Minister of the Interior and Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme said on ETV interview program Esimene stuudio on Thursday night that EKRE still backs Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik and will not recommend that the latter resign.
Helme noted that the report of the committee led by Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop, which investigated Järvik's decisions and actions, did better highlight certain nuances to which he had previously paid insufficient attention.
"But basically, I cannot say that that we would pull our support from behind our minister," he confirmed.
The EKRE chairman added that as the report was being drawn up, he tried to attain more info regarding Järvik and the activities of the Ministry of Rural Affairs' subordinate bodies, and he found that information regarding listeria in Estonia was already available in March 2018.
He believes that the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) should have informed Järvik of this at the first meeting already, but in reality the situation began to unravel when the so-called toxic strawberries scandal broke this June. Officials, he noted, knew the state of Estonia's food safety well, but did not inform the minister about it.
"I wouldn't say that the minister has exceeded his powers in wanting to know what exactly is going on," he said. "These things are a bit more complicated than that."
Just as Nordic banks tried to pin the blame in the money laundering scandal on Estonia, Helme finds that the same thing is now happening with regard to listeria, and products containing listeria bacteria are arriving in Estonia from he Nordics.
Helme did not consider the fact that Järvik provided false information regarding when he first heard about the listeria bacteria or when he met with the owner of fish producer M.V.Wool to be strange. He explained that a minister's days are filled with many meetings, and that it is natural that a minister does not have to remember exactly on what date he met with whom to discuss what topics, as that is what memos and the ministry apparatus is for.
Officials not cooperating with Järvik
The EKRE chairman found, however, that the Ministry of Rural Affairs' higher officials have not been cooperating constructively with Järvik. He said that a well-paid state nobility of sorts has arisen that does what it pleases, and if a minister comes along that interferes, they start planting mines for him to step on. Thus, he added, he doesn't recommend that Järvik resign at this point.
Regarding coalition relations, Helme said that there is no love in politics, but that the government consists of pragmatists, and that they have good interpersonal relationships. They argue passionately, he added, but good relations help smooth over a good degree of political differences.
Asked whether Järvik would resign and Secretary General Illar Lemetti sacrificed on Monday, the interior minister replied that he doesn't believe that the rural affairs minister would resign.
Regarding Lemetti's departure, Helme said that no deal has been struck, but even if a new minister were to take office, they would have a difficult time working together with Lemetti as well. The EKRE chairman found that the biggest problem is the fact that if Lemetti saw what he considered to be illegal activity, he should have contacted the authorities about it, not the media.
Editor: Aili Vahtla