Friday, June 06, 2008


Estonia's ruling coalition has been creaking along for a while now. Andrus Ansip has been PM for a very long time, but it is starting to look increasingly likely that he, like others, will fall victim to the tradition of Estonian governments never surviving from one election to the next.

Ansip's cult of personality has backfired: as the forceful, single-minded PM he now gets blamed for the country's problems, and both his coalition partners and the opposition are happy to let him burn. An economic crisis ought to be the time to shine for what is known as the party of bankers, but it seems the Reform camp is out of ideas - at least brilliant ones. Ansip's big hope was the new labour legislation, which would do away with many of the protections afforded to workers, and - by design - make Estonia more attractive for foreign investment. That bill went down in flames, because of public outrage, but I don't think it would have been much help anyway: highly skilled labour is in enough demand to largely ignore the legal provisions (I've never, in my life, drawn unemployment benefits, which were one of the main stumbling blocks in the bill), and blue-collar production would be prohibitively expensive in any case, as it would have to compete with Asia.

The opposition is even less helpful. When asked what he would do to relieve the economic crisis, the leader of the Centrist party said he would spend money - use the government's reserve, borrow cash, incur a budget deficit - but doesn't really say anything useful in terms of what he would spend the money on. Reform may not be doing as well as people expect it to, but at least they're scrambling to preserve the balanced budget.

Now the squabbling among the coalition parties is getting more intense. The coalition agreement involved a minor point about winding down the shale mining; it's a useful natural resource for Estonia, but massively bad for the environment. Instead, Reform went and pushed a bill through parliament that allowed one particular company extra mining rights.

The remarkable thing isn't that Reform went back on its campaign promises - because let's face it, politicians - but that it went against its coalition partners. Previously, any bill that the government sent off to the parliament had to be approved unanimously by the entire cabinet. Now Reform went it alone, and specifically against heavy criticism from IRL and the Social Democrats.

The latter did not waste time responding: their intention is to punish Reform by passing a bill that would outlaw sales of alcohol across Estonia from 10 pm to 10 am. This has long been an IRL project, opposed vigorously by the Reform ministers. Now IRL and SDE say they will enlist the help of the Centrists to get the votes they need.

A sign of a possible coalition breakdown and a new IRL-SDE-Centrist bloc? Maybe - except Reform doesn't have the majority in parliament. The mining bill was passed with 54 votes (out of a total of 101 MPs). And thanks to the wonders of E-stonia, we know who did. We have 5 non-voters (two Reform - front-benchers Igor Gräzin and Jürgen Ligi, one Centrist, one IRL and one independent) and one abstained (Centrist).

The breakdown of the yeas:
26 Reform
22 Centrist
6 People's Union (all of them)

And the neas:
15 IRL (all but four, three were not at the hearing, one was there but didn't vote)
8 SDE (all but two, who were not at the hearing)
5 Greens (all but one, who was not at the hearing)

So Reform's coalition mates were against the bill, joined by the unaffiliated Greens (who are not quite so incompetent as to support a mining bill). Reform's support in pushing the bill through? The same Centrists and their lapdog People's Union who are now giddily helping IRL get back at the PM with the alcohol bill.

I despair.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The company that received the additional mining rights uses a process that is nowhere near as efficient.

It also results in semi-coke, which is a nasty carcinogenic byproduct that can contaminate groundwater for centuries.

Estonia has another process used in Eesti Põlevkivi that produces only ash. Most of the organic content in the semi-coke gets vaporized and distilled. The level of air pollution is also lower. The only reason that the oil yield is the same in the dirty process, is that the shale has to be enriched before processing.


| More