Countering the pre-election flood of electoral promises and party programs, leading unions and NGOs across Estonia have released their own manifestos, detailing their expectations for the government in anticipation of general elections, held on March 6th.
So far, the Federation of Estonian Student Unions, the Estonian School Student Councils' Union, the Estonian Chamber of Environmental Organizations, the Estonian Trade Union Confederation, the Estonian Employers’ Confederation, the Estonian National Youth Council, and the Chamber for Protecting the Interests of Children have all released manifestos. NENO is preparing a statement as well, which will be launched in the next few days.
The Association of Student Governments’ main demand for the incoming government is a greater focus on career services and the reinstitutions of free school meals for high school students. Meals are currently free for all students enrolled in Estonian public schools up to and including 9th grade. Additional meal plans may be provided by local municipalities.
The Association of Estonian University Students is asking for a socially responsible system of financial aid that would allow Estonian university students to commit fully to their studies. Currently, high performing students are eligible for state aid of up to €49, with an additional €25 for students living away from home. In addition, only 46% of all university students are studying on state funded student places, meaning that their tuition is fully paid for by the state. Everyone else has to pay tuition, which averages €1800 per year.
Energy policy is at the center of the Estonian House of Environmental Organizations’ manifest. The manifesto calls for swift action in formulating a coherent national energy policy and raises concerns about the state of environmental conservation in the country.
Criticism of the new Employment Contracts Act constitutes the substance of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation’s manifesto. The new ECA, which mandated lower severance packages, facilitated hiring and firing and increased unemployment taxes was responsible for the rift between the Social Democratic Party and the present-day coalition of Pro Patria and Res Publica Union and the Reform Party, causing the Social Democrats to leave the government in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Estonian Employers’ Confederation encourages the incoming government to restructure and consolidate the public sector. “We are in a situation where most investments in the public sector are made with foreign money, and tax rates have risen substantially. We need reform,” wrote the EEC in the January issue of Hea Kodanik, NENO’s monthly magazine.
The Chamber for the Protection of Children’s Interests underscores the importance of creating a national Development Plan for Children and Families, as well as updating the Child Protection Act, last amended in 2007. The amendments, however have largely been cosmetic, according to Chancellor of Justice Indrek Teder, and most of the content is still in its original 1992 form.
Most of the manifestos were created with significant public participation. For instance, both the EASG and AEUS solicited input for their manifestos at public forums; the Trade Union Confederation and the CPCI circulated initial drafts of their manifestos among members and almost all organizations consulted with experts, interest groups and representatives of political parties.
Whether these manifestos will actually have an impact on the policies of the new government remains to be seen. Anvar Samost, from the Baltic News Service, has noted that many fine manifestos have flown under the radar of mainstream media. Although this may partially be caused by the media’s unwillingness to discuss more abstract topics, Samost suggested that another cause may be insufficient communication on part of the NGOs following the publication of the initial manifestos.