Aller: I will not swim upstream

Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller
Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller Source: ERR

Candidate for rural affairs minister Arvo Aller said on the Esimene stuudio program on ETV that he will not go against government policy.

I don't know whether this will come as news to you, but there is no escaping it now. You have met with the PM, and it is likely you will visit the president together next week. What did Jüri Ratas say to you?

Jüri Ratas asked what I have accomplished, how I have arrived at a point where I'm willing to become minister; also about my proposals and possibilities for restoring peace at the ministry and its administrative area, as well as a more general question of what kind of a man I am.

We can try and test what kind of a man you are on this program today. Politics today and your administrative area in particular have so many reefs to navigate that we'd be hard-pressed to name them all before the end of the show. Why did you accept the office?

The why-questions are always the hardest.

They're easy to ask.

But they're hard to answer. Knowing the field and as a person who tries to help wherever I can – through my know-how, ideas, possibilities – when I received the proposal – and I took a long time to consider it – I decided I'm ready to take responsibility and become minister.

You thought about it long and hard I understand. Your family was more conservative than you were?

Yes, they were.

But a decision was made.

Indeed. They were not even negotiations; rather it was a process of mapping out doubts and dangers in terms of what it could bring and what would I stand to gain. Rather, it was a great challenge for me, and as I've said, if your country calls on you, you have to go.

You admitted to being a little afraid on the Aktuaalne kaamera news program a few days ago. My compliments! One does not meet such honesty every day. Aren't you afraid that EKRE's core voter might see you as a bit soft after something like that?

No, I don't think so. There are no softies in Ida-Viru County, we are always ready to go where needed for Estonia, and I do not think that feeling a little trepidation makes anyone a softy.

Your hesitation is definitely not linked to your knowledge of agriculture. What about domestic politics – how to you plan to survive the games being played?

I will not be swimming upstream, that much is clear. The important thing is to determine what can be changed and make this change universally understandable. So that everyone would understand that these changes serve our common future.

Allow me to ask a few simple questions to which there are probably no simple answers. Your first major task is restoring peace between the ministry and its agencies. How on earth would one do that?

There will be no individual criticism; rather, I will need to meet with people to see who is responsible for what and how well they know their field. And make sure there won't be personal conflicts or point-scoring. That is paramount.

The most complicated matter that will land on your desk is a little bit removed from where you are strongest. Because to understand who one should listen to in the listeria scandal is – let's face it – extremely difficult.

We will listen to both sides. The first thing is to listen to both sides – the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) and the entrepreneur – to then have an overview of the situation, instead of choosing sides based on what's been written in the media.

Has the VTA done its job well? The prime minister said last week that M.V.Wool should have closed their production facility immediately after the news of the contamination broke.

Whether to close the facility or not was up to the entrepreneur. I would not paint labels or order anything closed. The VTA is doing its job based on rules and applicable legislation. Whether the company should close shop is speculation at this point.

A few more simple questions. What happened to your predecessor Mart Järvik? Why did he fail?

I'm not sure he did fail. I've said before that his strength was the fact that he practically wrote EKRE's rural affairs program for the Riigikogu elections a lot of items in which made it to the coalition agreement. I believe that he set about executing these things in a very direct manner, a very straight line. Perhaps he did not pay enough attention to making sure people at the ministry would understand him. Perhaps it was communication that got stuck somewhere.

We could also use the slightly more direct definition of telling the truth, whereas criticism of Järvik's conduct doesn't end there, but perhaps that is not the aim of the show today. I now have an opportunity to put Arvo Aller's political nerve to the test, courtesy of some rather noteworthy statements made by Mart Järvik at the Tori community center yesterday. First of all, the story of the device for finding bugs he had been given by Riigikogu President Henn Põlluaas, and how he allegedly found a listening device in his office. Can we take such things seriously?

I don't know whether he has found anything. It was rather interesting, this news. Without knowing whether there were bugs or not… I suppose I'll have to go and have a look around.

Are you being serious?

We'll find out whether there are bugs. I cannot tell you right now.

Anyway, you know who has the device for sniffing them out. The speaker has one.

Yes, that is good to know.

