the next five years, in the European Parliament, then I guess yes.

According to the coalition agreement, the commissioner-to-be needs to be discussed in Riigikogu. In what form will that happen?

We desired it to be discussed in the hall. The decision itself is in the power of the government, and its majority

In European countries, the governments decode. As members of the commission are also «grilled» before the European Parliament, our coalition partner was worried that if the parliament [Riigikogu – edit] would decide, a conflict might emerge.

Right now, it is agreed that a commissioner candidate appears before Riigikogu, presents his vision, and the parliamentarians can ask him questions. But there will be no voting. Surely this is a better situation than the government quietly deciding the issue, all by itself.

European soc dems candidate for president of the European Commission is the European Parliament head Martin Schulz, under whose leadership European soc dems in 2010 entered into cooperation agreement with Viktor Yanukovych’ party in Ukraine. How’s that feel now?

Had we been as now, years ago, surely there’d been no handshakes, no signatures, and no photos. I just had a look that as recently as last week, there were pretty pictures on the Stenbock House walls of how Estonian prime minister hosted President Yanukovych – not too long ago, much later than the European soc dems and party of Regions agreement was entered. Now, party of Regions has itself kicked out its one-time leader and the former president.

But Mr Schulz is an excellent candidate for president of the European Commission. He has been much more seen than many of his predecessors. I know him personally and therefore I dare say he is also a great friend of Estonia.

In the power agreement, the most remarkable item must surely be – for the soc dems – the child benefit rise. Still, it’s not as big as you used to demand in your bills?

In 2015 budget already, child benefits will rise to €45. Soc dems are going to the next parliamentary elections to ask for the mandate to raise fist and second child benefit to €60. We haven’t buried the goal. A raise of more than €25 after the benefit has stayed flat for 11 years, that’s surely remarkable.

You promise pay raise to all civil servants, but won’t name numbers. Why?

In principle, this is the desire to underline that civil servants need to be esteemed. The wage numbers will be clarified during the budget process. We definitely would like to avoid juggling with numbers, as we have seen with the teachers’ wage rises topic – as the situation demands, they have talked about teachers on minimum wage rate (the bigger number) or salary fund growth (a number many times smaller). Those who hear develop a nice expectation, followed by huge disappointment. We’d like to only promise what reaches the people, in the end.

In recent Estonian history, Urve Palo seems to be the only minister who has managed to make a mess in her domain even before stepping into office. How did she attain to that?

As we look at what all has been happening with Estonian Air over the years, then I think that the sentence by Urve Palo which didn’t come out the best, in an interview, is almost nothing to that backdrop – looking back now, after a little while. Naturally, getting used to be minister takes a little time, and being more careful with one’s words.

The Estonian Air situation has been complicated for a long time. It’s no secret that European Commission decision on whether the state aid to Estonian Air is compatible with EU rules is yet to come. On that decision hangs Estonian Air’s future.

At the same time, it is clear that the Estonian Air leadership has tried hard to follow the new business plan. The new business plan is less ambitious than several earlier ones. There’s surely reason enough to be critical when it comes to earlier Estonian Air staff policy, the choice of top managers, and sponsorship policy. These all have affected Estonian Air’s wellbeing much more, I think, dozens of times more, then the Urve Palo interview.

I think that Urve Palo will do all so that the air company would be preserved; and that, in any case, the opportunity would be there to fly to vital destinations from Estonia.

Ms Palo may have attempted to point to the Estonian Air problems dating back to the previous minister; but she really pressed the pedal too hard to the metal.

People learn as long as they live. An encouraging message is needed, that Estonian state will do all in order to help, within Estonian Air’s means and EU rules. That’s the message to be spread by all, both minister and Estonian Air management. As we look at the Estonian Air management’s message after Urve Palo’s interview, I dare say – while remaining diplomatic and polite – that this was not always aimed to pacify and encourage clients, either.

Sometimes one wonders if, already now, a culprit is being sought for the possible bankruptcy of Estonian Air.

I would not use that word. I hope the government, the ministry and the company itself will do everything to continue, to cope with the situation and be sustainable in the future. I don’t think that’s impossible. Whatever the European Commission decides, we do not know today. Probably, nobody knows in Estonia; but all parties would be obliged to act responsibly.

When will Estonian soldiers fly to Central African Republic?

There’s bee several conferences on creating the contingent, but initially the mission was stuck. Now, the contingent has been successfully formed. The last political decisions were made last week. I believe the mission will start within weeks.

As Estonian parliament granted the mandate for four months; and the period ends with August, then – provided the Estonian unit flies this month – we will be able to fully complete our rotation. 

The flight date is set?

No. Up to now, this was held back by lack of all EU competencies. Now, the blanks have been filled. Now, every role is covered. Just some technicalities remain.