President of the Riigikogu, members of the Riigikogu, people of Estonia,
The well-known desktop toy that consists of a series of suspended metal balls is called Newton's cradle. I'm sure you have seen such a device and maybe even tried it out yourself. When a sphere at one end is lifted and released, it delivers its momentum and energy to the next sphere, which in turn transmits force to the next one and so on, until the last sphere in the row lifts up, even if the ones in the middle don't seem to move one bit.
The country that Estonia is in 2015 has been shaped by ourselves and our predecessors. Impulses from the past serve as impetus for future processes. And just like the metal spheres of Newton's cradle, the decisions reached in this hall often shape the history of a much more distant future than we can even imagine. Each new Government and Riigikogu can take up from where the last one left off.
At the beginning of the coalition talks, all of the parties that came together decided that the coalition agreement should be drawn up in an altogether new manner. We decided to ask ourselves about the most vital processes for Estonia that we wish to initiate or finalise during the term of this Government. We did not write down programmes by chapter; instead, we formulated the great challenges that Estonia faces.
These form the primary goals of this Government, from which all of the actions of the Government will proceed.
Our first great challenge is to ensure an even better defence of Estonia.
The past year has been difficult in terms of our national security. However, it has also proven the validity of our political and practical choices and has provided the best protection for Estonia. The challenges that have emerged in relation to the overall increase in Russia's aggressiveness and directly in connection with the aggression against Ukraine continue to affect our country – not just in the next four years, but unfortunately in the long term.
In order to guarantee the continued existence of our country today, tomorrow and for many future generations to come, the Government formed by the Social Democratic Party, the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica and the Reform Party will carry on with a determined, unified and deliberate security and national defence policy.
We will continue to apply a broad understanding of national defence to make sure that society as a whole is able to resist an attack, that we are capable of quickly resolving hybrid conflicts, that our society is cohesive and that we are well prepared in the event of an information war.
For that purpose, we will continue to bring better order to the legislation on national defence and will move forward with the planning of broad national defence to gain a better understanding of the available national resources and the role of each one of us in the practical implementation of national defence. The dissemination of knowledge and best practices in the field of national defence is also essential. The coalition agreement provides for the organisation of free national defence classes for all interested individuals as well as the gradual introduction of compulsory national defence lessons in secondary school. We also wish to involve think tanks in the shaping of our national defence policy.
Those who do not defend themselves will also not be defended by others. The shield of Estonian national defence consists of basic independent defence capabilities, while the sword is formed by the collective defence of NATO.
We will continue to develop our military capabilities on the basis of risk assessments. Our brigades, battalions, companies and groups are important for Estonia; however, what's most important is each individual fighter in these units. Hence, we wish to increase the prestige of the military profession and training within society. Among other things, we are planning to improve the work environment and training conditions of members of the Defence Forces, raise the salary of professional servicemen and increase the compensation paid to conscripts by 50%. We will also continue to work on the idea of a defence benefit to compensate all participants in reservist training for their earnings on a fixed principle of 50% depending on their post and 50% depending on their current salary. We will continue to award recognition to veterans who have fought for the values and principles of the Republic of Estonia.
This coalition clearly agrees on the necessity to ensure a realistic defence capability. Therefore, we will retain Estonia's military defence expenditure at the level of at least 2% of GDP and will continue to consistently develop actual equipped and trained units, rather than paper units and paper cannons for which we lack funds and people. In addition to this two per cent, we will cover the expenses related to the hosting of our allies to ensure their permanent presence in Estonia. Each and every serviceman of the NATO allied forces who is serving on Estonian territory is important for this coalition, as is the reinforcement of our defence-related cooperation with the United States of America, naturally.
Just as important is the assurance of our domestic security. By the one hundredth anniversary of our Republic, we will need to have installed an Eastern border together with a technical surveillance system that is appropriate for an external border of the EU and NATO together with properly trained and equipped border guard units.
We will continue to advance the capabilities of the Police and Border Guard Board to diminish redundancy and improve the response ability and speed of the rescue services, the police and the border guard. We have come to an agreement that the number of police officers with rapid intervention capabilities must be doubled; cooperation with the corresponding structures of the Defence Forces and the Defence League will also be advanced. We find it necessary to improve the working conditions of police and rescue officers and to increase the presence of regional police officers, especially near the Eastern border. Anybody willing to voluntarily contribute to Estonia's domestic security must have the capacity and means to do so.
The second great challenge: to ensure that the Estonian economy grows and people's income rises.
Between 2000 and 2013, Estonia's prosperity tripled. That is exceptional growth compared to other countries. The bases of the economic policy that has proven successful for Estonia need not be altered. We will continue to rely on our simple tax system with few exceptions, our fair entrepreneurial competition and open economy. On our conservative budgetary policy and an economic environment that is open to capital.
