Who will be next foreign minister? (4)

From left: Anne Sulling, Urmas Paet, Kaja Kallas and Kalle Palling (all photos Postimees/Scanpix)
7/2/2015 2:49 PM
Category: Politics

Following yesterday's resignation by Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, the search is on for her replacement. According to coalition agreement, the position belongs to the Reform Party politician, so the new minister is likely to come from its ranks.

Prospective candidates

Urmas Paet

The favorite is MEP Urmas Paet, who previously held the job from 2005-2014. The former journalist Paet had been the longest serving foreign minister since the re-establishment of Estonian independence and is therefore considered one of the top experts in foreign policy among Estonian politicians.

Should Paet be offered the position, it leaves him with a slight personal dilemma. If he vacates the European Parliament seat, there is no way back and if the government changes – in case the Center Party, Social Democrats and IRL decide to form the coalition without Reform Party – Paet would be without a political job, at least until next election.

Kaja Kallas

Kallas, the daughter of Reform Party co-founder and a former EC commissioner Siim Kallas, has for long been regarded as a possible successor to take the helm of the Reform Party, if Rõivas's popularity tumbles. She was elected to the Estonian Parliament in 2011 and European Parliament in 2014, where she is a Vice-Chair of the Delegation to the EU–Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee and also serves on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. Although she hasn't held a ministerial post before, a year in Brussels has given her invaluable experience and a contact network.

A lack of women in the government – Pentus-Rosimannus and Urve Palo were currently the only ones in a male-dominated Cabinet – gives her also a slight edge over Paet, at least in theory. But Kallas has been offered ministerial positions before and has so far rejected. It is likely that she will choose to stay in Brussels and wait a few years before returning to domestic politics.

Anne Sulling

Sulling (on the photo), a daughter of the legendary heart surgeon Toomas Sulling, who performed the first coronary artery bypass surgery in Estonia, is a relative newcomer to Estonian politics. She made a name for herself in matters concerning CO2 quota sales, while serving as an adviser to the Prime Minister Andrus Ansip in 2011, and was appointed as the Minister of Foreign Trade and Entrepreneurship by Taavi Rõivas in 2014, in his first Cabinet. Until then officially apolitical, she was asked to join the Reform Party as one of the conditions to assume the ministerial office.

As a minister, she stood out by promoting Estonian dairy industry in Asia, following the Russian-imposed economic sanctions that hit the milk and cheese producers hardest. Although Sulling was voted to the Parliament in last election, with a highly respectable 4,200 votes, she was unable to keep her job, following the formation of three-party coalition. She has a long international experience and briefly served as the acting foreign minister in November 2014, before the nomination of Pentus-Rosimannus. However, her foreign policy credentials are largely unheard of, which raises the question on her ability to adapt quickly enough in a tense and challenging security environment. But as with Kallas, being a woman is seen as an advantage.

Kalle Palling

Palling is one of the new generation of Reform Party members who is still relatively unknown in Estonia. He joined the party ten years ago and was elected an MP in 2007. His political career in top appointments is also very short – he became the Chairman of the Parliament's European Union Affairs Committee just after last election in March. However, Palling was one of the first politicians to explain the Mediterranean refugee issue to public and was fairly convincing in his arguments.

Other options include approaching Marina Kaljurand, a former Estonian ambassador to the United States and Mexico as well as Russia, currently working as the Undersecretary of Political Affairs at the Foreign Ministry. Kaljurand is not a politician, but a career diplomat and is not keen to enter the politics.

Alternatively, the coalition partners could swap ministerial posts and let Sven Mikser, currently the Defense Minister, to replace Pentus-Rosimannus.

S. Tambur

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