“The cup has long been full; it is already dripping into the bucket,” a high-ranking Center Party member told Postimees. This sentence concerns the statements of EKRE politicians, which, contrary to the expectations, have not changed after joining the government.
The number of Center members holding this opinion has been increasing recently and several politicians, who hoped back in spring that EKRE can change, are now admitting that it does not seem to be happening.
Minister of State Administration Jaak Aab said in a radio interview to Äripäev that if the embarrassment caused by scandals will continue, essentially good cooperation might not be sufficient. Minister of social affairs Tanel Kiik told Postimees that more emphasis should be placed on practical activities, also hinting that it is time for action rather than words.
The question is where the prime minister’s party would draw the line. In fact, the Center Party just had a perfect opportunity for breaking up the coalition. Nothing would have been more self-evident for a party born in the wind of the “singing revolution” to state that having a coalition partner term the epoch as “mass hysteria” is quite unacceptable and no further cooperation is possible. Yet the cooperation continues.
On the other hand, the Center Party leaders have repeatedly hinted that the line is there and that EKRE has come close to it. The public statements of several Center leaders, including the premier, have been much more vigorous recently. But the line is drawn somewhere else than the content and strength of the EKRE leaders’ statements. The length of the partners’ patience largely depends on the financial situation of the state.
The spring debate of the national budget strategy largely failed to reach important agreements because the state’s finances were quite insufficient for major spending.
After having lowered the alcohol excise the government sat back to wait for the new economic indicators. These should be provided by the Ministry of Finance’s summer economic forecast, which would be announced early in September. It would make clear what kind of promises, i.e. expenses, can be entered in next year’s budget.
If the figures should show that next year’s budget does not allow the Center Party realize any important promises made to its voters, there will be few reasons for the party to tolerate further cooperation with EKRE. Especially since everything seems to indicate that this party is not going to amend its conduct.
But if the budget opens some opportunities, the Center Party will have a good position to demand maybe more than was initially agreed upon. After all, EKRE has received its reduction of alcohol excise and has managed to improve ratings via its rhetoric, while the ratings of the partners have declined. If the budget permits the Center Party to answer EKRE’s words by actions and keeping its promises, their patience can last longer.
If the public may have the opinion that the patience should have run out long ago, the inside picture is somewhat different. Center Party sees that the EKRE ministers have been constructive behind closed doors and have remained silent on some issues which the party had earlier vigorously discussed – e.g. the Russians in Estonia. All that has given reason for hope.
But EKRE itself has no reasons for changing its public rhetoric and they have admitted as much. The party’s rating is going up and their position actually allows them slam their coalition partners. “I would be really sorry for the Center Party if it should become a poodle of the Reform Party, since this would mean an end to their party,” EKRE chairman Mart Helme said in his speech at the party’s summer meeting. Several Center members took this as a direct attack.
Helme hinted at rumors floated over the weekend that the Center and Reform parties are already negotiating over the forming of a new government. Both parties are adamant that there are no actual talks, although meetings have occurred. Obviously, the Reform members use every opportunity to convince the Centrists break up the coalition and form a new one with them, no matter whether the meetings are agreed upon or accidental.
The Reform Party considers the rumors about the new government a Center spin aimed at forcing EKRE to back down. The Center Party in turn views it as a Reform Party campaign, which should split up the coalition.
However, an old political wisdom says that a government is not broken up before a new one has been formed. Therefore, if the state’s financial situation should show that the government is going to break up, a new coalition must be agreed upon before reaching that point. If so, the drafting of the state budget will leave ample opportunities for breaking up the coalition in the coming autumn.