Center and SDE trying to outmaneuver Pro Patria

Jüri Ratas käis õhtupoolikul presidendi juures valitsuskriisi arutamas.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

While heads of the three coalition parties told journalists they had not found a solution after more than four hours of deliberations on Sunday, there was a plan. It had allegedly been hatched already on Saturday. True, it was not a common plan as it sees Center and SDE try to outmaneuver their coalition partner Pro Patria. The ploy will only work with support from opposition leader the Reform Party whose members found themselves over a barrel yesterday, before coming up with a clever plan of their own.

Social Democrat Party (SDE) leader Jevgeni Ossinovski and Center Party chairman Jüri Ratas realized on Sunday that Pro Patria cannot be brought around on the UN migration compact or convinced to sacrifice Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu. Neither Center nor SDE want the government to collapse, while Center does not want to throw out Pro Patria. A vote in the government would mean the end of the coalition.

A vote in the Riigikogu would not. A positive outcome would serve as clear grounds on which to move forward with the UN migration pact, seeing as the parliament is the government’s employer. While Pro Patria would reserve the right to remain opposed, a Riigikogu decision is a Riigikogu decision.

Sure enough, Pro Patria voiced displeasure over the plan. Chairman Helir-Valdor Seeder said that even though the party has always supported handing important decisions over to the parliament, the aim of the move at hand is to ignore the government’s decision not to support the migration compact.

“The entire point of SDE’s proposal is to bypass Pro Patria’s opposition in the government. In a situation where the foreign minister (SDE – ed.) first tried to avoid the debate moving into the parliament, it is now sought to bypass the government’s position,” Seeder said.

No three readings necessary

SDE wasted no time yesterday. The party presented the UN migration pact to the Riigikogu in the form of a declaration. Unlike draft legislation, the latter does not need three readings on the floor where one is enough. The theoretical possibility to hold a vote came and went yesterday. For example, the Riigikogu entered into proceedings and voted on the declaration in support of Ukraine on March 5, 2014.

Things did not move as fast this time. Ratas said the declaration could reach the floor on Thursday, a day after the second reading of the state budget. The declaration moved to the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday that will have to decide when it will reach the floor. The situation is made interesting by the fact the opposition has the upper hand in the committee. It now depends mainly on the Reform Party when the declaration will be put to the vote.

This reveals the Achilles’ heel of SDE and Center’s plan – the Reform Party. The coalition partners put Reform over a barrel by bringing the debate into the Riigikogu: the opposition leader has supported the migration compact on numerous occasions, while it is not looking to support the current government.

Reform was split yesterday: some members of the party felt that SDE’s declaration should be supported, while others believed it to be a good opportunity to hurt the government. Chairman Kaja Kallas evaded questions of how Reform would vote in interviews. Kallas met Ossinovski yesterday, allegedly to discuss Reform’s conundrum.

To try and bring the Reform Party “back into the fold”, Deputy Chairman of the Riigikogu Enn Eesmaa (Center) said that the Reform Party would be abandoning its recent foreign policy course by failing to support the compact.

Plan not to be utilized

The Reform Party knew what it had to do by yesterday afternoon. The plan has been described to Postimees as follows: as was said, the Reform Party cannot support the government and help Ratas solve the crisis, but it also cannot be against supporting the migration pact. Remaining neutral over SDE’s declaration would also help Ratas.

But there is another way: to ruin the extraordinary sitting scheduled for Thursday. All it would take would be for the opposition to not show up along with Pro Patria. A sitting cannot be held if there are not at least 51 delegates present at roll call.

While this would not make the declaration disappear, it would postpone deliberation until the next scheduled Riigikogu sitting. The problem this would pose for SDE and Center is the fact there are no sittings next week, meaning that the next opportunity to discuss the declaration would come on December 3. That in turn is a mere week away from someone having to fly to Morocco to support the compact or not.

However, it turned out that the opposition and Pro Patria will not need this plan. The Board of the Riigikogu and the foreign affairs committee decided to give MPs until Friday to present proposals to amend, despite Center and SDE seeking an earlier deadline. This means that Reform has begun slowing things down. It seemed clear by yesterday that the declaration will not reach the floor before December 3.

The coalition will head into its next touchstone tomorrow with the second reading of the state budget bill. It is to be expected Reform will try to disrupt the process and have the budget thrown out. Their chance of success depends on the level of unity in the coalition.