Dispute Over Migration Sends Estonian Government Into Crisis

(Bloomberg) -- Estonia’s ruling coalition is on the brink of collapse after two junior partners fell out over a United Nations agreement on migration.

With government talks collapsing in neighboring Latvia this week, Estonia is becoming the second Baltic nation to succumb to political instability, just months before its next elections are due to take place. The dispute also highlights the way immigration is becoming a decisive issue across the European Union and beyond.

Prime Minister Juri Ratas will hold talks on Sunday with the heads of junior partners, the Social Democrats and the conservative Isamaa party, to try and keep the government intact so it can pass next year’s budget, he told public broadcaster Eesti Rahvusringhaaling in an interview. He said earlier on Friday that the three-party coalition is in a “very difficult situation” after demands by the Social Democrats for the resignation of Justice Minister Urmas Reinsalu, of Isamaa.

President Kersti Kaljulaid criticized the two-year old coalition government Thursday for succumbing to "hysteria” before March parliamentary elections. While migration hasn’t been an issue in the current campaign, opposition to the UN compact by countries including the U.S. was raised by some media and the anti-immigration EKRE party last month.

Estonians have consistently ranked first as considering immigration as the EU’s biggest concern, with 62 percent saying so in a March Eurobarometer poll, ahead of the Czechs and Hungarians.

The premier’s Center Party, which relies on the support of ethnic Russians that make up about a quarter of the country’s 1.3 million people, shares the top spot in opinion polls with the opposition Reform Party. EKRE is third, while Isamaa has struggled to reach the electoral threshold of 5 percent in recent months.

Reinsalu’s blocking of the government approval of the treaty on Thursday amounted to "incapacitating the government,” Social Democrat Chairman Jevgeni Ossinovski said in a statement. The rejection also made Estonia “join the foreign-policy club of Hungary and Poland,” he said, referring to EU members that have sparked disputes in the bloc with their policies on migration and the rule of law.

Reinsalu refused to resign earlier on Friday, saying the UN migration compact may have legal consequences for Estonia, which he said has conducted “a conservative” policy on migration “as a key to preserving the Estonian nation state.” He cited the example of the U.S. and six EU governments that have declined to join the treaty as precedents.

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