Commenting on recent scandals surrounding the Ministry of Rural Affairs during an appearance on ETV's Esimene stuudio on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) expressed several opinions that were clearly at odds with those of junior coalition partner Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), such as when he praised the media for its coverage of the listeria scandal. Ratas stressed that EKRE's positions are not the coalition's positions.
On Monday night, President Kersti Kaljulaid signed the dismissal of Minister of Rural Affairs Mart Järvik (EKRE), after which she apologized to Secretary General Illar Lemetti, who was dismissed by the government that same morning.
Esimene stuudio host Andres Kuusk asked the prime minister whether he would similarly like to apologize to Lemetti. Ratas did not take the opportunity to do so, instead saying that a line had to be drawn in the leadership issue.
"To bring that trust into the house, to bring that trust into the domain — this had to be resolved somehow, and naturally there are opinions today from various sides, but it is on the prime minister to resolve such matters, and this was resolved yesterday," Ratas said.
He declined to confirm when asked whether this was the price paid to keep the Centre-EKRE-Isamaa government coalition intact.
Regarding recent criticism from Kaljulaid regarding the matter, Ratas said that he got together with the head of state on Monday at her request, describing the tone of their meeting as businesslike.
"I explained the exact same way what this meant to me," he recalled. "The Estonian state is a parliamentary state. The executive power in Estonia is the Government of the Republic, and the Government of the Republic is led by the prime minister. I have said in a few interviews that we have one prime minister at a time."
Ratas: Helme hasn't challenged results of Järvik report
While Minister of the Interior Mart Helme (EKRE) said at the government press conference last Thursday that he fully trusted the committee formed by Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop to investigate Järvik and recent scandals at the Ministry of Rural Affairs, the former said on Monday that the committee report was wrong regarding the matter of exceeding one's powers.
"Peterkop's committee drew a one-sided conclusion based on the materials it used," Helme said. "I don't doubt his impartiality, but I do see the sort of evidence of the mindset and logic of an official with too much power in the Estonian state."
Ratas noted that the EKRE chairman has not in speaking with him called into the question the conclusions in the Peterkop committee report.
Helme has also said that officials at ministries are waging a guerrilla war against the ministers, and journalists are writing propaganda news.
Ratas stressed that this may be EKRE's position on the matter, but that this was certainly not the coalition's position.
"Estonia's officials are professional," the head of government said. "Naturally we have spoken with our coalition partners regarding this matter, including with Mart Helme, and as far as I know he has given interviews in which he has praised his own secretary general, for example."
Prime minister praises journalists
Ratas praised the press for its coverage of the recent listeria scandal. "I believe that this was important, because in my opinion, the most important line in this matter was the fact that we will ensure food safety, that we will ensure the safety of people's health and lives," he said. "So I believe that the press has done good work in this matter."
Speaking at Monday's press conference, Helme had also mentioned that EKRE has a candidate for both minister and for secretary general at the Ministry of Rural Affairs.
According to Ratas, it's better if officials are apolitical.
"I believe it should stay that way too," he continued. "It is true that EKRE will propose a new candidate for minister to me. Under the coalition agreement, that [ministerial position] belongs to EKRE. And secretaries general are found via a specific senior executive committee."
M.V.Wool should have automatically shut down plant
Regarding the planned temporary shutdown of Estonian fish producer M.V.Wool's two production facilities, Ratas said that he trusts the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA). Instead, he criticized M.V.Wool itself, regarding the company's communication in particular.
"When this listeria bacteria scandal broke, I think this company should have chosen an entirely different approach, messages, and actions," he said. "The plant should have been shut down automatically at the time, regardless of whether it would take a month or a month and a half. They took a different approach, however, and that is of course a problem."
Nonetheless, he continued, the 150 people employed by the plant need to be taken into consideration as well. "I hope that this company can move forward with its business activity at some point," he said. "But food safety, and the safety of people's lives and health, are naturally of utmost importance."
Editor: Aili Vahtla