Taavi Rõivas was sworn yesterday (26 March) as the new Prime Minister of Estonia. The 34-year old politician from the liberal Reform Party has vowed to make security a priority, as Estonia feels vulnerable from Russia in the aftermath of Crimea’s annexation.
Rõivas took over from long-serving former PM Andrus Ansip, leader of the Reform Party, who had been at this post since 2005. A new majority coalition was formed by Reform and the Social Democratic Party, and was voted in Parliament with 55 out of 101 votes.
The new cabinet is set to govern until elections take place in March 2015.
In a recent interview, Rõivas said that in spite of his youth, he had more political experience than many other top politicians. Indeed, in his five years in Parliament, Rõivas served as chairman of the Finance Committee and then the European Affairs Committee. Before that, he was adviser to Ansip, before becoming social affairs minister in 2102. Rõivas is in a relationship with Estonian pop star Luisa Värk, with whom he has a daughter.
Ansip’s government stayed in place in the 2011 elections, even after the country’s economic output had fallen by 14% in 2009 due to the global financial crisis and the collapse of a real estate price bubble fueled by cheap and easy credit from Nordic banks.
But Ansip’s centre-right coalition has been struggling in polls, amid signs of voter fatigue at years of a government focused on fiscal austerity, as well as several high-profile party funding scandals. The centre-left opposition has been gaining popularity.
A key policy difference between the current ruling coalition and the centre-left opposition is over Estonia’s flat 21% personal income tax, to be reduced to 20% in 2015.
The opposition parties would like to move towards a progressive tax policy with higher rates for higher earners, as applied by most developed countries.
Ansip’s resignation was seen as the first step in a leadership reshuffle in his Reform Party, affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political family. The current Estonian commissioner and founder of the party, Siim Kallas, is expected to take his place and lead the party in the parliamentary elections.