Minister of Finance and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) Martin Helme said after the coalition council on Monday that if coalition partners pressured Mart Järvik (EKRE) to resign as minister of rural affairs, "this government is gone."
Helme also said that the government is operating normally and there is no conflict in the government. Helme met with Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) on Monday to discuss the situation.
EKRE Chairman Mart Helme and Deputy Chairman Martin Helme confirmed on Friday that the party is behind Järvik, who has been engulfed in a scandal about his adviser, and that his dismissal and removal are out of the question.
On the same day, Mart Helme published a video address on EKRE's Uued Uudised portal in which he said that it was a joint information operation between the opposition, mainstream media and the Prosecutor's Office against Mart Järvik and EKRE.
"We are seeing a very clearly coordinated information operation and an attack on Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik, for very clear reasons. Firstly, the reason is that Mart Järvik has begun working very hard in his field and has taken over food safety throughout the field," Helme said.
On Monday, the Reform Party parliamentary group began collecting signatures for a motion of no-confidence against Järvik.
Järvik was at the center of controversy late last week over a conflict of interest which saw his former advisor, Urmas Arumäe, representing defendants in an EU subsidy fraud case against the agricultural registers and information board (PRIA), a body which falls under the rural affairs ministry's remit.
Arumäe stepped down on Friday, but opposition parties are maintaining pressure for Järvik, already embroiled in a Listeria controversy at a fish-packing plant, to resign.
Secretary general of the Ministry of Rural Affairs Illar Lemetti, claimed last week that Järvik declined to sign a mandate which would have allowed the PRIA to claim damages in the subsidy fraud case; Järvik later said his assent was not needed, producing a letter from justice minister Raivo Aeg (Isamaa) to back up his case.
On Monday, Järvik called for removing Lemetti from office.
Ratas: Things have gotten worse
Ratas said on Monday that his absence has led to a situation of "distrust" rather than making things better.
"At last week's (Riigikogu) briefing, I said that the minister of rural affairs needs to give clear answers in order to get out of the mistrust situation. Unfortunately, today this thing has taken a turn for the worse, rather than for the better," said Ratas, adding that he is working to restore peace in the coalition.
Ratas, who had been abroad on a visit to the U.S., gave a short interview just before the coalition council met. When asked whether Järvik was also being discussed in the council, the prime minister replied that he would meet Järvik on Monday.
Editor: Helen Wright