Migration pact escapes deadlock

Riigikogu istung.

PHOTO: Erik Prozes / Postimees

The plan of the Center Party and the Social Democrat Party (SDE) to finally swallow the tough mouthful that is the UN migration pact proved successful yesterday evening – the Riigikogu approved a declaration in favor of Estonia joining the compact without the Reform Party. The result was influenced by PM Jüri Ratas’ statement from yesterday morning that he is prepared to put the framework to a vote in the government.

The statement constituted a 180-degree turn in terms of willingness to decide the matter in the cabinet. Ratas had until then maintained that the government would not decide without three-way consensus.

“The government’s position is about as clear and transparent as variable direction traffic on Gonsiori street,” Reform Party MP Kristen Michal said in the parliament yesterday. But Ratas’ about-turn did secure support for the pact in the Riigikogu while putting the Reform Party in a position where it could not support it.

The aim of Center and SDE was to avoid a situation where the decision would be bounced back to the government. The latter was sought by Reform when it said it would only vote in favor of the Riigikogu declaration if the final decision was left with the government.

The Reform Party knew that their proposal had the support of most of the opposition. The wildcard going into the vote was coalition partner Pro Patria that has positioned itself against Estonia joining the framework. Despite rumors Pro Patria politicians would have been on board with Reform’s motion to amend, the party’s MPs said they never considered anything of the sort.

Pro Patria not forced to support the pact

Sending the pact back to the government would not have served Pro Patria’s interest of Estonia not joining. Their representative in the Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee, Mart Nutt, had remained impartial concerning Reform’s proposal.

“Parties that support bouncing the decision back to the government are in favor of Estonia joining because they know the balance of power there,” Pro Patria leader Helir-Valdor Seeder said yesterday, suggesting Pro Patria would not join the supporters.

Center and SDE still saw danger that the pact could end up back on the government’s table. This led Ratas to announce he is prepared to vote in the government. This would have left Pro Patria alone and forced a decision of whether to leave the government. While the party does not want that, it would have been difficult to explain to their voters.

Therefore, a situation where Reform’s proposal to send the decision back to the government would fail suited all three coalition partners. That is just what happened after eight hours of deliberation and voting. The motion to amend was voted off the agenda 43:52. The Reform Party stuck to its guns and its MPs refused to vote on the declaration to support Estonia joining the UN framework.

Center and SDE’s votes were enough to pass the declaration with a simple majority. Chairman of the Riigikogu fixed the result at 41:27.

Center and SDE emerge victorious

Politicians now find themselves in a situation where Center and SDE are where they want to be – the parliament has supported joining the migration pact. This means that support for the framework has been secured even without a government decision, and that the country’s representative can voice support for it in Morocco in early December.

Pro Patria was not forced to give an inch, while Ratas did not have to hold a vote that would have forced Pro Patria to decide whether to leave the government. Pro Patria politicians can say that while they remained determined, their point of view lost out in the Riigikogu.

Coalition partners can now point their fingers at Reform’s decision not to take a stand on the pact, after the party had emphasized the importance of joining a mere week before. Seeder pointed this out immediately after the vote.

Reform Party leader Kaja Kallas said the government basically failed a vote of confidence as less than half of the Riigikogu supported the declaration. “Had our motions to amend been supported, we would have supported the declaration. The right thing to do would be to put joining the framework to vote in the government,” Kallas said.

PM Jüri Ratas was adamant in his statement from yesterday evening. “I have said on numerous occasions that we will base whether to support the UN global compact on migration on the Riigikogu declaration. I respect and welcome the parliament’s decision to support the global migration framework.” There will not be another vote.