Because the precept came from the ERJK, it is the committee’s business to monitor compliance. “If Center refuses to pay, we will fine them,” ERJK deputy head Kaarel Tarand explained. The maximum fine is €15,000 and it can be charged monthly. The committee can turn to the executive power to demand payment of the fine. “Bailiffs and corresponding procedures,” Tarand said. In other words, there is no way for Center to avoid paying the fines.
Things are more complicated when it comes to the principal debt of what is believed to be €850,000. Fines do nothing to reduce the principal amount in the case of which turning to enforcement agents is not an option for the ERJK. It is hoped that monthly fines of €15,000 will eventually motivate the party to return the sum to Pettai.
The Center Party’s financial situation has improved over the last two years. Even though the party had just €86,000 to its name at the end of 2020, it managed to pay back a lot of old debts. Center has shaken the aftermath of the Savisaar era when the party owed money to virtually everyone and was basically bankrupt. Hanimägi fired half of the party’s office staff in early 2021, saving Center over €200,000 a year in salaries alone.
While Center could probably return the money in installments over a few years, the option being off the table means it would have to take out a loan or find sponsors should its appeal fail.
However, newspaper articles asking whether Center is looking at bankruptcy have been exaggerated. The party’s finances have improved. Besides, political party bankruptcies simply do not happen in Estonia. Kaarel Tarand gave examples of how difficult it is to liquidate even microscopic parties that have long since ceased to exist. How registrars are afraid to make sudden moves when an NGO has the word “party” somewhere in its name despite the latter filing no reports, holding no meetings of members or having any actual activity.
It is relatively rare for the Supreme Court to overturn circuit court rulings. A gambling man would bet against the Center Party also in this case. But while that would constitute a blow to Center, it would not be fatal. The Pettai debt is from the Savisaar era and can easily be pinned on the former chairman. But mistakes made going forward will be the responsibility of current leaders.