Estonia Must Not Remain Empty
Members of the Riigikogu Study Committee to Solve the Demographic Crisis Yoko Alender (Estonian Reform Party), Monika Haukanõmm (Estonian Free Party at the time of the discussion panel), Heljo Pikhof (Social Democratic Party), Raivo Põldaru (Estonian Conservative People’s Party) and Siret Kotka-Repinski (Estonian Centre Party) participated in the discussion panel of Riigikogu Toimetised on 7 November. Helir-Valdor Seeder (Isamaa) sent his positions in writing.
Siret Kotka-Repinski: The Riigikogu’s working group on population policy was founded to get an answer to the question if we are having a demographic crisis. One of the most important documents prepared by the Committee is the Fundamentals of the Population Policy until 2035, the aim of which is to give guidelines on what should the Government of Estonia, the Riigikogu and the ministries do to ensure that in 2015, our population would exist in the same composition and size category as today. Birth rate should be the priority in preserving the Estonian values. When we look at the various measures, the family benefits are very well developed in the Republic of Estonia in comparison to other European countries. Besides that, various taxation measures should be used to support the entrepreneurs so that they could provide possibilities for part-time work to fathers or mothers of families to reconcile work and family life better.
Monika Haukanõmm: Nothing can be greater than the survival, existence and development of the Estonian nation. At the level of society, we should reach the mentality that three plus children are normal, and not an anomaly. Our policies should ensure that additional children would not mean poverty for the family. There could be some very specific measures for the third or the fourth, or even the fifth child. As regards immigration, our aim should be attracting high-salaried people to Estonia. Then it would be possible for us to increase productivity and, through it, improve our daily life. The state should help them more in integrating into the language and culture space of Estonia. We are not really doing this. And we are not doing this enough with our Russian-speaking people, so that they would have the possibilities to get acquainted with our culture.
Raivo Põldaru: Each Act that goes out of the Riigikogu should take into consideration the aspect of how that Act affects the population. Measures that increase the birth rate are needed. To a large extent, the future belongs to technology, and maybe we can make machines to do simpler work. People would then just have to control them. We should not speak of immigration before we have spoken of using our reserves. Because we have between 20,000 and 30,000 young people who do not study or work. This is a reserve. There is a reserve also among the older people. If we can manage to break the barrier that older people are not hired, then we will not lose much of work force.
Heljo Pikhof: In comparison to what was before, our situation is very good. We have parental benefits, we have child allowance for the first and the second child. The parental benefit system has been made more flexible, the child allowances for the first and the second child, which were unchanged for more than a decade, are now 60 euro. We have allowance for families with three children in the amount of 300 euro. And it has been said that these allowances give a clear signal of what we expect in the society. And if we support the families with three and more children even more, then it is a very clear signal that we want families to have a third child, and the fourth child, and so on. In the European Union, only Luxembourg has larger family benefits than Estonia.
Yoko Alender: The number of children in a family should be decided by the family themselves, but it is our duty to create an environment where the family feels secure. In the context of the elections, we should raise the issue that family benefits should go along with the increase of the cost of living, and they should be reviewed constantly. We have not spoken of the allowances for disabled children, which are very low at the moment. People feel secure when they know that nobody is left in trouble. Besides that, there are many things that are important for parents: what the kindergarten is like, what the school is like, whether the teacher is stressed. I think that it is self-evident that in the case of each bill, every MP and every employee of ministry should consider what it would mean for the people of Estonia.
Helir-Valdor Seeder: Sustainability and the survival of Estonia as a nation state is ensured by a complex solution that includes the return of diaspora, the increase of birth rate and the growth of the life expectancy of people. Increasing of immigration is not a sustainable solution, because immigrants also grow old, and this will only result in the demand for new immigration. Family and birth policy needs deeper attention. In family policy, feeling of security and the material side also have an important role. Children are not born because of money, but children may not be born because of money. The family policy of the state must be consistent and stable. It means that the benefits and allowances that have been established are meant to last, and they will not be the first to be cut in an economic recession or a crisis.