Martin Helme: Differences should be put aside in a crisis

Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE).
Finance minister Martin Helme (EKRE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

If at first, the opposition and the media were dumbfounded and could not decide on their stance toward the government they so deeply hate in the conditions of the crisis, it seems the past week brought clarity and a conscious choice to return to rampant criticism, Minister of Finance Martin Helme (EKRE) writes.

I find it both regrettable and unfortunate. Society should stick together and make efforts to overcome the difficult situation during a crisis. There will be plenty of time for political point-scoring later.

I took a quick look at news stories of the last couple of days and saw clearly coordinated talking points presented in a rather similar light by representatives of the opposition and the media.

The government is attacked for overreacting. It is noteworthy in this context that just last week, I spoke to several influential representatives of the opposition to try and manage political polarization and keep the opposition up to speed on fast-moving events and planned decisions, while looking for feedback in return.

Just a week ago, the opposition strongly urged (if not that publicly) the government take more forceful action. Now, the same people are accusing us of overreaction.

What does that tell us? Unfortunately, the conclusion here is that we're dealing with cynical opportunists whose goal is not to weather difficult times together by leaving aside our differences and that rather they are instead still driven by the desire to attack the government and disrupt its work every chance they get.

Demanding us to ease up on the quarantine before the disease has been sent into retreat literally places in jeopardy people's lives and health.

What is more, if the concern is for the economy (and I am the last person in Estonia who needs to be reminded that getting the economy back on track is crucial!), any sensible person must realize that tougher measures to help us get the virus under control faster also mean we can set about restoring normal economic activity sooner.

Having a quarantine just for the sake of appearances and doing it half-seriously would only drag out the period during which special measures are necessary and end up doing even more damage.

Extreme hypocrisy and opportunism are also reflected in criticism of the government's decision to freeze payments into the second pillar of pension. And yet, the exact same measure was adopted by the Reform Party government of Andrus Ansip ten years ago. The move was deemed necessary and wise at the time.

Today, the very people who took that decision are calling it wrong, unnecessary and harmful. What does such rhetoric tell us? Only that the critics are inhabiting an unshakable reality where everything is permitted to them and nothing to others. Everything they did was right, while everything pursued by others is wrong. I am truly glad people like that are not the ones making decisions today.

I noticed that the media and the opposition have been emphasizing that it is necessary to be especially critical in a crisis because it helps avoid harmful decisions.

Allow me to disagree. It is in a crisis where we should stick together, leave aside our past differences to serve as an example for the people and concentrate on finding solutions and results, instead of point-scoring. But it can also be done differently. However, I'm fairly confident that the political line opted for in recent days will end up doing more damage than good to the ones practicing it. In addition to doing nothing to shake the government's resolve, of course.

The crisis today is not the same as the crisis from a decade ago. Firstly, because it is not an economic crisis, even though the economy will suffer plenty as a result of it. We have also chosen a very different path for helping the economy than the one walked by Ansip's government ten years ago.

Choices made back then ensured Estonia was the hardest hit country in the global economic crisis. We lost around 100,000 people. Thousands lost their homes. Please forgive me for not heeding the pretentious demands and sharp criticism of people who made those decisions.

It is clear that we will suffer in this crisis as well. Not every company will be saved, nor every job retained. But as I said, this is not an ordinary economic crisis.

Our task is to make efforts to keep functional and profitable companies from simply disappearing. We do not need a structural change delivered through creative destruction! What we're seeing now is not creative destruction to tidy up the economic landscape – this is just destruction. And it is up to us to stop it.

The government's decisions and choices can be evaluated once the crisis is over and we can compare ourselves to other European countries. Should it turn out then that we handled it as poorly as Estonia handled the previous crisis, we will be deserving of criticism. And should it turn out we suffered less than others, current criticism is worthless.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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