Su, 5.02.2023

Prime minister: What we have is a populist race

Prime minister: What we have is a populist race
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Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform Party).
Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform Party). Photo: Remo Tõnismäe

Members of the Reform Party describe coalition partner Center’s universal electricity bills compensation scheme as populist and unrealistically costly. The Center Party, looking to secure a compromise in the government on Thursday, maintains that additional support measures are needed.

Last week’s storm of indignation over sky-high December electricity bills motivated the Center Party to propose spending €170 million on paying half of everyone’s power bill on Tuesday.

The squirrels (Reform mascot – ed.) were less than keen. “We are seeing a populist race – €170 million?! We are spending €110 million on higher education funding,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told Postimees.

Answering question of what to do about pensioners who cannot afford their power bills in the Riigikogu, Kallas said that not all retired people need help. “My parents are retired and they do not need help. Automatically giving some of that money to them would mean less for someone else,” the premiere said.

“If we want to help everyone, we should start by fixing the income tax system so everyone would have the same €500 basic exemption and could decide the use of that money themselves,” Kallas countered.

Different styles

Jürgen Ligi (Reform) added that a situation where some would see thousands and others a few dozen euros in support would be abnormal. “Thousands would reach those who have opted for high energy expenses themselves,” Ligi remarked.

The Reform MP said that interest-free payments, a more efficient system for finding those in need and ways to save on energy for the middle class should be offered and sought instead. “The energy minister [Taavi Aas (Center) – ed.] will need to graduate from talking people into poverty and get to work,” Ligi stabbed.

Reform Party whip Mart Võrklaev said that the government should wait to see the effect of existing measures and concentrate on helping those who do not fit under that umbrella. “The state budget has its limits,” Võrklaev pointed out.

“Paying half of everyone’s power bill is unreal,” he said, adding that not all households and companies need support.

Võrklaev described Center’s habit of taking its ideas to the public before sitting down with its coalition partner as a different work style.

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas saw nothing wrong with publishing the party’s proposals before discussing them with Reform. Aas promised to bring a set of long-term proposals to the government on Thursday. “I think it would be best if were to discuss them first in the cabinet,” the minister said when asked to provide details.

Responding to criticism according to which a blanket support scheme would see the taxpayer also cover the power bills of the wealthy, Aas said that all compensation measures happen on the taxpayer’s dime.

However, the minister added that Center is willing to negotiate.

Center whip Jaanus Karilaid hinted that the party’s proposals manifesting in full should not be deemed realistic.

“If Reform says these proposals are unacceptable, the sensible thing to do would be to add what they think is the sensible way of helping people. We are hoping for a compromise in any case,” Karilaid said.

Opposition less than enthusiastic

Isamaa MP Priit Sibul did not rush to take Center’s proposals seriously and said that it is difficult to agree on something in a situation where one of the partners first takes its ideas to the press. “The way a coalition usually works is that partners first agree on something and then notify the public,” he said.

Conservative People’s Party (EKRE) deputy head Mart Helme said that in place of Center’s recent proposals should be solutions for years to come. “People are understandably desperate and need help post haste. Because it will take some time to teach them to fish, we need to give them one, so to speak,” Helme suggested.

Social Democratic Party (SDE) leader Indrek Saar said that the proposals have merit as they come with less red tape than the current scheme but added that the initiative will likely come to nothing.