MP Kaja Kallas has been called Estonia's best shot at its first female prime minister and the warmer, more friendly face of the Reform Party.
She gave an extensive end of the year interview to ETV. Excerpts:
For the third straight year, "Pealtnägija" [this program] has picked a Reform Party figure as the end of the year interview subject. What does this tell you, Kaja?
It speaks to the fact that the Reform Party is full of diligent, great people who are worth talking about.
But you of course understand the point of the question - Reform has been the main character in the most fundamental scandals and conflicts.
They have been difficult years. It can't be said it wasn't a simple time. But every fall is followed by a rise. It's that way in all fields. I believe that this will be the case for us.
You are satisfied with the current image of the party?
Oh, no. Definitely not. We have much room to grow. We have to look in the mirror, what doesn't fit, how we see ourselves and how we are seen from outside, what has caused this.
Scandal upon scandal.
Yes. There have been a number of them. But if you look at the practical level in other countries, there are scandals everywhere. The scandals are because people in politics are under greater scrutiny.
If you ask people which is more likely to be cheating on his wife, a politician or construction worker, all will answer: the politician. Actually the right answer on the basis of probability should be the construction worker as he is not under such high public scrutiny.
Does it seem that people have been unfair toward the Reform Party?
Thinking about the current society, you feel the fear, everyone is afraid of something - the employees are afraid of employers and politicians are afraid of journalists. Respected people do not dare speak in the media because they are afraid of online comments.
How to overcome this fear? [Franklin D.] Roosevelt said very nicely that the only thing to fear is fear itself. It would certainly help if we all wanted to notice such things and not feed the fears, and really make an effort to keep from speaking ill of each other. It is uncomfortable if you are insulted or cursed out no matter what level it is on.
If your fellow party members would look in the mirror and smile more at people, maybe that would also start to accomplish the same thing you dream of?
One can always smile more. We aren't robots, you know. I have been told, don't smile so much, it isn't appropriate for a politician. But in what sense?
I don't see problems in your regard, as you are considered the warmest and most human face, a counterweight to Jürgen Ligi or Andrus Ansip and Rein Lang with their attitudes and in some sense, arrogance.
I can see how that impression might be left. But everything has its pros and cons. If you consider that Ansip battled out a much better position for Estonia in European budget talks than anyone could have expected, maybe it was his style of communication that brought it home. I think all strengths have to be utilized.
You agree that there could be more empathy in dealing with people, not just citing Eurostat at the first opportunity but trying to understand that some are perhaps not living so well?
There could be more empathy, listening and understanding, at all levels.
I took part in the Paide opinion festival in a debate called "How costly is poverty" that talked about social exclusion and those in need of assistance. For me, the message from the network head was interesting - the question wasn't about what what the state should do but about noticing the people and not cutting them out of society's loop.
This summer you became deputy chairman of the Reform Party and before that you penned a vision of what the Reform Party should look like in two years. One key postulate was that communication with the people had to become more respectful.
It's important as it gives the same signal to successive levels. If we are more respectful and well-meaning to people, they will be the same way to us.
Who will be the first to unclench their fists, though?
Good question. Naturally it would be good if the people who are role models and constantly on the radar for society would take the lead.
Does it seem to you that one problem is that Estonians, the Cabinet and the Reform Party do not dare own up to their weaknesses, to admit they have made mistakes?
It's always complicated. If the general assumption is that admitting mistakes is a sign of weakness, this is certainly not desired. Who wants to be weak?
You know that you are seen as the future first female prime minister?
So I have been told.
You've thought about it yourself?
Everything in its own time.
You have had three chances to be minister. The culture minister post was offered to you.
Not really a formal offer.
Why didn't you want the job of culture minister?
If you read my blog, have you ever seen a culture policy prescription there? I don't have a clear view or specific ideas in that field. I found it was better to leave it to the better candidates.
Much thought is currently given to Andrus Ansip's successor both as PM and as chairman of Reform Party. I won't ask whether you're among them, Do you want to be among the candidates, though?
I'll tell you honestly, a position has never been so important to me. It should not be a goal unto itself. If it becomes a goal, maybe you avoid mistakes to get there. That's not right. The prices must be enjoyed along with what you are doing.
But once my first boss told me, Kaja, you have a coiled spring inside you, and I am looking for people with such a spring. If you wind it up, things will start to happen. So I believe I still have that spring.