We prefer to reduce the taxation of labour by taxing goods that are detrimental to health or the environment. We have agreed to lower the rate of social tax and increase tax-free income. A decrease in labour taxes will not have an immediate effect on economic growth in the next quarter; often, it becomes evident only after a few years. Of course, we would prefer to take even bigger steps; however, delivering new impulses with determination and consistency ensures that we do not veer off the right course.
In order to continue on a path of rapid economic growth, Estonian products and services need to have high added value and must be orientated to export markets. We need to be even smarter than our global competitors. An intelligent economy begins with intelligent people. We can contribute to the growth of knowledge and skills by means of lifelong learning, closer ties between vocational training and entrepreneurship, research and development, as well as general education as a whole, which holds a very prominent place in the coalition agreement. However, we can only reach a knowledge-based economy by investing in our knowledge. For that purpose, we have agreed to maintain the percentage of education spending at above 6% of our GDP – this exceeds the corresponding level in the vast majority of EU member states.
The third great challenge that we're facing is to make sure that the economic growth reaches everybody.
The state must be there for those who need it most. The new coalition wants everybody in Estonia to partake in the economic growth, so that no one is left behind. On the initiative of the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, we have agreed to establish an additional benefit for those whose income is between the minimum wage and three times the minimum means of subsistence. The aim of this new system is to alleviate working poverty and help people improve their lives.
The improvement of the lives of people in the lower-income brackets will also be helped by another ambition of the government coalition: to raise the minimum wage to at least 45% of the average wages within four years' time; however, the representative organisations for employees and employers must arrive at this together. The minimum wage will also be decided by agreement between the different parties of the labour market in the future. Nevertheless, the state can certainly contribute to this.
The coalition will be paying special attention to children, the elderly and persons with special needs. Together with our social partners, we will ensure the fulfilment of the goals and activities established in the cooperation agreement. One of the biggest reforms of the outgoing Government must now be finalised and successfully applied by means of implementing provisions.
To support deprived families, we will raise the subsistence benefit to €130. This is a substantial increase – the biggest rise in the subsistence benefit in the past ten years.
In addition, we have agreed on the establishment of an alimony fund to support single parents who are struggling to cope.
We have also certainly not forgotten about our most dignified citizens – the elderly. We will ensure a rise in pensions together with the increase in wages and will keep the average old-age pension exempt from income tax. Previously, I have given a personal promise to make the establishment of a system for improving the subsistence of live-alone pensioners a priority. This is necessary in order to address the subsistence of those elderly citizens for whom coping poses the biggest problem.
The most important of the great challenges – that Estonia survives and we have more children.
The populations of Europe are aging and all of them face serious challenges related to employment policies and the social system. Estonia is no exception. However, for a state with a small population, these changes are even more visible. In order to address the demographic challenges, we must act now; the consequences of these processes will arrive in a few decades. We must have a sufficiently long-term view. Although this may seem like a long time, the positive decisions made by this government will hopefully impact what Estonia will be like on its 150th anniversary.
I do not hesitate for a moment to acknowledge that the Social Democratic Party offered the most solutions for improving the coping ability of families with children, as Sven Mikser stressed in the Riigikogu’s White Hall only two hours ago.
The unified three-partner governing coalition will continue to develop a demographically functioning family policy, by raising the benefits for the first and second child to €60. Starting with the third child, we will continue paying monthly benefits of €100 and will also pay €200 in large-family benefits to every family raising three or more children.
We will ensure that every young person has the opportunity to participate in sports and hobby activities by creating an integrated state system of benefits earmarked for recreational activities. With investments by the state, we will help local governments create kindergarten places for all those who need them. We will increase the financing of the home support programme for large families and provide needy families of three or more children with the opportunity to receive home support in order to acquire permanent accommodation.
These are just some of the activities agreed upon by the governing coalition, the objective of which is to give our young families a sense of security – a precondition for more children being born.
The fifth challenge is an innovative Estonia and the improved organisation of our state.
Some people say that what we need to do is called state reform. We can call it that. But state reform cannot simply be comprised of indiscriminately turning everything upside down. It must be efficient. I say today, as I did a year ago, that we have no reason to dismantle everything built by the previous governments; instead we should use it as a foundation on which to continue building our success. And therefore, everyone can decide whether to call it state reform or more simply – innovative Estonia – but no one can rest on their laurels. Every minister and state official must continually seek to do things more efficiently, and to use taxpayers’ money even more effectively.
For the better organisation of the state, the governing coalition has agreed to carry out local administration reform. This is a very large reform, which, after its implementation, will affect Estonia for decades and even longer.