Järvik's second noteworthy statement was that PM Jüri Ratas is under the influence of a council of ministry secretaries general and that it constitutes the headquarters of the so-called deep state where the atmosphere is dominated by the Reform Party. Does that sound plausible?

I don't know whether it's the headquarters. The government appoints secretaries general, with proposals made by the minister in each individual field. I need to double-check whether it's the minister or the high-ranking state officials' appointment committee. I will have better answers once I become minister.

What Järvik was likely suggesting is that secretaries general form some sort of a guild that is in control of the prime minister.

I do not know whether secretaries general meet with the PM in a separate format. You need to ask Jüri Ratas that.

And for the last test in the daily politics category we come to Martin Helme and the Sõnajalg brothers' wind farm dispute (with the Ministry of Defense – ed.). Can you say in two sentences whether the finance minister went beyond his commission and acted in the interests of an entrepreneur?

I cannot.

Very good. You will be asked these questions much sooner than in 100 days, because that practice seems to have gone out the window recently.

The Conservative People's Party is known for its rather direct and uncouth statements. How about you, will you be adopting them?

In a situation where something needs to be put directly that is how it should be put. We need to come out and say when something needs to be done differently. We cannot read people's minds without first speaking ours. Beating around the bush will only postpone these processes.

Therefore, expressions like "brain-dead company" and "journalism as the paramilitary wing of the opposition" are okay?

No, I would not say they're okay. I believe they were uttered in certain context and a certain situation, with the parties involved knowing what was meant.

What do you think about Estonian politics today? The opposition says Estonia has the weakest government it has ever seen.

It is the opposition's right to express all manner of ideas. Whether it's the weakest government… I don't think so. I believe it is one of the best possible compromises, a government that works for the people.

Jüri Ratas has done a good job?

Of running the coalition – yes, he has.

Who is better at basketball, Ratas or Aller?

I'm sure we've played on opposite sides years ago, but I rather believe I'm better when it comes to free throws.

That marks the first newsworthy statement.

Let us talk about agriculture in more detail. You have extensive experience with European subsidies, you've helped write projects and written them yourself. How many tractors and barns have you brought to Estonia?

Through projects… I'm not keeping score. My experience goes back to the days of SAPARD, so the last budget period in 2007-2014 and the current one. A couple of projects every year. I kept score at first, but the only thing that matters in the end is for the producer to secure the investments they need to make.

Please describe how complicated it is for a farmer to pass through the gauntlet. It takes an entire profession dedicated to it.

Farmers are very innovative. I'm sure they would manage on their own. The question is whether I continue doing my job as a farmer or hire people to handle and go over these documents. Red tape has been contained compared to the early days when most of it was on paper. Today, it largely takes place with the help of state registers. Marrying these registers is the next step we need to take to decisively boost their cross-usage.

We are unlikely to defeat European bureaucracy sitting here, but are we perhaps a little too keen in Estonia? We have heard wondrous stories of regulations, including how many sinks a kitchen needs to have etc.

It is up to us not to apply German precision to European Union regulations. Yes, EU requirements need to be complied with. What matters is how strict we make the rule book for our producers. We should comply with regulations, but we shouldn't overdo it.

Because, half-jokingly, looking at cafes in Central and Southern Europe, one wonders how on earth are they still open.

The question is that of old-timers and newcomers.

How big of a problem is subsidy fraud in Estonia?

We are talking about isolated cases. PRIA has published these figures… I cannot tell you off the top of my head. They are isolated cases, but they get the most attention. The organizations in charge, namely PRIA, have improved their capacity and the ability to uncover fraud.

The question is how not to have to uncover fraud in the first place. We should eliminate the possibility right from the start.

Yes, because having to return support sums because you forgot to tick a few boxes could spell disaster for companies.

Definitely, it can be a matter of life or death.

While we're on the subject of crises, farmers are set to hold a protest meeting on Toompea on Tuesday, and it will not be in your honor. Your fellow EKRE member Peeter Ernits writes on Facebook today: "The social democrats who regard agriculture as their bread and butter are driving farmers to Toompea. We have allocated €5 million in transitional support and are about to allocate another €5 million, but the wailing continues." Let us leave aside Ernits' manner – or not – but is it organized by the social democrats?

