Rõivas: backrooms a thing of the past

Taavi Rõivas.

PHOTO: Martin Ilustrumm

In interview to Postimees, prime minister and Reform chief Taavi Rõivas rejected claims about a circle of puppeteers making main decisions in his party – he says backrooms have no room in contemporary politics.

How would you comment on the claim that Reform is in internal tensions as the board takes all the decisions between themselves, the rest of the party only hearing about it via media?

Obviously, in any organisation there is room for even greater openness. I think that the board members need to explain more. Some people who have spoken out have themselves been in active roles. Perhaps, they all have reason to see about what options we have.

The criticism that during coalition talks all participants were too closed-up is true. This caused frustration in media and via that also in the public. When there is too much arguing going on while assuming that the public would still understand, criticism is easy to ensue.

Who was it who decided that the coalition talks should be closed-up?

The problem was that, the first couple of weeks it was not clear with whom it was possible to form the government and with whom not. It was difficult to present some things as decisions while we knew that one participant was hesitant about coming into government. They were honest about it and said they hesitated. That caused a lot of uncertainly in the atmosphere. It’s like discussing a topic but while it is not certain if the participants would come into the government anyhow, it would be premature to talk about these.

As we were putting together the state budget strategy we learned from that and did publicly discuss even the topics that had not yet been formulated as decisions. We were describing that these are our options, whether to cancel part of the fuel excise rise and replace it with a slightly faster alcohol and tobacco excise rise, or do it the other way round. We talked about the potions with other topics. That helped trigger a public discussion. We may say that when state budget strategy was being shaped, the discussion was more constructive.

May it then be said that the fewness of words was proposed by you?

I can’t say I proposed it. Rather, it was the common feeling of the participants that we were unable to talk about things while we did not know if they were going to really happen. That was because one of the parties was wavering.

Was that the Soc Dems?

No, it was when we were four of us around the table. Then, one party put it plain: they were not sure if they’d join the government. When three of us remained, I guess it was noticeable that the tempo of the talks picked up speed.

Even then, obviously even more information could have been shared publicly. But the days dragged long and towards the end we did not have the energy to communicate all that we had argued about well enough. It must be admitted this was a mistake; it must be admitted, that while putting together the state budget we communicated better. I believe explanations always are beneficial rather than harmful.

All politicians must be prepared to explain to people such decisions which are not popular at first glance. We know that lion’s share of what the coalition does, be it lowering of labour taxes, raising child benefit, increased investments into national defence or fixing the border [with Russia] are positive. Parallel to what’s positive, we also need to explain why it is important to shift taxation from labour taxes to harmful consumption including tobacco and alcohol. Things like that need to be explained. If we say that vodka will become more expensive, some people may grumble; but when we explain that less tax will be taken from their income and we desire to curb excessive consumption of vodka, it is explicitly understood.

How do you comment the claim that Reform Party features the so-called puppeteer circle, including Kristen Michal and Rain Rosimannus?

These comments I have seen coming from people who are rather distant regarding party business. Such myths tend to be fed by people who have publicly said they have other political preferences. They tend to amplify the painting of the ghost, so to speak. I can assure you this talk has no basis.

We have a very clear system indeed how decisions are taken. At [parliamentary] faction meetings, all weightier topics related to state governance are discussed. Also, ministers belonging to Reform Party convene together with advisers, to discuss the agenda of the government. Also, once every two weeks the Reform Party board convenes to discuss all important political topics. This is open to members and it is always possible there to ask about all topics.

I was just reading the in the memoirs of Mart Laar where he said that back then backroom was necessary and substantiated, as the state was young and decisions had to be made fast and with little discussion. In my eyes, backrooms have no place in today’s times, there is no need for them and all topics can be operatively discussed between us. We have no backroom neither is there any need for it whatsoever. We have ample opportunity to argue about these things both at the faction and among members of the government.