To register as a political party, the Estonia 200 group, currently a non-profit in the commercial register, need at least 500 members. Asked by ERR on Tuesday how many they already managed to gain, the group's leaders said that they won't comment before membership reaches critical mass.
Estonia 200 not to publish member numbers before becoming political party
Estonia 200 announced their intention to become a political party in late August. Should they succeed, they stand a chance to score a few mandates in the Riigikogu elections in March next year, most likely at the expense of the Reform Party, the Free Party, and Pro Patria.
Asked by ERR's Estonian-language online news on Tuesday how far they are trying to recruit a sufficient number of members, the group said that they would not communicate any membership numbers until they reach the 500 required to register.
Word has been going around that the group is receiving dozens of applications for membership every day. Whether or not this is accurate can't be confirmed as long as they don't publish any numbers themselves. Should it be true, the group will have little difficulty to register as a party come the hot phase of the election campaign.
According to Igor Taro, one of the initiators of Estonia 200, interest in the group is on the rise. "Like we said when we announced our plan to become a party, at the current pace we'll get the necessary number together within a few months," Taro said. "We are hoping to still increase it further."
Group's manifesto close to established liberal-conservative parties
Estonia 200 are calling for a thorough renewal of Estonia's digital services and the e-state. It wants to make the state's digital channels the main means by which citizens communicate with government authorities and institutions.
Concerning the way the republic is run at the moment, the group wants to see more government action based on reform instead of a system focused entirely on the state's ministries and institutions. To this end, it suggests the creation of limited-term ministerial posts that would then be tasked with solving specific problems.
In terms of the economy, the group wants to reduce regulations and the amount of red tape businesses currently have to put up with. The Estonian business environment has to be changed to the effect that it attracts "ambitious companies" that want to do business through Estonia, and as they do so add value locally as well.
To achieve this, Estonia needs to develop the entrepreneurial environment as well as its education system, legal system, and infrastructure. "We need to connect Estonia by investing in internal connections and smart public transport, and create new external connections to better connect Estonia to the world," the manifesto reads.
The group also wants to reward individuals for what it calls "taking charge of their own health" by adapting the health insurance system in such a way that a healthier lifestyle can be rewarded. The current system based on treatment and insurance should be replaced by one that instead focuses on a healthy lifestyle and a health fund, the group finds.
The manifesto also states that the time has come to create a single school model for all of Estonia, under which Estonian speakers as well as Russian speakers and also students with other languages study together. The group also wants to better connect general education with vocational and higher education.
In terms of Estonia's nature, the group is in favor of the sustainable use of natural resources, basing local agriculture on a model that would "strengthen the ecological balance" and support biodiversity as well as take better care of the country's forests.
Group's angle resembles Pro Patria precursor Res Publica
The phenomenon of such a manifesto and an at least allegedly apolitical approach to solving the country's problems isn't new. Res Publica, one of the precursors of today's Pro Patria (formerly IRL), was founded in 2001 with a similar objective, namely to do away with political bickering and instead to focus on solving problems.
The party won the 2003 elections and formed a government with the Reform Party under Prime Minister Juhan Parts. The coalition broke up in 2005, Res Publica and Pro Patria joined forces in 2006, became IRL, and have since very much been a party in Estonia's political mainstream.