I cannot tell you whether the social democrats are behind it. I learned of the protest meeting before I became a ministerial candidate. I hope many who attend will be glad to see one of their own walk out of Toompea. I believe I will find support there and talk to supporters.

The modest sum of top-up support in the 2020 state budget is one of the reasons farmers will go to Toompea. Head of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce Olav Kreen told Maaleht that the most insulting was the fact farmers were simply forgotten. How is it possible for someone to miss €15 million during budget talks?

Unfortunately, I was not present for these talks. Someone should have noticed. We are hoping to have €10 million for top-up now. That is a lot better than nothing. But because next year is the last chance to use transitional support, farmers' expectations of it being used in full are entirely justified. But because it was naught at first, it might seem like farmers were overlooked or forgotten.

Representatives of several parties have said that it is the responsibility of the minister, and there is nowhere to shift the blame.

Yes, the minister is responsible. For better or worse, it will be me now.

Negotiations are underway for the next EU budget period. It has reached a rather interesting phase. How realistically could we hope to get better conditions from Brussels by making a lot of noise?

What matters is that support from agricultural producers always makes it possible to draw attention to one's needs. And if we'll have Latvian producers, Lithuanian, Polish… Joint negotiations have culminated in more favorable conditions in previous years.

Our direct support is clearly modest, just two-thirds of the European average in 2020 if I'm not mistaken. There can be no talk of equal treatment here.

Yes, we cannot talk about a common agricultural policy. The only way it's common is through the fact we are on a common market.

How well do you know the hallways of Brussels?

I have not been for some time. Let us say I visited quite a few times back when I was starting out as a consultant. I need to brush up, but I believe I can manage.

Talking about life in the country, why should a young family move to the countryside today?

There are several reasons: better environment, clean air, exercise, whether in the form of shoveling snow or digging a hole. It is sure to put joy in people's eyes and keep kids healthy.

Your predecessor had a €100 million program to support people moving to the country, with half the money aimed at land acquisition and half as loans. Isn't it a bit old-fashioned, giving people a small piece of land these days?

I don't think it's old-fashioned. The more small pieces of land Estonians own, the stronger the country. Why should people come to the countryside and why should we give them land or loans? It is a sign of encouragement from the state. And if we can make sure to protect our natural environment, having people live in the countryside positive.

However, we cannot achieve efficiency on those few hectares of land. You are writing projects to bring self-driving tractors to Estonia.

That is true. That is why the instrument is half and half, with the aim of the first side to bring people to the country. If they want to go into agriculture more seriously, they can apply for support from the second half.

Has regional policy failed?

Has it succeeded?

That is a good question, but I would rather have the answer to mine.

An answer. There are some vague indicators. Was merging municipalities the way it was done really purposeful? Right now, people have been working toward agreements that would allow merged municipalities to cooperate.

You have political experience from the Jõhvi city council, from the opposition's side. Can anyone understand what is going on in Jõhvi anymore? No-confidence motions can hardly be counted, there are clear attempts to get rid of people. What is behind it?

Completely normal Estonian local politics.

That was very diplomatically put. Am I the only one who thinks that Martin Repinski and other Centre Party stars have created a fair mess there?

Martin Repinski has suspended his voting rights in the council and serves as an MP and a member of our coalition partner today.

Yes, but you must admit there are attempts to get rid of people and the municipality has stood out negatively in the press recently in a situation where you used to have good news, investments etc.

Yes, unfortunately, the coalition is putting its program into practice there. Jõhvi is ruled by an election coalition that is dominated by the Centre Party today.

Businessman Ossipenko's election coalition.

Our program is about to end. The Ida-Viru County Farmers Union will surely miss you and needs a new leader. Aren't you sad to have to leave?

Sure. It is a major life change after such a long time there. We have discussed how the organization could move forward. We have a strong board and members. I believe a good and strong leader will be found.

What will be the first thing on your agenda once you receive your portfolio?

Getting to know the people of the ministry and receiving the symbolic fork from the previous minister.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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