By executing local administration reform, we hope to create local governments that can provide people with better public services and ensure increased regional competitiveness – local governments that can independently perform the tasks assigned to them by law. The coalition agreement describes how the capability of Estonian local governments to perform their assignments can be improved. We will help the less capable local governments to move to the next level of cooperation. To halt marginalisation, we will place significant emphasis on developing enterprise in local governments, because jobs are an essential precondition for maintaining vitality in places other than just the power and intellectual capitals.
A self-evident part of an innovative Estonia is the development of the e-state. Last summer, when speaking to Jean-Claude Juncker, he said it is elementary that the European Commissioner in charge of Europe’s digital development be from Estonia. Our e-state is known and recognised around the world – from the U.S. President to every last e-resident. In an innovative Estonia, work will not be conducted according to the maculature principle – “sign it, add 10 stamps and put it in a folder”. All public services, if at all possible, must be digitally available to citizens, thereby making the operation of the state more efficient and the public sector more effective.
Honourable members of the Riigikogu.
To a great extent, the way in which the government that is taking office will be remembered is based on how well we lead Europe during the first half of 2018. Then, all the eyes of Europe will be on us. Let’s remember – the next time that Estonia can assume the presidency will probably not be until 2032. Therefore, a small and ambitious state cannot allow its presidency to be less ambitious. Estonia’s EU Presidency in 2018 is the sixth great challenge of this government.
In preparing to accede to the European Union in 2003, the writer Mihkel Mutt asked, “Can one speak up in the European Union, and if so who?” And then answered that one can speak up cheekily or humbly, but Estonia should speak up with dignity.
Europe’s strength and unity result from active and open dialogue, an intensive exchange of ideas. From speaking up, if we may. Today’s security and economic situation very clearly indicates the importance of a united vision born out of such dialogue. Europe needs to move towards stronger security and internal security policies, energy policies, a monetary union and domestic market and an inclusive labour market. We must deal with promoting the interests of European businesses and the protection of our citizens in third countries.
We do not have to sit timidly in the corner of the farmhouse like a hired hand. We see Estonia participating in this process as a dignified, idea-filled and inquisitive partner. As a country that carries European values and is interested in valuing and promoting the European Union’s four fundamental freedoms. And this is what is expected of us in 2018 – to stand up for Europe’s common interests.
During those six months, about 500 different initiatives may arrive on the desk of the presidency and approximately 3,000 different meetings must be successfully conducted. One thousand people from our current state officials will be involved in conducting the presidency and each of them must be prepared for their new, very responsible role.
This common sledge cannot be hauled in the manner of a swan, pike or crab. Therefore, we are making careful preparations for presiding over the EU. The presidency requires the common efforts of the Estonian state, and during this period all our ministers stand as “euro-ministers” for the future of Europe and the welfare of all Europeans. We will do this with dignity if we know how to pull from the front and when to draw the line, to push from behind and to sympathise, to seek consensus and not settle for less common ground. The experience, skills and relationships we will develop will allow us to conduct Estonian and European affairs at an entirely new level, even after the end of the presidency. During the presidency, Estonia wants to speak up with dignity and thereby also memorably – as is appropriate to a very youthful 100-year-old.
In conclusion, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the social democrats and the members of the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union, who did not make the coalition negotiations easy, but I understand you very well, because you stand for your voters and for the promises made in your programme. After all, we did the same.
I also want to thank the members of the Free Party for their contribution, which was not small at all. And although your signature is not on the coalition agreement that was signed today, I believe that regarding quite a few points we can count on your support in the Riigikogu, because we have jointly agreed on them.
It is no secret that the three-partner coalition agreement had a difficult birth, going through a brick wall, so to say. However, we had decided early on that we would not just agree on the minimal common ground between the three parties with different worldviews. Which would have been quite simple – this has always been managed. We agreed on the great challenges, objectives and means for moving Estonia forward.
The results of the governing coalition will not only be defined by what is written in the agreement but primarily by how energetically we carry out what we agreed. We can be sure that nothing happens by itself. If necessary, we will also tenaciously go through a brick wall. During the four years. Together. Just like we went through the last 38 days to reach the coalition agreement. And it is namely because of the three partners’ perseverance, persistence and steadfastness that, according to Riigikogu tradition, I name the new coalition the Tenacious Coalition. In just this way – determinedly, unflinchingly and tenaciously – we are ready to move forward in order to carry out that which is set down in the coalition agreement.
And for this I ask for your mandate today.
Our work will start from tomorrow. If I compare the work of the departing government to a 10-km run, we are now at the start of a marathon. For this we will need strength, stamina and continued tenacity.
I thank you!
Long live Estonia!