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Rõivas: background to decisions needs more explanation

Peaminister Taavi Rõivas annab Postimehe ajakirjanikule Tuuli Kochile intervjuud. PHOTO: Erik Prozes / Postimees

Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas thinks the sharp criticism by Reform Party honorary chairman Siim Kallas towards the current party is not justified. Focussing on success at elections, Mr Rõivas promises generous support to large families.

What were your feelings while reading the interview with Siim Kallas in Eesti Päevaleht today (yesterday – edit), one extremely critical towards Reform Party?

There were thoughts in what Mr Kallas said that are quite substantiated. Regarding some issues, we have also discussed at the board that some certain things could have been done otherwise, but I definitely do not agree with the part where it says that the party is not heeding to criticism.

We were talking with Jürgen (Ligi – edit) today (yesterday – edit) in the morning and Jürgen, who has been a minister both in the times of Siim and Andrus (Ansip – edit) said that the situation is exactly the opposite. We have become [a party management] discussing things between ourselves much more. Within the board or Riigikogu faction, the essential things are very well discussed but, yes, there is definitely room when it comes to explaining background of decisions to members of the party. And that also to members as prominent as Siim Kallas who, however, has not been involved in active politics lately.

As Andrus Ansip arrived at the unerring feeling at his sixth or seventh year in power, you developed it in eight months. Why?

Objectively speaking – wherein is this expressed? To the contrary. We are thoroughly discussing all the matters of principle.

Yes, with Eerik-Niiles Kross the discussion could verily have been broader, take more time. But when it comes to my choices of staff, then so thorough a talk with board members as when selecting the foreign minister ... as far as I know, we may never ever had [such a deep discussion] before. I talked on that for half an hour with every board member, going through every possible aspect.

What was there to discuss for so long? Basically, Keit Pentus-Rosimannus was settled.

I posed to everyone an open question, who might be the foreign minister. With the appointing of Maris Lauri as finance minister, [I was] in a great hurry and I do admit I did that in a manner rather authoritarian. I said this is the way it is now and I expect to be supported. Therefore, we took a little longer with appointing the foreign minister as I felt that with the appointment of the finance minister I may have acted too authoritarian perhaps.

And it’s also not wrong that well as a team leader I must find the balance, that there’d be new members, new people, new energy, and at the same time it is my responsibility as team-leader to also appreciate the pillars of the party. Those that have worked long, who are Riigikogu faction members. There was also the variant of Rein Lang agreeing to return to a ministerial seat, but to many the current solution seemed every whit logical.

All right. Thus, the criticism that the decisions are only taken in inner circle, in the back room, is not ...

Yes, there are issues that require a very fast and firm hand, ands when deciding the chairman of the party talks to secretary-general only. But these are not matters of principle. The matters of principle are discussed with the board, the members of the faction, the members of the government. All in all, with more than 50 people who form the active core.

Back to the unerring thing … Some suggest that while the soc dems did their Tammsaare campaign purposefully seeking to stir an intrigue and scandal, it never even occurred to Reform Party to doubt whether it is fitting for a party to stroll down the Ämari Airbase runway. That this is your attitude: we create the norms.

That’s not quite so. The advertisers who had the idea run into a question: can one film there at all? They asked and the permission was granted. By that, the issue was settled.

I have not desired to criticise whether defence minister Sven Mikser did something wrong or not when saying that other parties may not go there to film, but I personally would not have issued the ban as I know that the Defence Forces, at least the Air Force, proposed that all ought to have equal conditions.  

This can be turned into such a matter of principle, but the problem would have been toned down if we had a clear, transparent set of rules how and if at all Defence Forces’ objects may be used. The authors of the ad have been publicly berated and I as the one involved in the clip have been criticised the most, but at the same time, as they went and asked and got the permission, then I cannot totally condemn them either.

During the Ansip times, Reform Party turned into a people’s party, you are continuing with that. And as we agreed the interview with you yesterday (the day before yesterday – edit), we had it as our aim to actually talk about the people, our continued existence. Once more, returning to the criticism by Mr Kallas – he thinks that Reform Party should more forcefully adhere to the principles of liberal market economy. How, and whether, to bring this back?

We have always had a very strong liberal backbone in the party. And it’s the same now.

When Siim was prime minister, we had a very hot discussion in the party before the 2003 elections, what were the largest challenges the society was facing and how to solve these. By the way, with Jürgen Ligi as engine, we arrived to the conclusion that with parental benefit it is possible to provide families with a feeling of security and to create a hope for turning Estonian population into growth again. Looking back, the birth-rate did a considerable jolt upwards and, in 2010, a miracle happened – natural increase was even a little pit in the positive –, but now it is negative again.

Thinking further ahead than the four-year election cycle, there is the matter of principle, whether we will remain as a nation, whether we are a growing or a shrinking nation. Whether we accept the demographic developments as something inevitable or try to break these.

How to break these?

We need a step that would make people think, a shaking step, so that we would have more children.

First of all, we need to deal with childcare as there simply aren’t enough kindergarten places for all; and the second [thing] we arrived at was that we need to significantly increase support for such families that have three children or more. With that, we need to send a clear signal that the third child is very much welcome in the family, very much needed. That a child is not just a joy to the family, but it is also very important that, in a beautiful dream, we would still be a growing nation. We decided to forcefully raise child allowance since the third child.

We calculated and calculated and we arrived at [the conclusion] that this year’s €100 allowance needs to be tripled, thus sending the signal that as the parental benefit ends, the families with many children will not run into economic difficulty.

So $300 a month?

Yes, €300 a month starting with the third child after the parental benefit period runs out. I hope that after this allowance there will no longer be three children in every tenth family, as now, but ... I want to hope that three children would become a positive norm in the Estonian society.

The plan is not risk-free and the opponents will surely criticise that this is too generous, but unless we undertake something grand we will not break the natural increase trend. This is intentionally setting a national goal. That we would remain after centuries, and that we would have who to bequeath the state to.

How much will the step cost?

Yes, it is costly, this is almost €70m in additional expenditure in 2019. But if we would raise allowance for every child by about €20, the cost would be almost the same.

Our plan is not so much to go by the social benefit approach, but by what would help bring three children into Estonian families. First and foremost, this is to support such families as have two children and who are considering the third. This is a goal of principle, for the nation to continue.