INTERVIEWS: New MPs open up on life in Parliament and politics
With now close to 100 days since the freshly elected MPs gathered for the opening of Estonia's 13th Parliament, ERR News caught up with some of the newer members to ask for their first impressions.
We asked one new MP from each of the six parties a few questions.
How does Parliament work differ from what you expected?
Mihkel Raud (Social Democrats): I was well acquainted with what goes on there before I was elected to Parliament.
Martin Repinski (Center Party): The work itself is similar to what I imagined. If you do not want, you can do no work at all, you don't even have to sit there. I took on everything people asked me to and then realized I physically just can't.
Jaak Madison (Conservative People's Party): The main difference in parliamentary work from what I imagined is the bureaucracy, the slow pace. It took a month-and-a-half after the elections to form a government, after which commissions were constructed and the actual work began.
How are day-to-day relations with MPs from other parties?
Raud: Relations are great, the majority of MPs are nice people with whom communication is pure pleasure. Political fights are very seldom personal.
Repinski: Relations are very good with most, irrespective of factions. Everyone is human and it is clear there is little point in keeping tensions high all the time. We may be completely at odds over some questions, leading to heated debates, but absolutely on the same page on the next topic, it is part of our work. Of course we joke around with representatives from other factions and lunch together.
Madison: Liaison with colleagues is mostly very professional and official. There are of course representatives with whom post-session talks carry on longer, but generally they also are work-related discussions.
What is the greatest surprise in working in Parliament, and in politics in general?
Raud: Probably the myth that some parties are more “right” and “clean” is untrue.
Madison: Certainly the high level of public attention, which I especially was subject to. There has arisen the need to adapt quickly and become good at reacting to various situations, as Parliament is the top league in politics.
What is Estonia's greatest challenge in internal politics?
Raud: The flaming of overindulgent hysteria and the ensuring psychological ghettoization.
Repinski: I think the greatest problem is the negative birthrate and aging. The reason for that is the out-dated tax and state policy. The current system works for large companies, especially those in the hands of foreign investors, while smaller businesses often have to pay unreasonably high tax rates. Also, a progressive tax is unavoidable if our goal is a successful Estonia.
Madison: Internally the primary problems are the demographic crisis and emigration, which stem from the economic situation of Estonia, which the coalition is turning a blind eye on. We can sadly add the political situation to that, where it seems the top mission of certain parties is to hold up a nice exterior rather than tackle state problems, which they were mandated for.
And in foreign policy?
Repinski: The main problem of foreign politics is the bad relationship with Russia. The eastern neighbor has always been a strategic partner. Milk was sold to St. Petesburg already 100 years ago. Estonia needs Russia for a successful economy. War hysteria and continued verbal attacks against Russia by our politicians have a negative impact on Estonia's security.
Madison: Undoubtedly the main problem of Estonia in foreign policy terms is the changed security situation in the light of the military conflict between Ukraine and Russia. This commits the government to react quickly and efficiently to guarantee our adjustment to the situation. Certainly there is need for more active cooperation with Baltic and Scandinavian states. Besides the security situation, there is the question of the flood of asylum seekers, with which the European Commission has put Estonia under great pressure. Already over 30 percent of people living in Estonia are of foreign descent, making it complicated to offer solutions and noteworthy help.
What is your personal aim during your four-year mandate in Parliament?
Raud: To participate in as many legislative processes, which make Estonia a better place, as possible.
Repinski: Saving the dairy sector and creating high-paying jobs in Ida-Viru County.
Madison: My personal goal is to prove in the next four years that Estonia, as a independent nation-state, is possible and politicians who govern from national interests still exist.
Raud, 46, is new to Parliament, having joined the Social Democrats in April 2014. Raud is a well-known musician, writer and TV presenter. He ran in Tartu winning 3,227 votes. He is a member of the European Union Affairs and Economic Affairs committees in the Parliament.
Repinski, just 28, was active in agriculture and local politics in Ida-Viru County. He is also a member of a number of nation-wide agriculture associations and has received recognition from the Ministry of Agriculture. In the Parliament, he is a member of the Rural Affairs and Economic Affairs committees. More than 1,500 people voted for Repinski in Ida-Viru County.
Madison, who turned 24 this year, is the Parliament's youngest member. He became a party member in 2013, having previously worked for the ferry giant Tallink. He is a member of the European Union Affairs and Cultural Affairs Committee. Madison won 1,883 votes in Järva and Viljandi counties.
First-time MPs from other three parties failed to answer ERR News's question by the deadline.