Skattereform och dubbla medborgarskap på agendan inför det estniska parlamentsvalet

3 mars är det parlamentsval i Estland. Vi har ställt några frågor till Airis Meier, internationell sekreterare för Reformpartiet, ett av Centerpartiets systerpartier, och kandidat i Tartu.

Med en månad kvar till valet är det styrande Estniska Centerpartiet störst med ca 33 procents stöd. Oppositionspartiet Reformpartiet är näst störst med runt 25 procent, och det nationalkonservativa Estlands konservativa folkparti (EKRE) är tredje största parti med 17 procent.

With the election fast approaching, what are the most important issues for the Estonian voters?

As in most places, Estonians are mostly concerned about the general costs of living, accessibility to health care. The tax system also returned to the agenda as the current government changed the very well-functioning flat rate tax system to something so complicated that it has caused confusion for tax payers and also increased the actual tax burden. This harms the Estonian economy and citizens’ payment moral. The sudden and rocketing alcohol tax has caused over 300 million euros loss of tax revenue towards Latvia. We love Latvians but this gift is a bit too pricey. We must bring this money back and stop experimenting with tax policy.

What are the most significant conflicts in the election?

Apart from the classical conflict over political leadership and economic policy between the two main parties, another priority has emerged. This is the controversial issue of dual citizenship for Estonians by birth. Earlier on, a legislative proposal by Reform Party to remove the constitutional contradiction and to allow double citizenship for Estonians by birth was voted down in Parliament. This was a hit to the large Estonian community abroad. It has since become a major issue in the public debate and also raised the general question whether Estonia is a closed society as the national conservatives would like it to see or to fight for an open society. These are my main battles and as an Estonian living abroad myself, I will not stop fighting for it.

The issue of ethnicity has landed in the political arena of education. After 27 years it’s time to stop feeding the manipulated argument of discrimination based on language and do something about it. We have a great conflict here with the Estonian Centre Party. The reality is, and the analyses confirm it, that the pupils who graduate the Russian speaking schools are worse off as their education level is about one year behind from the average pupil who graduate the Estonian language school. Additionally, those pupils often don’t master the state official language which automatically put them on more unfortunate situation on the labour market. It has been the fight for years for equal opportunities for all Estonian residents. We hope we will find sufficient support this time to make the change happen.

Which are the most important issues for the Reform Party campaign?

To my satisfaction, the issue of dual citizenship has become one big issue for Reform, next to revoking the unsuccessful tax reform and improving access to healthcare. As always, the general demographic development of the country and happy families are priority for us. Also this time we try to take one more step forward providing help where it’s needed, may it be for young families or single pensioners. Education issues as described above are high on our agenda. Generally, the party focuses on taking back the leadership and offering common sense and an economic vision instead of the current government’s terrible track on these issues.

In Estonia, like in most of Europe, recent years have seen a Eurosceptic right-wing populist party rising in the polls. How has this affected the political landscape of Estonia? What are the attitudes of other parties towards EKRE? In Sweden the attitudes towards the right-wing populist party recently caused a record-long period of negotiations before a government could be formed. Is there a risk for similar complications in Estonia?

The rise of the right-wing nationalist party EKRE has awoken radical minds in Estonia as in many other countries. It offers simple solutions for complex problems like many other irresponsible political movements. Their current strong polling will undoubtedly make coalition-building more challenging. The party is not only Eurosceptic but also is clearly driven by racist anti-immigration sentiments. Reform has taken a clear stand ruling out a cooperation with this type of politics. Some other parties have done the same but not the leading government party and that makes me very concerned.

Like other post-Soviet states, Estonia has a significant Russian-speaking minority population. Have there been any signs of Russian activity to stir up unrest or division along ethnic or cultural lines in Estonia, as has been seen elsewhere in Europe?

First, I must make it clear that it wasn’t Soviet Estonia but it was Estonia as a sovereign country that was occupied by soviet forces for over 50 years. That is a big difference. Inevitably, there are still some pro-occupation sentiments left in the country (mainly in the east) and there is a constant attempt by Kremlin to use this group of people to interfere in Estonia’s political life. The big problem is the propaganda that is coming through the borders and Russian media that is freely accessible in the east part of Estonia. The only solution to win back people from such malicious propaganda is to make sure that all state financed education is based on common study materials, liberal-democratic values and state language. For years the pro-Kremlin political forces have used the argument of minority rights to keep the Russian speaking people living in Estonia in a different media sphere and closed bubble. This must end and the easiest way to engage people is to offer quality based education that allows all citizens to be part of Estonian society. Over 70% of Russian speaking families are supporting an education system based fully on Estonian language.