TALLINN - The proposed merger of Estonia's two conservative parties has moved a step closer, with the governing councils of both Res Publica and Pro Patria Union voting in favor of the marriage. After weeks of debate, the two councils finally agreed on a party name, albeit a rather awkward one: "Pro Patria and Res Publica Union." The meeting signed off with a discussion over the party's future constitution.
However, commentators remain unconvinced about the potential strength of the party, both inside and out.
On May 4, the board of Pro Patria Union voted strongly in favor of the merger, agreeing to present a united conservative front at the next election.
"It will be a conservative party based on national conservative and Christian Democratic values," a spokesman for Pro Patria Union said.
"The main issues for us will be to increase the Estonian birth rate, to focus on innovation and education and to provide freedom for all people living in Estonia so that they can make decisions for themselves," he added.
A general assembly of all party members will take place in Parnu on June 4, when the merger will be officially closed. The meeting will occur simultaneously with Res Publica's general assembly.
On May 6, Res Publica's governing council met to discuss the key elements of the merger.
During the conference, Res Publica Chairman Taavi Veskimagi said the new party would strive to protect Estonian culture and language. Better education would be a cornerstone policy, he added, and the party would push for free enterprise and the principles of a market economy to increase living standards.
"We want Estonia to produce more children, and for them to obtain a good education regardless of their nationality," Veskimagi said. "The growth of Estonia's economy must continue, and the living standard of our people must catch up with that of the European Union's richer nations."
In his words, "In implementing our program we'll also pay attention to fostering sustainable ways of life. Nature is our priceless treasure, and to preserve it requires great effort."
The impact of the new party on the political landscape will be tested at the forthcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for October.
Tartu University political science lecturer Rein Toomla said the marriage of Estonia's two main center-right parties was logical but may not be politically profitable.
"It will be quite complicated, because in Res Publica there are a lot of members who were once members of Pro Patria. They left because they were very, very unsatisfied for a wide range of reasons, and it will be quite difficult for them to go back," Toomla said.
Res Publica currently holds 25 seats in the Riigikogu (Estonia's parliament) while Pro Patria holds seven.
But Toomla said their combined force may be somewhat diminished. "The popularity of both parties is low. They promise too much, things that are impossible. They promise 'new politics.' What is 'new politics?' It is a slogan, and the influence of such slogans will only work once. Estonia is politically very young, and conservative ideology needs a more stable society and much older politics," Toomla said.
He estimated the new party would win between 10 and 15 percent of the general vote at the next election. "I'm not sure that one plus one will equal two. In this case it may equal one-and-a-half," he said.